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Public Accounts Committee

Report on Campsie Office Accommodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator (SeBI)

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee
Relating to the Report and the Minutes of Evidence

Ordered by The Public Accounts Committee to be printed 9 September 2010
Report: NIA 01/10/11R Public Accounts Committee

Session 2010/2011
First Report

Membership and Powers

The Public Accounts Committee is a Standing Committee established in accordance with Standing Orders under Section 60(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It is the statutory function of the Public Accounts Committee to consider the accounts, and reports on accounts laid before the Assembly.

The Public Accounts Committee is appointed under Assembly Standing Order No. 56 of the Standing Orders for the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has the power to send for persons, papers and records and to report from time to time. Neither the Chairperson nor Deputy Chairperson of the Committee shall be a member of the same political party as the Minister of Finance and Personnel or of any junior minister appointed to the Department of Finance and Personnel.

The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.

The membership of the Committee since 9 May 2007 has been as follows:

Mr Paul Maskey 5 (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)

The Lord Browne 1,2,3,10,11
Mr John Dallat
Mr David Hilditch 6,9
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Patsy McGlone 4,8
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Stephen Moutray 12
Ms Dawn Purvis
Mr Jim Shannon 7

1 Mr Mickey Brady replaced Mr Willie Clarke on 1 October 2007
2 Mr Ian McCrea replaced Mr Mickey Brady on 21 January 2008
3 Mr Jim Wells replaced Mr Ian McCrea on 26 May 2008
4 Mr Thomas Burns replaced Mr Patsy McGlone on 4 March 2008
5 Mr Paul Maskey replaced Mr John O’Dowd on 20 May 2008
6 Mr George Robinson replaced Mr Simon Hamilton on 15 September 2008
7 Mr Jim Shannon replaced Mr David Hilditch on 15 September 2008
8 Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr Thomas Burns on 29 June 2009
9 Mr David Hilditch replaced Mr George Robinson on 18 September 2009
10 Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson replaced Mr Jim Wells on 18 September 2009
11 The Lord Browne replaced Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson on 19 April 2010
12 Mr Stephen Moutray replaced Mr Jonathan Craig on 19 April 2010
With effect from 1st August 2010 Mr Jim Shannon (DUP) has resigned from the Public Accounts Committee.

Table of Contents

List of abbreviations used in the Report


Executive Summary

Summary of Recommendations


The Quality of Risk Management Applied to the Campsie and SeBI Projects was Unacceptable

Invest NI has Provided Welcome Assurances about Improvements to Risk and Project Management Procedures

Invest NI has a Large Amount of Unoccupied Land and Property

Invest NI – Board Members’ and Staff Interests

Appendix 1:

Minutes of Proceedings

Appendix 2:

Minutes of Evidence

Appendix 3:


Appendix 4:

List of Witnesses

List of Abbreviations used in the Report

C&AG - Comptroller and Auditor General

DETI / the Department - Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment

IDB - Industrial Development Board

SeBI - Synergy e-Business Incubator

VLO - Valuation and Lands Office

Executive Summary

1. This Committee accepts that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and Invest NI need to take risks in order to stimulate economic development in Northern Ireland. However, “when risk is part of the process, so risk management must also be part of that process". Risk needs to be identified at the outset and managed in line with guidance issued by the Department of Finance and Personnel. The evidence in the Campsie and Synergy e-Business Incubator (SeBI) projects shows that risk management was not of an acceptable standard.

2. The Committee is disappointed that the leasing arrangements for the Campsie units and the investment in SeBI produced very little value for money. In total, around £3 million was spent on these two projects with limited numbers of jobs and new businesses created.

3. Despite the fact that significant risks were brought to the attention of the Department at the start of both projects, it decided to proceed. These risks were not managed effectively. Valuation and Lands Office (VLO) had major reservations about the location, size and demand for the Campsie Units, but the Department did not take their advice. The Department agrees in hindsight that this advice should have been acted upon. Two sets of consultants highlighted potential problems and risks before the SeBI project commenced. Most of these came to fruition but were not adequately managed.

4. The most significant risk in the Campsie units’ leasing agreements was the possibility of missing the break clause after four years, thereby committing the Department to expenditure of £1.89 million if it could not find tenants. Yet, through an absence of risk management, this is exactly what happened – the break option was missed – and the Department was left with “two white elephants" it was unable to let.

5. The Campsie leases were poorly drafted and did not protect the Department’s interests. There was no clarity as to whose responsibility it was to maintain the units, meaning they quickly fell into a state of disrepair. It was not until several years after the option to break was missed that any attempt was made to market the units. It also took many years to agree with the developers to surrender the leases at a premium of £405,000.

6. The Committee was also concerned about the poor quality of project management exercised over both projects. In the Campsie project, record keeping was poor. There was no inquiry into why the options to break from the Campsie leases were missed, in order to learn lessons and determine whether any individual(s) were culpable of negligence or misconduct. Little effort was devoted to managing the situation for several years and routine maintenance of the units was neglected.

7. In SeBI, record keeping was also poor and there was an absence of monitoring performance or financial aspects of the project. Whenever a number of key events impacted on the parent company’s commercial viability, Invest NI failed to re-appraise the project. At the end of the project, post-project evaluation was delayed and lacked sufficient detail for lessons to be learned.

8. The Committee also took the opportunity to investigate the wider land and buildings portfolio held by Invest NI and the substantial element which is unoccupied. Invest NI was unable to tell the Committee how long its properties have remained unoccupied. We are concerned that recent acquisitions of land and property may add to this stockpile. We consider that Invest NI should improve its management information on the occupation of its properties to help provide effective control.

9. The Committee is also concerned that there are weaknesses in Invest NI’s procedures to monitor and manage conflicts of interest which may arise in relation to Board Members’ and staff interests. In light of previous problems in this area regarding the NI Tourist Board and Emerging Business Trust, we want assurances that effective controls are in place to ensure that potential or actual conflicts of interest are avoided or managed properly where necessary.

Summary of Recommendations

Recommendation 1

1. The Committee recommends that there should be compelling reasons whenever public bodies choose not to follow professional advice. These reasons should be clearly documented before decisions are made.

Recommendation 2

2. The Committee recommends that when Departments and other public bodies enter into binding contracts including leases, they clearly demonstrate that due diligence has been applied in each case.

Recommendation 3

3. The Committee recommends that Invest NI ensures that risk management is fundamental to all its investment decisions. When initial appraisals highlight risks and threats, these should be taken seriously and assessed properly. Where potential risks are identified and reinforced, it is essential that effective steps to manage these should be put in place.

Recommendation 4

4. The Committee recommends that when a major control failure occurs, which ultimately leads to a significant loss to the public purse, a robust inquiry must take place to establish the facts and lessons to be learned.

Recommendation 5

5. The Committee recognises the improvements that have been made to Invest NI’s project management practices. Nevertheless, it recommends that Invest NI should consider its revised arrangements in the light of this report and others, to ensure that similar errors are not repeated in the future. In particular, the Committee would want assurances on effective financial monitoring, appropriate use of re-appraisals and timely and effective post-project evaluations.

Recommendation 6

6. The Committee recommends that as a matter of urgency Invest NI generates basic information on the length of time a property is unoccupied, to properly monitor and manage its portfolio of land and property and to ensure that the taxpayer receives value for money from these assets.

Recommendation 7

7. The Committee recommends that Invest NI maintains effective arrangements to record fully and disclose all Board Member and Staff interests. It is vital that these disclosures are kept up to date and utilised in order to take effective action to manage or avoid any potential or actual conflicts of interest.


1. The Public Accounts Committee met on 20 May 2010 to consider the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report ‘Campsie Office Accommodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator (SeBI)’ along with Invest NI Board Members’ and staff Interests. The witnesses were:

  • Mr David Sterling, Accounting Officer, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (the Department);
  • Mr Alastair Hamilton, Chief Executive, Invest NI;
  • Mr Mel Chittock, Acting Managing Director, Corporate Services, Invest NI;
  • Mrs Tracey Meharg, Managing Director, Innovation and Capability Development Group, Invest NI;
  • Mr Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General; and
  • Ms Fiona Hamill, Treasury Officer of Accounts, Department of Finance and Personnel.

2. The Committee wrote to Mr Sterling on 24 May 2010 with queries following the evidence session. He replied on 11 June 2010.

The quality of risk management applied to the Campsie and SeBI projects was unacceptable

3. The Committee accepts that taking risks is necessary in the field of economic development. “If Invest NI never took a risk, it would never have a failure, but it would not be doing its job." However, where it is necessary to take risks there should be effective risk management.

4. The Committee also accepts that the two projects set out to do different things. The Campsie project was a speculative build to try to provide an accommodation facility in advance of need in an area of deprivation; whereas SeBI was an attempt to stimulate IT businesses in West Belfast. Ultimately, the leasing of the Campsie units did not deliver value for money with £1.8 million spent on units that were never let, and no new jobs or business opportunities created. The Committee considers SeBI, for which the investment of £1.2 million was relatively small in terms of the overall economic development and research budget, to be the type of innovative project which had the potential to yield substantial economic benefits. It had planned to create 100 jobs through the incubation of 20 companies. The Committee was told that it achieved 41 sustainable jobs in 6 companies. This information was provided by the Department in additional evidence submitted on 11 June 2010.

5. There were clearly identifiable risks in both these projects. These risks should have been documented at the outset and closely monitored and managed on an ongoing basis. The evidence shows clearly that the risk management over both the Campsie and SeBI projects fell some way short of the required standard.

There was no clearly defined rationale for the Campsie project

6. The Committee was disappointed to note that, despite the leases being signed in late 1991 and early 1992, the buildings were never subsequently occupied and client interest was virtually non-existent – the records show that from 2005, 21 companies were approached, resulting in 6 visits. Prior to this there are no records available. Unconvincing evidence was provided as to IDB’s rationale for the project. The Committee were told that economic conditions in the Derry City Council area were very bad at that time and that there was a desire to do innovative and different things to stimulate economic development. However, in the Committee’s view this venture, which involved speculative construction, was not an appropriate or well thought out response to the challenges of the period. The Committee can see no clearly defined rationale for this project at the time.

