Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: 'No proposal' to compensate firms

Dr Andrew McCormick
Image caption Senior civil servant Dr Andrew McCormick was giving evidence to the Economy Committee

An assembly committee has been told there is no proposal to compensate businesses which lose money from a reduction in their RHI tariff.

Senior civil servant Dr Andrew McCormick was giving evidence to the Economy Committee.

He was speaking ahead of a vote on plans to reduce subsidy rates for those in the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

He said proposed changes to the botched scheme are the best way to "stop the haemorrhage of funds" from it.

The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme was an attempt by the Northern Ireland Executive to help to increase consumption of heat from renewable sources.

However, businesses were receiving more in subsidies than they were paying for renewable fuel and the scheme became majorly oversubscribed.

The fallout from the scandal, which is approximately £490m over budget, resulted in the collapse of Stormont's institutions and the calling of snap elections on 2 March.

'Strong option'

A vote on the plans to reduce subsidy rates is to take place on Monday afternoon.

Dr McCormick, the permanent secretary in the Department for the Economy, said the proposed changes were an "overwhelming strong option" to stop the flow of unregulated spending.

The proposals include a recommendation to replace the uncapped subsidy with a tiered one, which would reduce payments after a certain number of usage hours.

It would also introduce a usage cap after which no subsidy would be paid.

Dr McCormick confirmed that a special adviser, rather than officials, had come up with the plan.

The SPAD was not within the Department for the Economy, he added.

DUP SPAD John Robinson stood back from involvement in sorting out the RHI overspend after it emerged last week that his father-in-law was a recipient of the subsidy.

Mr McCormick said Mr Robinson had not been party to discussions about the proposed cost controls before or after Christmas and had not been involved in the decision to introduce the planned changes.

Letters sent to businesses

Meanwhile, businesses involved in the RHI scheme have received letters about plans to publish their names.

Those who had objected to their names being published had their applications for anonymity assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Image copyright tchara
Image caption The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is approximately £490m over budget

Some have now been told their names will be put into the public domain.

In the letter, they are told the "public interest overrides your objections" and the Department for the Economy would release the information on Wednesday.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister earlier this month after DUP leader Arlene Foster refused to stand aside as first minster while an investigation was carried out into the RHI debacle.

As they hold a joint office, his resignation automatically put the DUP leader out of her job and prompted the calling of snap elections on 2 March.

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