Northern Ireland

McCausland's bid for Red Sky extension fails

Nelson McCausland
Image caption Nelson McCausland said Red Sky's contract with the Housing Executive would end on the planned date

The housing minister has failed in his attempt to stop the Housing Executive ending its controversial contract with maintenance company Red Sky.

The executive will now terminate the contract on 14 July as it originally planned.

The Housing Executive said in April it was ending the £8m contract after a probe into Red Sky's work practices.

At the start of July, Mr McCausland asked the executive to extend the contract past the initial deadline.

However, on Thursday he said Red Sky's administrator could not give an assurance he could extend the contract.

"The administrator was unable to give an assurance to the Housing Executive that he could continue a service beyond 14 July with Red Sky," Mr McCausland said.

When the Red Sky contract ends next week it will pass to three other contractors.

It is thought that about half the 350 employees at Red Sky work on maintenance contracts for the Housing Executive.

It is understood staff have been told that arrangements are being made to allow them to transfer to new contractors - safeguarding their jobs.

Mr McCausland had asked the Housing Executive to extend the contract until a new system for awarding contacts was put in place.

However, the executive resisted and threatened him with a judicial review.

On Thursday, Mr McCausland accused the Housing Executive of being aggressive and said a letter he received from its chairman sounded like "a declaration of war".

"If someone declares war, I'm not going to back away from that.

"I'm going to continue doing what I want to do, which is to get to the bottom of the contracts issue," he said.

"It's clear from all the evidence that there are serious problems in the Housing Executive as regards the management and monitoring of contracts."

'Serious and derogatory'

Earlier, up to 150 Red Sky workers protested before a meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont.

On Wednesday, members of the trade union Nipsa held a lunchtime protest outside the offices of the Department of Social Development.

The union accused Mr McCausland of interfering with the Housing Executive.

Nipsa assistant general secretary Bumper Graham said Mr McCausland's comments about Housing Executive contracts were "very serious and derogatory".

Former Housing Minister Alex Attwood, who ordered the cancellation of Red Sky's contract in April over allegations of over charging, said on Thursday that he he supported "rigorous investigation of claims of bad performance or bad practice when it comes to the Housing Executive or other public bodies".

However, he said he did not "endorse" Mr McCausland's approach.

"It very much appears to me that some of the commentary around the Housing Executive appears not to be informed by the proper need for reform and accountability," Mr Attwood said.

He added: "There should not be reckless claims or reckless words or reckless actions."

Red Sky went into administration shortly after the Housing Executive announced its intention to end the contract.

The company has always denied the allegations over its work practices.

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