Advice from the Valuation and Lands Office (VLO) on the viability of the Campsie project was not taken

7. Prior to these leases being signed, VLO had repeatedly expressed considerable reservations about aspects of the Campsie project, including the location, size and demand for the accommodation. However, the Committee were told that IDB, having taken account of VLO’s advice, took the decision to proceed. The Committee welcomes the Department’s acknowledgement that this was clearly the wrong decision. The Committee considers that the concerns expressed by VLO were strong enough to have been considered more carefully by IDB. This, in turn, should have persuaded IDB to scale the project back further (thereby reducing its risk and financial commitment significantly) or not to proceed at all.

Recommendation 1

8. The Committee recommends that there should be compelling reasons whenever public bodies choose not to follow professional advice. These reasons should be clearly documented before decisions are made.

The failure to exercise the option to break from the Campsie leases led to a significant loss to the public purse

9. A major failing in the risk management of this project was missing the option to break from the leases after the initial four years. This error committed the public purse to £1.89 million lease payments (£90,000 a year for 21 years), in the absence of finding tenants for the units. It also resulted in unquantified administration costs being incurred by IDB, Invest NI and a range of other Government bodies in attempts to market the units, address building maintenance problems and negotiate the surrender of the leases with the developers.

10. The Department told the Committee that lack of communication led to the break clause being missed. It admitted that there was no proper management system around the project and the original team involved in the project in 1991 and 1992 were not involved in 1996 when the option to break was missed. The project was “purely dependent on internal communications which failed."

The Campsie leases were poorly drafted and did not protect the commercial interests of the Department

11. It is clear from the evidence presented to the Committee that there were fundamental flaws in the drafting of the leases for the Campsie units. In particular, there was a lack of clarity about which party (IDB or the landlord) was responsible for maintaining the properties. This failing was acknowledged by Invest NI who assured the Committee that current lease agreements are very clear on maintenance responsibilities. In the absence of clear maintenance clauses in the Campsie leases, there was no onus on the landlord to carry out any maintenance to the buildings. This allowed the landlords to collect rent for properties which subsequently fell into very poor condition.

12. Invest NI told the Committee that it did not know who was responsible for drawing up the leases, but believed that the leases had possibly been drafted by the landlords, with some involvement by VLO and the Departmental Solicitors Office (DSO). It is unsurprising that the leases fell short in terms of protecting the commercial interests of IDB and Invest NI.

Recommendation 2

13. The Committee recommends that when Departments and other public bodies enter into binding contracts including leases, they clearly demonstrate that due diligence has been applied in each case.

Risks to the SeBI project were identified in the initial appraisal but were not managed properly

14. The Committee took some assurance from the fact that the appraisal process for SeBI identified specific risks and threats to the project at its outset. Some of the issues raised were fundamental to the viability of SeBI – a lack of incubatee companies, an absence of private sector funding and uncertainty over permanent accommodation for the project. Whilst the Department considered that efforts were made to manage the key risks, all these risks came to fruition and had a damaging impact on SeBI.

The SeBI project was not subject to Casework Committee approval

15. The Committee noted that the SeBI project was not subject to any approval through the Casework Committee. The Casework process is an important element of risk management which allows for identification of project risks at an early stage and an assessment of what steps can be taken to mitigate these risks. The Committee was told that at the time, this project was conducted under a programme which had delegated authority limits and did not require Casework Committee approval. The Committee welcomes assurances provided by Invest NI that improvements introduced in recent years mean that if the SeBI project was proposed today, it would need to be approved by a Casework Committee.

Recommendation 3

16. The Committee recommends that Invest NI ensures that risk management is fundamental to all its investment decisions. When initial appraisals highlight risks and threats, these should be taken seriously and assessed properly. Where potential risks are identified and reinforced, it is essential that effective steps to manage these should be put in place.

The project management in both the Campsie and SeBI projects was poor

17. As well as suffering from inadequate risk management, the Committee is strongly of the view that IDB exercised sub-standard project management over both the Campsie and SeBI projects.

There was no inquiry to establish how IDB missed the option to break from the Campsie leases

18. The Committee was very concerned that there was no inquiry to establish why IDB failed to break from the leases, who was responsible and if lessons could be learned. Given the cost to the public purse, we consider that such an inquiry was imperative. As there was no inquiry, the Department could not guarantee that there was no misconduct or impropriety within IDB at the time.

19. The Committee considers that it is all the more difficult to explain how these break clauses were missed, given the internal memo to IDB management in December 1995 which highlighted the coming expiry of the control period in 1996.

Recommendation 4

20. The Committee recommends that when a major control failure occurs, which ultimately leads to a significant loss to the public purse, a robust inquiry must take place to establish the facts and lessons to be learned.

The Campsie Units were inadequately maintained and poorly marketed

21. Following the failure to break from the leases, the Campsie units were effectively handed over to IDB, and in turn, Invest NI for the following 21 years. The onus was on IDB and Invest NI to exercise high standards of project management to ensure that the buildings were adequately maintained and let to tenants. However, there is clear evidence that this was not the case.

22. In order to try and attract tenants to the units, a coherent and strong marketing strategy was essential. The Committee considers that both IDB and Invest NI fell short in this regard. It was only in March 2003; over six years after IDB had failed to break from the leases, that a locally based agent was appointed. Even so, neither unit was marketed actively until 2005 by which time they deteriorated so much that Invest NI could not contemplate showing them to clients. Whilst the specific location of the units undoubtedly made them difficult to let, the Committee considers that the marketing strategy was inadequate and belated. IDB initially became aware that the units were in a poor state of repair in July 1998. The limited records available show no real effort to improve their condition.

More decisive action by Invest NI resulted in the surrender of the leases

23. This triggered a more proactive response by Invest NI, who commenced a process which ultimately resulted in them withholding rent from the landlords in July 2007. This approach yielded benefits and while the Committee acknowledges that this eventually resulted in the landlords agreeing to surrender the leases in January 2008 and April 2010 respectively, robust action should have been taken much earlier in the process.

24. Whilst the Committee welcomes the outcome achieved from Invest NI’s actions, it wishes to emphasise that it does not consider that any financial savings were achieved as a result of this. No public body should find itself in the position that IDB and Invest NI were in, with needless costs being incurred due to, at best, negligence and at worst misconduct. Rather the committee considers that the amount of money wasted was reduced by up to £639,000 by the surrender of the leases.

There was insufficient record keeping and monitoring of the financial and performance information of SeBI and its parent company, SCL

25. The Committee considers that the level of record keeping and monitoring of the SeBI project was totally inadequate in view of the project’s innovative and high risk status. The DETI Accounting Officer in providing evidence to the Committee confirmed that there “was no monitoring of financial performance". A further crucial failing was the absence of any monitoring of the performance of SeBI’s parent company, SCL. Given the closeness of the relationship between the two entities (SeBI was a Division of SCL), the Committee finds it difficult to understand how such basic monitoring practices were not observed.

Invest NI failed to re-appraise the SeBI project after key events undermined its commercial viability

26. It is also clear to the Committee that the Department and Invest NI failed to take decisive action to re-appraise its continued support for SeBI despite a series of key events which impacted on both SCL and SeBI’s commercial viability. The decision by Fujitsu to walk away from SCL in April 2002 represented a major body blow to the company’s viability. The University of Ulster’s abandonment of the Springvale Educational Village project in November 2002 also left SeBI without any permanent location. The Committee considers that these events should have led Invest NI to re-appraise the viability of the project.

27. Although SeBI was smaller in scale, the Committee can clearly identify “parallels with the Valence Technology project" which the Committee examined in 2009. There was inadequate monitoring and failure to re-appraise both projects in the face of events which clearly had significant implications on their viability. The consequences of this were that both projects were allowed to haemorrhage public money until they ceased to operate.

The Post-Project Evaluation of the SeBI project was delayed and lacked sufficient detail

28. The Committee noted that the Post Project Evaluation (PPE) of SeBI took over 2 years to complete and was superficial, failing to address or report on key issues. Given that the object of the process is to assess the outcomes and lessons from projects, the Committee is alarmed to discover that some of these lessons and conclusions were excluded from the final PPE.

Invest NI has provided welcome assurances about improvements to risk and project management procedures

29. In providing evidence both at this hearing and at our enquiry into the Valence Technology project in June 2009, the Department and Invest NI have told the Committee that a wide range of improvements to Invest NI’s controls and procedures have been introduced in recent years. These improvements cover a significant range of areas, including an improved governance framework and enhanced arrangements and systems for risk and project management. The Committee welcomes these assurances. However, introducing improvements to procedures is only one aspect of achieving the desired outcomes from projects. Equally important is taking effective action in response to monitoring results. Given the apparent strength of the improvements, the Committee would be disappointed if cases similar to Valence, Campsie and SeBI were brought before it in the future.

Recommendation 5

30. The Committee recognises the improvements that have been made to Invest NI’s project management practices. Nevertheless, it recommends that Invest NI should consider its revised arrangements in the light of this report and others, to ensure that similar errors are not repeated in the future. In particular, the Committee would want assurances on effective financial monitoring, appropriate use of re-appraisals and timely and effective post-project evaluations.

Invest NI has a large amount of unoccupied land and property

31. In the Committee’s view, there was no clear rationale for the Department to support the construction and leasing of accommodation in the Campsie area. The fact that the Campsie units have been unoccupied for 18 years is testimony to this view.

32. The Committee noted that, of the 2714 acres of land that Invest NI owns, 750 acres (28%) are unoccupied. At 31 March 2010, the value of unoccupied land and buildings was £37.9 million. We asked Invest NI for an analysis of how long this portfolio had been unoccupied, but it was unable to provide this information. The Committee is surprised by this. It is in the public interest that Invest NI maintains adequate management information as to the occupation of its property, in order to inform its decision making and to facilitate public accountability.

