The Northern Ireland Audit Office has raised serious concerns about how The Executive Office (TEO) has administered the £93million Social Investment Fund (SIF).
Initially set up by the the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) in 2011 with a budget of £80m the SIF was designed to reduce poverty, unemployment and dereliction in the North’s poorest areas.
It is administered across nine SIF zones, including one in Derry, and one spread over the Western Trust area, with the other zones in Belfast and across the other health authorities.
Three million pounds of the SIF pot - now over budget at £93m - have already been spent developing new play facilities in the Brandywell, Ballyarnett, Kilfennan and Ballymagroarty, while £3.2m is being used to complete playing pitches in the Brandywell, Corrody Road and at Leafair. A further £3.3m, meanwhile, has been used to support a work placement programme in Shantallow.
A highly critical report published by the NIAO yesterday has raised concerns about the administration of the fund across the North and claimed that the TEO does not hold a clear audit trail for public funding under the SIF.
The Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly, said: “The importance of good administration and ensuring conflicts of interest are adequately handled should be well understood in the public sector.
“But in the case of SIF, the guidance produced by the Department was inadequate, there was little evidence that procedures were followed, and a number of conflicts weren’t declared. This is very concerning.”
He added: “Evidence from my audit work across the public sector suggests there is a role for additional expertise to support good governance and maintain high standards.
“Whilst audit plays a valuable role in identifying lessons to be learnt once schemes are operational, issues of propriety and conflicts of interest must be fully and properly explored when schemes such as SIF are being designed.“