I would like to thank Sir Patrick Coghlin and his team for their work in producing a thorough and comprehensive report. Along with others across government and the wider NICS, I will now consider its findings and recommendations in detail.
It is very important that we acknowledge the findings in the report, and having learned the lessons from RHI, now move forward. Today must be about ending the disruption of the past so we are better equipped to face the challenges which lie ahead.
The department, which is the successor to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), has long accepted its part in this failure. Over three years ago, it began the task of fixing what was clearly broken. It set up the RHI Taskforce which has worked diligently to bring the scheme back into line – with policy, with budget and with proper governance.
The long-term future of the scheme is currently being considered and our focus remains firmly on delivering an effective and sustainable energy strategy. Also, we can never lose sight of the fact that we must be fair to those who joined the scheme in good faith while, at the same time, remaining fair to the taxpayer.
Of equal if not more importance, RHI’s failure identified the significant gaps in the department’s corporate governance and assurance system which left the scheme open to abuse. I am reassured that these gaps have been addressed.
Leadership, direction and experience at senior levels across the department have been significantly strengthened. The recruitment of industry and commercial expertise augmented by key appointments with expertise in corporate governance and business management have helped to improve the quality, transparency and accountability of strategic and operational decision making.
More specifically, a dedicated directorate – tasked with maintaining high standards in corporate governance – has been created. It now plays an essential policing role in how the department enters into and manages commercial relationships – including grant schemes – and in overseeing how it administers projects and programmes.
The department has strengthened its system of internal control and assurance. It has significantly improved its processes around business planning and performance measurement and reporting, resource and people management, risk management, whistleblowing disclosures, casework reviewing and oversight. It has also reorganised its organisational management structure to better align with its policy focus while at the same time strengthening operational day to day effectiveness. A new, well-resourced Energy Group as well as a new strong corporate centre are now in place and operating well.
These improvements reflect my commitment to high standards of transparency and accountability. We want to secure and maintain public confidence. And to do this, we will be better.
Today’s report, while detailing the significant failures of the past, also provides recommendations to help us move forward. I remain committed to do what I can to ensure those lessons are learned. We will now consider the report in full.
Notes to editors:
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