33. Invest NI told us that it is committed under the Programme for Government 2008-2011 to acquire 200 acres of land in areas that had suffered deprivation due to market failure and that it had purchased 117 acres for £14.8 million in 2009-2010. On the other hand, we are also aware that Invest NI is currently undertaking a study to determine why there is a need to purchase large amounts of industrial land over the next few years, in response to a recommendation in the Independent Review of Economic Policy (the Barnett Review). These appear to be very different, and potentially conflicting, positions. The Committee is keen to see the outcome of Invest NI’s study.

34. Invest NI told the Committee that the strategy for acquiring land is based on clear market failure where a clear need was identified. It told us that in recent years a lot of land has been sold for residential purposes, which meant industrial availability became very limited. Invest NI stated that in those areas of market failure there is no private sector provision, so it acts to intervene in those areas.

35. Unoccupied land and property has associated lease and maintenance costs. Invest NI informed us that there are currently two properties which are leased but unoccupied. These are Galwally House, Belfast - the old Local Enterprise and Development (LEDU) Building, with lease costs of £125,000 a year - and a part of a floor of the Waterfront Plaza, Belfast with lease costs of £162,000 a year. Invest NI owns 18 other buildings across Northern Ireland of which 3 are vacant. The maintenance cost for these properties was £451,000 in 2009-2010.

36. The Committee is concerned that recent acquisitions are adding to the stockpile of Invest NI’s unoccupied land and property. This carries substantial purchase, leasing and maintenance costs which do not currently provide value for money.

Recommendation 6

37. The Committee recommends that as a matter of urgency Invest NI generates basic information on the length of time a property is unoccupied to properly monitor and manage its portfolio of land and property and to ensure that the taxpayer receives value for money from these assets.

Invest NI – Board Members’ and Staff Interests

38. Conflicts of interest in the public sector have been given a much higher profile in recent years following work by this Committee and the Westminster PAC. Several high profile cases were examined, including the NI Tourist Board and the Emerging Business Trust, both of which were within the Department’s responsibility.

39. Potential conflicts should be recognised and handled properly. This is of special relevance to a body like Invest NI where so many of its Board Members have significant business interests and many staff interact with client companies, creating scope for conflicts of interests to occur. Dealing with interests properly is as much a protection to the reputation of the Board Members and staff as a safeguard for the public interest.

Deficiencies in Invest NI’s Register of Board Members’ Interests reduce its ability to manage actual or potential conflicts of interest

40. Last year, the Committee asked the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine the response to an Assembly Question on Invest NI Board Members’ Interests. This response highlighted a number of differences when compared to Invest NI’s annual accounts. Some of the differences were due to errors made by Invest NI’s officials in compiling the information although the returns made by Board Members were accurate.

41. The Department regretted that there were some inconsistencies and stated that the main reason for these was that the response to the Assembly Question included non-beneficial interests, which were, properly, not included in the annual accounts. The Department stated that Invest NI is putting controls in place to ensure that errors do not re-occur.

42. The Committee asked Invest NI how it manages conflicts of interest with Board Members. Invest NI explained that Board Members are asked to declare their interests twice a year, in April and October. Invest NI matches these interests with its financial systems to ascertain monies paid to any related companies by way of grants or payment for services. Beneficial and non-beneficial interests are separated[1]. The April information is disclosed in the Annual Report. Invest NI stated that it managed conflicts of interest by requiring all Board Members at the start of each meeting to declare any interests likely to conflict with the matters under discussion. If any interests were relevant to the meeting, the Chair would decide whether any Board Members needed to leave for a part or all of the meeting. Invest NI also told us that if a Board Member has an interest in a company and they want to engage with Invest NI, they must do so formally through one of four Managing Directors of Invest NI.

43. The Committee also asked Invest NI how it managed staff outside interests. Invest NI said that its Code of Conduct states that staff must avoid conflicts of interest whether real or perceived and that they were required to declare all outside interests to Human Resources, who maintain a Staff Register of Interests. In addition to this, contracts of employment state that staff must work exclusively for Invest NI and that breaching this condition was grounds for instant dismissal.

44. The Committee were interested to learn if there was any protection against a situation where a staff member was instrumental in providing financial or other assistance to a company and subsequently left Invest NI to work for that company. Invest NI told us that there are constraints on former employee activities and employment. All Invest NI staff sign a contract of employment which binds them to maintain confidentiality about Invest NI and its client companies. This obligation remains in force after they leave Invest NI. As to other risks, e.g. of a staff member exerting undue influence, Invest NI informed us that it has structures and processes to prevent an individual member of staff agreeing a support package for a company. Even for relatively small levels of support, a robust business case is required and this must be approved and countersigned by at least one other officer. In addition, if an employee leaves to go to any client organisation, Invest NI examines the level and frequency of contact the employee had with their new employer. Where appropriate, it is made clear to the new employer that the ex-employee will not be acceptable as a representative on any team or delegation in discussion with Invest NI for a suitable period.

45. The evidence shows that although there are procedures in place to record and disclose conflicts of interest of Board Members and staff, there have been deficiencies in the manner in which the Register of Board Interests has been maintained. Any deficiencies in maintaining Board Members’ or staff interests increases the risk of mis-handling potential or actual conflicts of interest.

Recommendation 7

46. The Committee recommends that Invest NI maintains effective arrangements to record fully and disclose all Board Member and Staff Interests. It is vital that these disclosures are kept up-to-date and utilised in order to take effective action to manage or avoid any potential or actual conflicts of interest.

[1] A non-beneficial interest is where a Board Member provides services in a voluntary capacity or is affiliated to an organisation through ordinary fee paying membership. A beneficial interest is when the Board Member is either, directly or through a family connection, a material shareholder, receives a payment from the company for their services or otherwise has significant influence over an entity’s operation.

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings
of the Committee
Relating to the Report

Thursday, 13 May 2010
Room 144, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson)
The Lord Browne
Mr John Dallat
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr Stephen Moutray
Ms Dawn Purvis
Mr Jim Shannon

In Attendance: Ms Aoibhinn Treanor (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Phil Pateman (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Danielle Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Darren Weir (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)

2:00 pm the meeting opened in public session.

4. Briefing on the NIAO report ‘Campsie Office Accommodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator (SeBI)’.

Mr Kieran Donnelly, C&AG, Mr Neil Gray, Director; and Mr Alan Orme, Audit Manager; briefed the Committee on the report.

2:12 pm the meeting went into closed session.

2:20 pm Ms Purvis entered the meeting.

2:24 pm Mr Dallat left the meeting.

2:25 pm Mr Shannon entered the meeting.

2:28 pm Mr Dallat entered the meeting.

The C&AG continued to brief members in private session.


Thursday, 20 May 2010
The Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)
The Lord Browne
Mr John Dallat
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr Jim Shannon MP

In Attendance: Ms Aoibhinn Treanor (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Phil Pateman (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Danielle Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Darren Weir (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Stephen Moutray
Ms Dawn Purvis

2:05 pm The meeting opened in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are listed above.

2:06 pm Mr Hilditch entered the meeting.

2. Evidence Session on the NI Audit Office Report ‘Campsie Office Accommodation’.

The Committee took oral evidence on the above report from:

  • Mr David Sterling, Accounting Officer, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI);
  • Mr Alastair Hamilton, Chief Executive, Invest NI;
  • Mr Mel Chittock, Acting Managing Director, Corporate Services, Invest NI;

2:09 pm Mr McGlone entered the meeting.

2:13 pm Mr Beggs entered the meeting.

2:36 pm Mr Hilditch left the meeting.

2:50 pm Mr Shannon entered the meeting.

2:51 pm Mr Shannon left the meeting.

2:57 pm Mr Dallat left the meeting.

3:04 pm Mr Dallat entered the meeting.

3:13 pm Mr Shannon entered the meeting.

The witnesses answered a number of questions put by the Committee.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information from the witnesses.

3. Evidence Session on the NI Audit Office Report ‘Synergy e-Business Incubator’.

The Committee took oral evidence on the above report from:

  • Mr David Sterling, Accounting Officer, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI);
  • Mr Alastair Hamilton, Chief Executive, Invest NI;
  • Mr Mel Chittock, Acting Managing Director, Corporate Services, Invest NI;
  • Ms Tracey Meharg, Managing Director, Innovation and Capability Development Group, Invest NI

3:28 pm Mr McGlone left the meeting.

3:30 pm Mr Dallat left the meeting.

3:48 pm Mr Dallat entered the meeting.

The witnesses answered a number of questions put by the Committee.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information from the witnesses.


Thursday, 27 May 2010
Room 144, Parliament Buildings

Present: The Lord Browne
Mr John Dallat
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Patsy McGlone
Ms Dawn Purvis
Mr Jim Shannon

In Attendance: Miss Aoibhinn Treanor (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Phil Pateman (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Danielle Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Darren Weir (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Stephen Moutray

2:02 pm The clerk to the Committee briefed members that due to the absence of a Chairperson a Temporary Chairperson would need to be nominated.

In the absence of the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, Mr John Dallat was nominated to assume the role of Temporary Chairperson by Mr Trevor Lunn.

This was seconded by Mr Patsy McGlone and agreed to by The Lord Browne and Ms Dawn Purvis.

2:05 pm Duly elected Temporary Chairperson, Mr Dallat took the Chair.

2:06 pm the meeting opened in public session.

6. Issues arising from the oral evidence session on NIAO report ‘Campsie Office Accommodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator’.

3:12 pm Mr Shannon entered the meeting.

The Committee considered an issues paper from the oral evidence session on the NIAO report on ‘Campsie Office Accommodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator’.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the issues contained in the paper as discussed.


Thursday, 9 September 2010
Room 144, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr John Dallat
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Stephen Moutray

In Attendance: Miss Aoibhinn Treanor (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Phil Pateman (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Danielle Best (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Darren Weir (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: The Lord Browne
Mr David Hilditch
Ms Dawn Purvis

2:01 pm The meeting opened in closed session.

8. Consideration of the Draft Committee Report on ‘Campsie Office Accommodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator’.

Paragraphs 1 – 7 read and agreed.

Paragraphs 8 - 13 read, amended and agreed.

Paragraphs 14 – 15 read and agreed.

Paragraphs 16 – 17 read, amended and agreed.

Paragraphs 18 – 19 read and agreed.

Paragraph 20 read, amended and agreed.

Paragraph 21 read and agreed.

Paragraphs 22 - 23 read, amended and agreed.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to merge paragraphs 21 – 22 in the final report.

3:41 pm Mr McGlone entered the meeting.

Paragraph 24 read and agreed.

Paragraphs 25 - 26 read, amended and agreed.

Paragraph 27 read and agreed.

Paragraphs 28 - 29 read amended and agreed.

Paragraphs 30 – 37 read and agreed.

Paragraph 38 read, amended and agreed.

Paragraphs 39 – 46 read and agreed.

Paragraph 47 read, amended and agreed.

3:55 pm Mr Dallat left the meeting.

Consideration of the Executive Summary

Paragraphs 1 – 9 read and agreed.

Agreed: Members agreed the correspondence for inclusion in the report.

Agreed: Members ordered the report to be printed.

Agreed: Members agreed that the report would be embargoed until 00.01 am on Thursday, 30 September 2010.

Agreed: Members agreed to launch the report with a press release to be agreed at a later meeting.


Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

20 May 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)
Lord Browne
Mr John Dallat
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Jim Shannon


Mr Mel Chittock
Mr Alastair Hamilton


Invest Northern Ireland

Mr David Sterling


Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Also in attendance:

Mr Kieran Donnelly


Comptroller and Auditor General

Ms Fiona Hamill


Treasury Officer of Accounts

1. The Chairperson (Mr P Maskey): We will now move to the evidence session on the Audit Office report ‘Campsie Office Accommodation’. We are also addressing the report ‘Synergy e-Business Incubator (SeBI)’. I will address two specific items that relate to the 2008-09 audited accounts for Invest NI. Those are first, land and property that was held for investment purposes, and secondly, related party transactions. Does any member wish to express an interest at this stage?

2. Mr David Sterling, who is the accounting officer for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), is here to respond to the Committee today. You are very welcome. Will you introduce your colleagues, please?

3. Mr David Sterling (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment): With me are Alastair Hamilton, who is the chief executive officer in Invest NI, and Mel Chittock, who is the acting managing director in charge of corporate services in Invest NI.

4. The Chairperson: Thank you. We have a busy schedule today, so we will get started. The two projects have several common themes, one of which is the weakness of the Department’s ongoing arrangements. That is also a feature of several other cases that have come to the Committee over the past number of years. What has your Department done to improve its arrangements so that the type of situation that is described in the report does not happen again?

5. Mr Sterling: We take corporate governance and internal control very seriously. From a departmental point of view, a lot of what we do now was defined in Treasury guidance that the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) set out in 2005. That was a code of practice entitled ‘Corporate Governance in Central Government Departments’, which we have implemented ever since, and it provides the framework within which we operate. Within that framework, we have risk-management arrangements that are linked to our corporate and operating planning process and that inform the work of our internal audit unit. We also require that heads of divisions in the Department, Alastair, as chief executive and accounting officer for Invest NI, and the chief executive of the Tourist Board (NITB) provide me with quarterly assurance statements. Those statements are designed to provide me with assurance that proper internal control arrangements are in place. They are also required to draw my attention to any failings in internal control. As accounting officer, I also have sight of all internal audit service reports for the Department, Invest NI and NITB, and I draw any findings or failings that internal audit identified to the attention of the relevant chief executives or to any of my senior staff. We also have quarterly oversight and liaison meetings with the four non-departmental public bodies (NDPB) and with key business areas in the Department. At those meetings, we seek reports on corporate governance, and we seek assurances, which are tied in with the quarterly assurance statements, that people are complying with the various requirements. That includes, for example, people completing post-project evaluations.

6. That is the framework within which we work. We have done a lot in the past number of years to address the shortcomings that were identified in the Campsie and Synergy reports, and, indeed in other reports that have been before the Committee in recent times.

7. The Chairperson: How does Invest NI ensure that the recommendations of previous PAC reports are being progressed and adhered to? How does it monitor or keep an eye on that? I have said before that the same issues arise time and time again, so it is clear that lessons are not being learned in some cases. I hope that that will change. How have previous recommendations been taken forward?

8. Mr Sterling: I wish to add that the risk-management committee in the Department monitors regularly the progress made against the implementation of recommendations that the Public Accounts Committee, the Audit Office and our internal audit service make. That is addressed at the departmental audit committee, and any significant issues are then brought to the departmental board’s attention.

9. The Chairperson: Mr Hamilton, the Committee is, and has been, about trying to establish value for money. Given the outcomes, which are that considerable money was spent on the two projects, very few jobs were created and few successful businesses were established. With the benefit of hindsight, can you tell us what value to the economy Invest NI puts on the projects?

10. Mr Alastair Hamilton (Invest Northern Ireland): I am sorry; I missed the last part of that question.

11. The Chairperson: If we think about the money that was spent on the two projects, what value to the overall economy does Invest NI put on them? We must also remember that the projects in question were based in the north-west and in west Belfast.

12. Mr A Hamilton: The two projects did slightly different things. I know that we are trying to draw some parallel themes, and I think that that is worthwhile. The Campsie facility was a speculative build to try to provide an accommodation facility in advance of need in an area of deprivation. Although we may get into a debate about what happened with the project and what went wrong with it, the principle of what the former Industrial Development Board (IDB) was trying to achieve at the outset of the project was valid. As a matter of fact, although we in Invest Northern Ireland no longer carry out advance builds, there is still considerable desire across the community for us to be involved in such a process.

13. Many of the lessons that have been learned as a result of issues that arose in the Campsie case, beyond those that David outlined, have been baked into the organisation. For example, there are no option to break clauses in any of our current leases. By and large, we buy and develop land once the need and opportunity to do so arises with a client. A lot of those lessons have been learned across the process.

14. The two projects were slightly different in delivering value for money. You referred to job creation. The Committee is aware that Invest NI has two responsibilities in that regard. First, we have a responsibility to accelerate research and development, which is probably more appropriate to the Synergy e-business incubator facility. Secondly, we are responsible for straightforward employment creation. It is difficult to draw parallels between the two projects in those areas. Nevertheless, a lot of bigger lessons in delivering outcomes have been learned and put into place across those two processes.

15. The Chairperson: Thank you; I appreciate that. What value, if any, have those two projects given to the local economy?

16. Mr A Hamilton: Six of the companies that came out of the Synergy e-business incubator are still in operation today and there are still jobs in each of them. At the last count, all the jobs are above the private sector median, which is another target that we drive. Therefore, if we think about pure output, value for money was delivered through the Synergy e-business incubator. I agree with the comments in the Audit Office report that the project did not represent very good value for money. However, it was a high-risk project in an area of deprivation. As regards the Campsie facility, it is clear that no companies availed themselves of that property. Therefore, we did not get value for money out of that project.

17. The Chairperson: My questions set the overall scene, and other members may want to develop them. A few years ago, the Westminster PAC found serious conflicts of interests in the Emerging Business Trust. Invest NI sponsored that organisation, and, therefore, we would expect all departments in Invest NI to be totally on top of its board members’ interests. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s office was given information on members’ interests through a reply to an Assembly question for written answer, and when he compared that with the information provided in the accounts of Invest NI, he found that it differed. I also tabled a question for written answer, AQW 400/10, and the answer to that question was also different. Could you tell the Committee what went wrong and why there was a difference?

18. Mr Sterling: We regret that there were some inconsistencies, and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s letter to you dated 15 February 2010 explains some of those inconsistencies. The main reason was that the Assembly question for written answer was asking a slightly different question to the information that the related party disclosures and the annual accounts could, and were seeking to, provide. Specifically, the Assembly question for written answer asked for all interests to be identified, and, for that reason, non-beneficial interests were identified in the Assembly question for written answer that were not included in the accounts. You should take some comfort from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s comments in his note to the Chairperson that he has recognised that Invest NI is taking steps to improve controls in that area. Invest NI is going to do that in a different way when it comes to reporting the related party disclosures in the annual accounts.

19. However, it is worth emphasising that I do not think that there is any suggestion that any board member of Invest NI has failed to disclose a relevant transaction or interest. The Comptroller and Auditor General has noted that, over recent years, he has examined some payments to companies that are associated with board members, and none of those payments revealed any breach of approval procedures. It is unfortunate — indeed, regrettable — that there were those inconsistencies. Invest NI is putting in place controls to ensure that that type of thing does not happen again. I emphasise again that we take the situation seriously, and I am happy to talk more about the controls that we have in place to deal with conflicts of interests and so forth.

20. The Chairperson: That is useful to know. I know that another member wants to be included in the round of questions on that. Thank you for setting the scene.

21. Mr Hilditch: It is clear from paragraph 4 of the report ‘Campise Office Accommodation’ that, although the agreements for those units were signed in late 1991 and early 1992, they have never subsequently been occupied and client interest has been virtually non-existent. That is amazing. What was the rationale for the project?

22. Mr Sterling: We must remember that the project was conceived in the late 1980s or the early 1990s. It is worth recognising that in the Derry City Council area at that time, unemployment was 15·1%, and, in Northern Ireland as a whole, it was 10·9%. That compares with the unemployment rate in the Derry City Council area now of 7·2% and the rate in Northern Ireland of 5·1%. Although things are bad now, they were very bad in those days. There was a desire to do innovative and different things to try to stimulate economic development. At that stage, there was a strong feeling that we should market ourselves as a location for back-office business processing-type organisations. At that stage, two developers came forward with proposals to work in conjunction with the public sector to provide those two units. That industrial property development scheme, as it was known, was a unique venture, and, indeed, the former IDB or Invest NI has operated no similar scheme since.

23. I would have to accept that the expenditure on the project has not delivered value for money, primarily because a break clause in the lease in the fourth year was missed. I cannot explain why that break option was missed, nor, indeed, can I excuse it. It should not have happened, and I greatly regret it.

24. Mr Hilditch: I am sure that people will be thankful that there has not been such a scheme since. On the back of that rationale, it is clear from paragraphs 10 and 12 that the former Valuation and Lands Office (VLO) raised considerable reservations about aspects of the project, such as location and demand, before the leases were signed. That appears to have been largely disregarded. Why was the decision made to proceed with the project in the face of such pessimistic professional advice?

25. Mr Sterling: That is a good question, and we have looked into it. Land and Property Services, or VLO as it then was, provided advice on property matters, but, ultimately, the IDB, having taken account of VLO’s advice, took the decision on economic development grounds. With hindsight, that was clearly the wrong decision, but it is clear that the former Industrial Development Board at that time had to take into account a range of competing interests and factors, and it was clearly seeking to stimulate economic development in the north-west. The VLO’s views were taken into account, and the ultimate nature and shape of the project was scaled down on the basis of VLO’s advice. However, we acknowledge that that advice was not fully taken on board.

26. It is worth recognising that Land and Property Services wrote to the Comptroller and Auditor General and said that it operates on a:

“clear understanding that we advise on property matters and property market related risks, but that the economic decisions on investment or subsidy rest with IDB/INI."

27. The letter notes that:

“The dynamic is challenging and robust at times but this is its strength. Perhaps features of the relationship, such as the close involvement of dedicated staff could have been highlighted in the report as good practice."

28. Therefore, those comments suggest that this will always be a relationship wherein advice is taken but may not be acted upon in full. With hindsight, it should have been.

29. Mr Hilditch: You mentioned that the reason was because there was a range of competing interests. Do you have any examples of those interests?

30. Mr Sterling: When I spoke about competing interests, I was referring to the IDB, as it then was. The IDB’s primary goal was to stimulate economic development, particularly in the north-west, where there were severe economic problems. That would have been its overriding consideration in deciding to go ahead with the project.

31. Mr Hilditch: Those were lean years, and I had just entered politics at that stage. In my constituency, we lost Rothmans, ICI, Courthaulds and various similar firms. Subsequently, land banks were amassed in those areas, and they still lie to this day. However, I knew from some of the more experienced people in politics that there was a certain amount of pressure, for want of a better word. Was there political pressure to proceed with the project?

32. Mr Sterling: I do not know. This took place 19 years ago. We acknowledge that file records are not as good as they perhaps might be. However, I have no knowledge of the extent to which there was political pressure or involvement. I am not sure whether my colleagues in Invest NI can comment on that.

33. Mr Hilditch: We have been getting that answer for two weeks — no one knows.

34. Paragraph 17 tells us that the IDB failed to exercise the options to break from the leases in September 1996. When was IDB first aware that it had missed those deadlines?

35. Mr Sterling: It was relatively soon afterwards. My colleagues may know the exact date.

36. Mr Mel Chittock (Invest Northern Ireland): It was 1997. Correspondence came in from one of the property developers, and that alerted the staff to the knowledge that the break clause had been missed at that point.

37. Mr Hilditch: When in 1997 was that?

38. Mr Chittock: It was —

39. Mr A Hamilton: I can give you the exact date. The break clause was discussed at an internal meeting on 5 December 1995. Those clauses should have been exercised on 30 July 1996 and 14 September 1996, and they were discussed in advance of those dates on 5 December 1995. As David said, the records are not as fulsome as they could be. The next record that we have is dated November 1997, and it is a paper setting out the case and the options. Our understanding is that that came to light when an invoice for rent was received following the failure to break.

40. Mr Hilditch: I am aware that other members wish to develop that point, so I will stop there.

41. Lord Browne: I would like to further pursue the failure to break from those leases, because that has proved to be a significant and costly error. Paragraph 22 tells us that there is no evidence of any internal inquiry into the matter. Mr Sterling, do you not think that a situation that cost the public purse almost £1·8 million merited an investigation? Should the results not have been fully documented and made available to senior management and retained for the public record?

42. Mr Sterling: I agree. As I said, I cannot explain why the break was missed. I cannot excuse it. I cannot explain why there is no record of an investigation — there should have been one. Although we do not have any similar schemes in place, if such an incident happened now, there would be an investigation.

43. Lord Browne: Do you agree that the monitoring of contracts and leases should have been a priority for the former IDB? Has Invest NI taken any steps or have any processes been put in place to ensure that contracts and leases are continually monitored to make sure that that kind of oversight could not possibly happen again?

44. Mr Sterling: Yes. My colleagues will describe the process in detail, but, essentially, the Department and Invest NI has a set of governance and control arrangements in place that are designed to prevent that happening. There are also arrangements whereby if there is failure to comply, sanctions can be exacted. That has happened. In particular, we now have quite sophisticated electronic document record-management systems and other similar systems that are designed to make sure that key dates and milestones are not missed. My colleagues will further discuss and describe that.

45. Mr Chittock: To support what David said, I should say that we now have a rigorous monitoring regime in place. Given that we deliver a large number of projects each year, there are very clear project ownership and project-management rules for any property development elements that we get involved in. We run a monthly project board as part of our control procedures, and that reviews all development cases in hand. We carry out a full annual review of all property cases and interests that we are involved in to ensure that we do not miss any break clauses or any such conditions that have similar consequences.

46. If such failure of action were evidenced today, we would carry out an investigation. We have done so on monitoring conditions before. In as recently as 2007, we carried out a review of all monitoring practices in the organisation and made some changes as a result of an internal audit report.

47. Lord Browne: You did not conduct an investigation into why this happened, but it appears from the NIAO report that, between the time that the oversight was noticed and the time that Invest Northern Ireland successfully negotiated the surrender of the contracts, no fewer than three reviews were carried out on the position relating to those contracts. Those reports all concluded that negotiating surrender was the best course of action. It is noted that the developers did not appear interested in those negotiations. Why did the IDB and, latterly, Invest Northern Ireland not pursue those negotiations and bring greater pressure on the developers sooner by withholding rent and so on? You finally did that, and it brought about the developer’s agreement to the surrender offer. Should the tactics of withholding rent and demanding that the developers bring the properties up to standard not have been employed earlier, given that the properties were in a state of considerable disrepair from the late 1990s onwards?

48. Mr Sterling: I agree. When a more robust approach was taken after 2005 and when, perhaps, more obvious energy was employed, we saw a resolution to the problem. I do not seek to excuse what looks like a lack of energy before then.

49. Mr A Hamilton: I will give some more background information, but not as an excuse. You make a fair point about the apparent distinction between the aggression that was shown post 2005 to resolve the matter and the approach that was taken before then. The key point is that Invest NI did not have the legal right to withhold rent: that was not in its lease. Therefore, it took a commercial decision to do something that it did not have legal grounding to do to get to the result that you have just outlined — finally getting the companies to negotiate a point. The advice that we were given prior to that was that we did not have a legal position to withhold rent either with regard to getting people to negotiate with us for closure or to get the maintenance of the buildings brought back up to scratch. The Audit Office reflected that in its report by stating that a different, more commercial, approach was taken post 2005 to force the issue onto the table and to reach the point where we are at today, which is that both leases have been surrendered early.

50. Lord Browne: You said that you wanted to bring the buildings up to scratch but that Invest Northern Ireland was liable to pay a fee of £250,000 to make the buildings suitable for a tenant, if ever one was found, since it was the developers who were responsible for the construction and maintenance of the properties. Is that normal practice for Invest NI; is it a good use of public money? Would it have been wiser to make that the developers’ responsibility?

51. Mr A Hamilton: I will address both those points. There was an element to the deal whereby a certain amount of the development grant would be held back until a prospective client had been agreed, and then it would be used to fit out the property to the client’s requirements. However, that is not how we operate today. As David said, the scheme is not relevant today and, therefore, that element of it would not be in operation today. We only get involved through land acquisition and development and then by supporting companies that say that they will set up here or develop locally; we then support them through property support or selective financial assistance.

52. With regard to the maintenance side, I agree with Lord Browne: the lease was poorly drafted; there was lack of clarity on who was responsible for the maintenance of the properties. We would not have a lease today in which it was not clearly defined who was responsible for maintenance. I assure you that that is clearly defined today in all our properties where we lease for our own purposes.

53. Lord Browne: Why did the IDB and, later, Invest Northern Ireland continue to spend money on marketing those sites when there was no demand for them. How much money was wasted on advertising those properties? The report states that marketing was to have increased once the developer had declined to negotiate to surrender the first time. Therefore, the money spent on advertising increased.

54. Finally, can you assure the Committee that there was absolutely no misconduct from the IDB regarding the failure to break from those leases?

55. Mr Sterling: In the absence of an investigation, I do not know what happened at that time; therefore, I cannot give any such assurance.

56. Lord Browne: You cannot give an assurance that there was no misconduct?

57. Mr Sterling: I would love to be able to give such an assurance, but I cannot. It happened 14 years ago, and we simply do not know why.

58. Mr A Hamilton: May I answer the question about advertising? We make assumptions based on lack of information. I can only assume that it was visible that the break clause had been missed and that, therefore, there were 21 years in front with no legal option to force the companies to the table. You are right: there were three reviews in which all possible routes were taken to try to address the problem; it was about getting the companies to the table to negotiate a surrender of the lease. However, the original objective was to get companies in and create economic development; that was aggressively pursued at the same time. People were pursuing every option either to get out of the liability or to pursue economic benefit.

59. The Chairperson: If the same were to happen today, would there be an investigation?

60. Mr Sterling: Absolutely.

61. The Chairperson: Who was in charge at that stage?

62. Mr Sterling: At what level?

63. The Chairperson: At your level and at that of the head of IDB and the permanent secretary.

64. Mr Sterling: I am not sure. May I get back to you in writing on that?

65. The Chairperson: OK. I appreciate that.

66. Mr Dallat: Paragraphs 28 and 29 tell us that an agent was not appointed to market the units until almost two and a half years after the control period had expired and that, during that time, the units had fallen into disrepair. Why were those delays allowed to happen?

67. Mr Sterling: Efforts were being made in the background to market the units, particularly in North America. Perhaps my colleagues can pick up on that.

68. Mr Chittock: The appointment of an agent was considered in 1997 following the discovery of a missing break clause, but it was delayed until much later because of a US-driven initiative with Derry City Council, which, it was decided, would be allowed to run first, after which the agent was to be appointed.

69. Mr Dallat: I am at a loss to understand how so many things were missed. The Assembly was aware of the vacant units at Campsie: I tabled a question for oral answer on 18 June 2001 to the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Sir Reg Empey, from which I will quote. I asked the Minister to identify premises rented for industrial job creation. He told me that IDB was paying £90,000 a year for the two units at Campsie. In his answer to my supplementary question, Sir Reg Empey told me that:

“Estate agents have been appointed to market the sites — IDB came to the same conclusion as the Member. They have been attempting to find possible tenants and have also put the sites on the market. Negotiations are ongoing at present with a potential occupant." — [Official Report, Bound Volume 11, p174, col 1].

70. Public money amounting to £1·8 million was squandered afterwards and those units are still empty. Was there a breakdown in communication? What was going on?

71. Mr Sterling: We have already acknowledged that failure to exercise the break clause in 1996 was crucial; it meant that IDB, and, subsequently, INI, became liable to rental payments of £1·89 million. That was unacceptable. Fortunately, we have managed to reduce that commitment by some £640,000 because of the commercial approach that was taken and the pressure that was put on the developers. Had the break clause been exercised, IDB and INI would have had no liability for rental payments beyond 1996.

72. Mr Dallat: We are nine years on from when the question was first put to Sir Reg Empey. Why was no solution found to a problem that has cost £1·8 million? Was anyone dealing with the issue?

73. Mr Sterling: Efforts were made to market the sites, including the employment of agents. Potential inward investors were taken to visit the sites, and efforts continued in the background throughout to reach agreement with the developers and the owners of the properties. However, as Alastair said, the flawed nature of the leases meant that IDB and Invest NI were negotiating from a weak standpoint. We acknowledge that entirely.

74. Mr Dallat: The Minister gave a solid assurance to the Assembly that everything possible was being done to find a solution. I hate to repeat myself, but that was nine years ago. Ironically, the private secretary of the IDB then was Bruce Robinson, who is now head of the Civil Service. The problem was not forgotten; it must have been to the forefront of your schedule. Given that Derry had unemployment rates of more than 15%, why were alarm bells not ringing, and why did you just sign the cheques every month until you ran up a bill of £1·8 million?

75. Mr Sterling: As I explained, efforts were being made to market the sites and to get people into them. Efforts were also being made to break from the leases, but, again, we were negotiating from a weak standpoint. It was only when Invest NI took more aggressive action and played hardball with the developers and contravened the lease by withholding rent that we got out of the leases. The leases have now been surrendered. The loss to the taxpayer, which is still substantial and unacceptable, has nonetheless been reduced by about £640,000.

76. Mr A Hamilton: Lack of communication was a critical issue at the start of the case. Only two of the projects were ever conducted in that way; there were no systems in place. I am not trying to justify what happened; I am trying to explain how it happened. No system was put around the management of those projects, so it depended purely on internal communication without systems. That is what let it down. The team that negotiated the original project was dissolved shortly afterwards because only two projects were put in place; they were not in the same positions four years later when the breaks should have been exercised. They were purely dependent on internal communications, which failed. That is the background.

77. You asked what happened from 2001, which was the date of your letter. Records show that three separate attempts were made from that point on to break with the companies that were involved. I assure you that, from the information that we have in the records, it was visible at senior management level. I do not want to repeat what you said, but a different approach was taken from 2005, which resulted in where we are now.

78. Mr Dallat: Interestingly, I took this quote from the web. The private secretary said that communication has been central to:

“reform strategy, which is rolling out under the ‘Changing for the Better’ banner."

79. Is it not ironic that what is published on the website is the very thing that was not done — communication in order to avoid missing the break clause?

80. Mr A Hamilton: What was the date of that letter?

81. Mr Dallat: I asked the question on 28 June 2001.

82. Mr A Hamilton: I am talking about 1996; that is when communication failed in the process.

83. Mr Dallat: Totally.

84. Mr A Hamilton: In response to the letter that you have just read from, a Government-wide process was introduced to ensure that systems are in place.

85. Mr Dallat: The same person — Bruce Robinson — is saying it. Presumably his views have not changed over nine years.

86. Mr A Hamilton: They are two completely different timelines. I am answering questions about a communications breakdown in 1996.

87. Mr Dallat: Paragraph 29 states that it is clear that IDB was aware that the units were in a poor state of repair as far back as July 1998; but paragraph 37 tells us that decisive action to ensure that the developers maintained the building was not commenced until 2005, seven years later.

88. Why was there such an unacceptable delay in taking action? For how long was rent paid on buildings in such poor condition? Those are simple questions requiring simple answers.

89. Mr Sterling: Rent was paid throughout the period, until July 2005. Mel will pick up on the issue of maintenance.

90. Mr Chittock: The lease contracts were not clear about who was responsible for maintaining the buildings; that was a clear weakness. The legal advice that IDB took at the time from the Departmental Solicitor’s Office was that it was unclear who was responsible. We took a much more aggressive stance, laid responsibility on the developers and started withholding rent to ensure that the developers maintained the buildings.

91. Mr Dallat: Perhaps it is a good that the 15% unemployed in Derry did not know of the incompetence of the IDB and the Department at the time. It is shameful from beginning to end.

92. I have no more questions.

93. The Chairperson: How many prospective businesses were shown the two units?

94. Mr Sterling: We do not have exact numbers; the records from the time are inadequate.

95. The Chairperson: Have you approximate numbers?

96. Mr Chittock: No; records of site visits were not kept in the early days. We know that visits took place.

97. The Chairperson: How many site visits have been made in recent years?

98. Mr Chittock: I am afraid that I do not have that information.

99. The Chairperson: Do you have any relevant information?

100. Mr Chittock: Invest NI maintains a complete list of all site visits undertaken for every property that we show to prospective investors or to companies looking to expand. Those records have been kept since 2004-05.

101. The Chairperson: Have you that information with you?

102. Mr Chittock: No.

103. The Chairperson: Please forward us that information so that we know how many site visits have taken place. If you have information from the start of the period, it would also be useful.

104. Mr McLaughlin: I want to return to the line of questioning that John Dallat pursued. Let me set the context for my interest in this. The Barnett review recommended urgent examination to determine the requirements for the purchase of large amounts of industrial land. I understand that that review is in progress and is due to report this year.

105. Mr Hamilton, I understand that, while that review is ongoing, Invest NI continues to acquire land and property. Is that correct?

106. Mr A Hamilton: We have a commitment under the Programme for Government, which is now in its third year, to acquire 200 acres of land in areas of disadvantage; we have acquired land in Strabane, Newry and Armagh. There was a proposal to acquire land in Omagh, but that has been delayed because of budgetary constraints. The Programme for Government stipulated that we should acquire 200 acres of land in areas that had suffered deprivation due to market failure; and that 75% of that land should be acquired in areas of deprivation. We are pursuing that.

107. You are absolutely right: the independent review recommended a review to determine whether there is still market failure in land. That review is under way, but we continue to drive towards the Programme for Government targets.

108. Mr McLaughlin: Invest NI’s 2008-09 accounts, page 65, note 12, tells us that Invest spent £7·5 million buying land and property in that period. Can you give us more detail and tell us how much Invest NI has spent buying land and property in the year 2009-2010?

109. The Chairperson: Someone’s mobile phone or electronic device is interfering with the sound recording system. Hansard has a hard enough job listening to us without that. Will whoever is responsible please switch it off?

110. Mr A Hamilton: Whereabouts in the accounts is that figure?

111. Mr McLaughlin: It is on page 65, note 12, “Tangible Fixed Assets".

112. Mr A Hamilton: I can give you the timeline for the four areas that I have just outlined: the cost of acquiring in Armagh in 2008-09 was £2 million; the cost of acquiring in Newry in 2009-2010 was £11 million; and the cost of acquiring in Strabane in 2009-2010 was £3 million. The cost for Omagh may be about £4 million, but that process has been delayed.

113. Mr Chittock: I suspect that it is an element of Dungannon, Armagh and Strabane, with regard to land acquisition in recent times.

114. Mr McLaughlin: Could you determine some precise information and write to the Committee?

115. Mr A Hamilton: I am happy to write to the Committee. With regard to the table and the accounts, that is the accounting treatment: it is not necessarily what we paid for it. That is the value of what we bought. However, I will write to the Committee with the exact details.

116. Mr McLaughlin: I want to come back to the accounting treatment. Page 60 shows that unoccupied land and property was valued at almost £29m. Can you give us a figure for the financial year just finished, 2009-2010? There does not appear to be any great clamour by investors looking for the sites. Can you rationalise continuing that policy in those circumstances?

117. Mr A Hamilton: I cannot give you an answer to the first question, as our accounts for the year are not yet complete. However, I will be more than happy to write to you with the details as soon as the accounts are finalised.

118. In 2008, unoccupied land was valued at £28 million and £47 million in the previous year; that is a considerable reduction in unoccupied land. However, to go back to your question about the clamour — or lack of it — I acknowledge that in the current economic downturn the requirements for land have reduced considerably. Companies have not only depressed their investment opportunities and plans but, equally, their desire to buy land has also been depressed.

119. Mr McLaughlin: I realise that you will have to take time to answer that question. However, will you come back to the Committee in writing with an analysis? I am interested in how long the land and property in your possession has been unoccupied. Will you tell us when it was acquired and how long it had been unoccupied in your possession?

120. Mr A Hamilton: Do you want the information site by site?

121. Mr McLaughlin: Yes; a macro analysis would be helpful.

122. Mr A Hamilton: It would need to be site by site to give you the details of when it was acquired. Yes, we will write to you with the answer.

123. Mr McLaughlin: To come back to the Campsie office accommodation, we had a catalogue of inexplicable contradictions. Valuation and Lands Agency issues were set aside. I assume that they were considered, but they were not acted on. Break points were missed. Properties were not fitted out: they were, in effect, shells without ceilings or floors, facilities or services. According to the DSO, the developers were in breach of their maintenance obligations. The premises were never occupied. An agent to market the property was not appointed until 2001.

124. I was a councillor for almost four terms in Derry where there is a long-held view that IDB and, subsequently, Invest NI have not addressed the historic regional imbalances in development and prioritising the eradication of those problems. Those are historical realities; I am not blaming those two agencies. Nevertheless, the question arises whether land holdings — and this exercise in particular — was more about politics than business; it was a response to the demand that something should be done, and the result was two expensive white elephants. The exercise made no contribution to addressing long-term unemployment or the underdevelopment of the economy of the north-west. I am worried that the same political approach is being adopted now with regard to our extensive portfolio of property. I understand the reference in the Programme for Government obligations, but perhaps we need to shake our heads. I would like an assurance that the £1·8 million is not reported in your accounts as evidence of your commitment to the north-west.

125. You were paying for two units that were never occupied and were not even fitted out to be suitable for lease to anyone, and you can produce no evidence that investors were brought to see those properties. It is clear that there was a market failure from the very beginning. The Valuation and Lands Agency (VLA) had told you that it was not going to solve that problem. The question arises whether the accommodation at Campsie was a political defence against accusations that the north-west was being ill served by the industrial development agencies of the state. What would you say to that accusation? Given the Department’s extensive landholdings in areas of high deprivation, has there been any change in that pattern since the early 90s?

126. Mr Sterling: We are not trying to defend the decision to procure those two buildings, nor are we trying to defend the way in which the project was managed, certainly until recently. The kindest construction that one can put on it is that the original decision was a genuine effort to stimulate economic development in the area. However, our records show that much of the motivation at the time was not clearly recorded. Nonetheless, that project should not cloud what is being done elsewhere. Invest NI has promoted significant economic development opportunities in the north-west and in the Derry City Council area. There are some significant successes — Springtown being just one. Other areas have obtained successful economic development support, and companies that have been supported have prospered. I would not want to suggest that the failings in this project are indicative of anything wider.

127. Mr McLaughlin: What about the accounting treatment? I do not have to elaborate on the value-for-money aspect of this project. Are they accounted for as evidence of a commitment to a particular sub-region?

128. Mr Sterling: No; they are not.

129. Mr McLaughlin: However, they are accounted as —

130. Mr Sterling: What would have appeared in the accounts would have been £90,000 a year of rental to the two landowners from 1996 onwards; however, that expenditure does not score towards any particular target. The important targets in the Programme for Government are, as Alastair pointed out, those relating to the requirement that 75% of land acquisition be in areas of disadvantage. There is also a target that 70% of new foreign direct investment projects should be located within 10 miles of an area of disadvantage. We are working towards targets that have been agreed by the Executive and the Assembly and which are designed to tackle disadvantage. Progress towards those targets is pretty good.

131. Mr A Hamilton: The cost of land acquisition is not broken down by sub-region and attributed on that basis to our investment numbers. Land does not become a part of the numbers that we report, as we did a few days ago in relation to investment in certain areas. Those numbers are based purely on the support that we have given to indigenous companies to start up and grow or to foreign direct investors. The numbers are broken down by constituency. That figure will not appear as an inflated contribution towards economic development where it clearly did not deliver any such development.

132. Mr McLaughlin: I look forward with interest to the analysis of the position in the first instance and the length of time that the buildings were unoccupied.

133. Mr Chittock: I want to put Invest NI’s landholdings in context. We hold 2,714 acres of land across Northern Ireland; all but some 750 acres are let to companies on long leases, typically for 999 years. So, we have only 750 acres, including regional acquisitions, for economic development purposes. Our strategy is very clear. We only buy land in areas in which there is a clear market failure and a clear need identified. The market failure is important because, in recent years, a lot of organisations have sold land for residential housing purposes, which means that industrial availability is very limited. If there is market failure, there is no private sector provision and so we have acquired land in those areas. Therefore, Newry, Dungannon and Strabane are key target areas where we believe there is industrial need but no private sector provision.

134. Mr McLaughlin: A 10 mile radius of an area of deprivation could mean that there is a significant concentration of investment in that area, for example, in the centre of Belfast.

135. Mr Chittock: We do not acquire land in the Belfast area. That is not a part of our strategy.

136. Mr McLaughlin: What about land within 10 miles of Belfast?

137. Mr Chittock: Not as far as I know. We have acquired no land within 10 miles of Belfast.

138. Mr McLaughlin: Thank you very much for that. I look forward to the report.

139. Mr Lunn: A 10 mile radius of Belfast surely includes Lisburn?

140. Mr A Hamilton: I return to my previous point. Prior to the four cases that I specified, Invest NI has not acquired any land since 2001.

141. Mr McLaughlin: In Belfast?

142. Mr A Hamilton: Anywhere.

143. Mr McGlone: Some of my questions are about contemporary events, and will not require the responses that we have heard so often, such as “it was before my time" or “we do not have the exact figures".

144. I read the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report and realised that this issue has come before us previously. Some quite pathetic stuff has come to light. You said that you offered no defence for the decision or the way it was managed. I see from the report that up to two million quid of ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money could have been retrieved but was not because of the lease oversight. We heard about some of the pathetic aspects of managing the lease. Someone had drawn up a lease without including basic maintenance and repairs. That is pathetic and unprofessional. Anyone would know to insert that into a lease.

145. However, members will be interested to find out whether, by some quirk of the imagination or stretch of liberal licence, people were paid performance bonuses for this sort of work. Surely, you have access to that level of detail. I do not expect you to have it with you today, but it is important that we look at these mistakes and at when they occurred. If people were awarding bonuses to themselves and their senior buddies for this type of behaviour, that would be quite pathetic. Was the money blown further exacerbated by money blown on people who were blowing the money?

146. Anyway, I will park that issue. I know that you do not have that information to hand today. We will move to the questions. I have read the 2008-09 accounts. It follows on from your detail on Invest NI’s portfolio of properties. At note 12 on page 65 you had a write-off of over £50 million from the land and property portfolio, due to falling market values. Have you done any reconciliation or anticipated any decline in the value of those properties for 2009-2010?

147. Mr Chittock: The accounts are still being prepared. The diminution in value is about £21 million for the same time period, but I will need to confirm that.

148. Mr McGlone: Is that for this year?

149. Mr Chittock: Yes; but I will need to confirm that. The accounts have not been finalised yet.

150. Mr McGlone: Did I hear correctly that Invest NI had not acquired any further property?

151. Mr A Hamilton: I said that the three sites that we have acquired are in Strabane, Armagh and Newry. One further site in Omagh was part of that programme to meet the 200 acre target, but purchase of that has been delayed.

152. Mr McGlone: How much of the land that has been acquired over the past couple of years was bought at the height of the property bubble and during the period of high inflation? You may not have that level of detail with you, but I would appreciate knowing that.

153. Mr A Hamilton: It is probably worth bearing in mind that it is industrial land, so it would not carry the same premium as people would associate with the property boom.

154. Mr McGlone: I appreciate that, but it still has a comparable knock-on inflation-type level. I am sure that you know better than me that land can now be obtained, not at a knock-down price, but at a reduced level from what it would have been two or three years ago. I am interested in knowing that.

155. In note 18 on page 73 of the 2008-09 accounts there is a comment that has been described as “cryptic". It states that:

“provisions have been made for estimated future expenditure in respect of a number of vacant properties."

156. What we have heard about vacant properties and leases and all the previous shabbiness has been quite disturbing to us as public representatives. Can you indicate what those properties are and how much any vacancies would have cost the taxpayers over the years?

157. Mr A Hamilton: Details are in the public domain of two other properties being leased by Invest NI that are either part occupied or unoccupied. The first is Galwally House, which is the old local enterprise development unit (LEDU) building. The decision to bring LEDU, IDB and the industrial research and technology unit (IRTU) together into one building meant that that building is no longer occupied and is currently on the market for lease.

158. The second is part of one floor of the Waterfront Plaza. That area was previously held by DFP for decant purposes during the ongoing refurbishment of Government property. An inward investor came to us at short notice wanting to set up in Northern Ireland and needing accommodation, and DFP transferred the lease for the ground floor of that building to Invest NI to allow that company to set up. The company took part of the ground floor and asked for an option for future expansion on the rest of it. It has not expanded beyond that, so we currently hold part of that ground floor. That is partly what that note refers to.

159. Mr McGlone: Are those the only properties being held in your portfolio?

160. Mr A Hamilton: Those are the only vacant leased properties.

161. Mr McGlone: Are there other properties?

162. Mr A Hamilton: As one would expect with a property holding as large as ours, tenants come and go in the same way that they would in private property.

163. Mr McGlone: I appreciate that, but will you clarify that there are vacancies and vacant leased properties?

164. Mr A Hamilton: Yes.

165. Mr McGlone: As regards the estimated, or anticipated, costs of those: I do not expect you to know off the top of your head, but —

166. Mr A Hamilton: I can tell you the cost of those two properties. The Waterfront Plaza costs £162,000 per annum, and Galwally House costs £125,000 per annum.

167. Mr McGlone: Are there any respective costs for the other vacant properties?

168. Mr Chittock: We own 18 buildings across Northern Ireland. Three of those properties are vacant, as tenants have left recently. The only cost is the ongoing maintenance of those buildings. There are no lease payments, because we own the buildings.

169. Mr McGlone: Will you provide details of any associated maintenance costs?

170. Mr Chittock: Yes.

171. Mr McGlone: You said that some investors wanted to move out of the plaza.

172. Mr A Hamilton: Part of the Waterfront Plaza was transferred to us from DFP to meet the requirements of an inward investor who set up business and took part of one floor.

173. Mr McGlone: With regard to the properties that you have identified as being vacant or have a vacancy element, including the Plaza, are you close to any form of further settlement on those properties with external investors or other firms?

174. You indicated that a firm came in and that DFP either rescinded or gave up its lease to facilitate that interest. That was probably a good move, but the firm concerned was unable to expand. Has any further interest been shown in those properties that would cut the cost to the public purse?

175. Mr Chittock: There has been quite a lot of interest in the Waterfront Plaza building recently. We showed a number of prospective investors around the building, but there is no firm indication that anyone will take it yet. We are in detailed negotiations with the landlord of Galwally House to try to release the building and with a prospective tenant who would like to sublet it. We know that part of the discussion involves the acquisition of the building from the landlord.

176. We have two vacant factories. We have received two strong expressions of interest in a factory in Downpatrick, and we are in detailed negotiations with a company to sublet a factory in the Ballygomartin area.

177. Mr McGlone: That is all I want to ask about for the moment. Thank you.

178. The Chairperson: I am about to call for the last question in this session. Mr Shannon needs to take his seat quickly. Before we move on, however, Mr Shannon is accompanied by Mr David Coffey, who is 100 years old today. You are welcome, Mr Coffey. [Applause.]

179. Ms Alexis Coffey: Thank you very much.

180. Mr Shannon: Mr Coffey has a great interest in politics, even at 100 years old. He was telling people today how they used to do politics years ago. David, do you want to tell them what you told me earlier on? It was not like it is today, with TVs and everything else. It was carried out at the street corner and on a soapbox. That was the way it was years ago; am I correct?

181. Mr David Coffey: That is correct.

182. Mr Shannon: That is the way they did politics away back then. Mr Coffee is learning about the new politics today.

183. The Chairperson: You are very welcome.

184. Ms Coffey: Thank you very much for your time.

185. Mr McCarthy: We are waiting for Paul to strike up ‘Happy Birthday’. [Laughter.]

186. The Chairperson: That is why I am sitting here and not on ‘X Factor’.

187. Do members have any other questions?

188. Mr Beggs: I am astounded — if I have picked it up right — that there was a lack of clarity in relation to the leases of the Campsie properties. A person renting a house or a corner shop would have clarity in their lease as to whether they were responsible for the maintenance of the property. Why on earth would a body advising businesses not have basic issues like that sorted out? Is there any explanation?

189. Mr A Hamilton: The only explanation that I can give is that the people who set it up at the time — and there is no excuse for it — did not expect that we would be in a situation beyond the four-year point. There was a clear expectation that the leases of the properties would be transferred to other owners before the four-year point was arrived at.

190. Mr Beggs: That leads me to my second brief point. I could understand that explanation if the four-year break point had been enacted. If that had happened in a private company, someone would have been watching out for it and would have flagged it up very carefully on a calendar. If it had not been worked on, someone would have been held accountable for over £1 million in additional costs to that company and would probably lose their job. Why has no one ever been held accountable for that failure?

191. Mr Sterling: I addressed some of those points earlier. We do not know why an investigation was not conducted at the time. It happened 14 years ago, and most of those who were involved at the time have long since retired. I emphasise again that, if there were to be such a significant control failing nowadays, there would be an investigation, and sanctions would be taken if anyone were to be found guilty of misconduct.

192. Mr Beggs: Is this a case of quietly pushing the matter under the table until time has passed, avoiding any uncomfortable observations or public utterances on the matter?

193. Mr Sterling: As I say, this happened 14 years ago and we simply do not know.

194. Mr Lunn: I wanted to make almost the same point about the leases. Who drew up the leases? Was it the Departmental Solicitor’s Office?

195. Mr Chittock: I think that those leases were drawn up by the developers, but DSO and VLA would have been involved in the negotiations.

196. Mr Lunn: So, they were drawn up by the developers?

197. Mr Chittock: I assume so.

198. Mr McGlone: Someone is a good negotiator.

199. Mr Lunn: It astounds me how often government and its agencies get their eyes wiped over leases and contracts. It is amazing.

200. Mr Sterling: Again, I make the point that, had the break point option been exercised, we would have been released from the leases. The rental during two of the first four years was £1 per year.

201. Mr Lunn: At the end of the day, the developers drew up a lease that was accepted by the DSO or yourselves, and it does not contain a clear reference to who was responsible for repairs.

202. Mr Sterling: From a government perspective, they were clearly poor leases.

203. Mr McLaughlin: Was the rent not £33,000 per year?

204. Mr Sterling: There was a different rent for each of the first four years.

205. Mr McLaughlin: Did it not cost £33,000 per year and then rose to £44,000 after four years?

206. Mr Sterling: I am sorry; I may have been wrong there.

207. Mr A Hamilton: We need to get the exact detail. It escalated over the four-year period, and then it took a massive step to £44,000.

208. Mr McLaughlin: With respect, it is misleading to say £1 per year.

209. Mr Sterling: I thought it was £1 for the first two years, but I may be wrong. For at least one of the first four years, it was £1.

210. Mr McLaughlin: Please come back to the Committee with the precise information.

211. Mr Dallat: I have no doubt that the person who acted on behalf of the developer became a millionaire. It would be interesting to know who was responsible for missing the break point and why no investigation was initiated. It would be interesting to know whether that person is still in the Civil Service, was promoted or qualified for bonuses. I do not want a witch-hunt, but this is only 14 years ago. It is not ancient history; it is not that long ago. I want to know who the accounting officer was and who missed those two critical aspects: the break point in the lease and the need for an investigation. You assured us at the beginning that, as far as you knew, there was no funny business going on. However, it would be nice to have on record reassurance that this was just total incompetence.

212. Mr Sterling: I said that I did not know whether there was misconduct: in the absence of an investigation, we have no evidence as to what happened. I have agreed with the Chairperson to write to the Committee, setting out the names of the key people at the time.

213. Mr Dallat: That is good. Thank you.

214. Mr McGlone: Let me summarise what I have established today. There was a developer-led lease, in which it is left unclear as to who was responsible for the maintenance of the building. Maintenance would become significant over a short period. In the middle of it all, costs went up significantly to forty-five grand. No one tweaked that there was a break point. Is that a fair summary of what has been said? I find that level of incompetence astounding, almost incredible.

215. Mr Shannon: I thank the Chairperson and Committee for the opportunity earlier. I am sorry that I was not here before now, but I felt that the birthday of a one-hundred-year-old man was one that ought to be recorded for posterity. We have to read books to get history, whereas that man has lived it.

216. I return to the subject matter before us. In paragraph 43, it is stated that an agreement “in principle" had been reached with the developer of the second unit to surrender the lease for five years rent, a sum of £225,000, which is a significant sum. Has a deal been agreed? The situation is not clear.

217. Mr A Hamilton: I confirm that the second unit has been agreed for £225,000, and it was concluded on 7 April 2010.

218. With regard to what David was talking about earlier, that piece of work brought a saving of £237,000 on what would have been expected from that lease to its conclusion. That, together with £402,000 from unit B, brings costs that have been avoided to £640,000.

219. Mr Shannon: If we had not had the report, then we might not have had such a successful conclusion, and we might not have had all that money in the bank. Maybe that is a difficult question to ask you to answer.

220. Mr A Hamilton: The record shows that the more aggressive position was taken from 2005 onwards. Obviously, there are lessons for us as an organisation to learn from the information in the report and the conclusions reached. Quite a few of the lessons have been put in place already with regard to the evidence we have given today. However, we look forward to the publication of the final report to see whether there is anything more that we can learn.

221. Mr Shannon: It is good news that it has been concluded. Ultimately, no matter what we do in this world, it is always about solutions and conclusions that are satisfactory, and that is a satisfactory conclusion. Thank you.

222. Paragraph 51 outlines Invest Northern Ireland’s current arrangements for property solutions that involve it working directly with client companies to identify and meet their needs. Why was this more pragmatic approach not used previously?

223. Mr A Hamilton: It would be foolish of me to say that the reason why we do what we do now is because of the difficulties that have been created by cases such as this. We avoid the situation in which we are a leaseholder, holding the liability with Invest NI, and waiting for a company to come along and take up that lease. We do this for all the other reasons that have gone around the room that have highlighted the issues that have been created, albeit in a few isolated cases. Nevertheless, the issues have been created. We take our current approach because of those cost consequences, which, as you have outlined rightly, is that we acquire land in areas of deprivation where there is a market failure, which we have gone through, and we only engage with companies at the point where they are ready to invest in Northern Ireland and where we can help and support them through our property interventions.

224. The Chairperson: There are no further questions on the Campsie Office Accommodation report. Thank you.

225. Mr McLaughlin: Before we move off the subject, I would like to ask Mr Hamilton about the rents. I have referenced the part of the report that caught my attention. To be accurate on my part and to correct any misunderstandings that I may have contributed to, total rent payments of £33,750 for each unit for the four-year control period is on page 6. How do I interpret that? Was that a sliding scale of rental due for each unit?

226. Mr A Hamilton: Yes, it was a sliding scale. I do not have the information in front of me, and I will not try to second-guess. However, from memory, it was £1 for the first year, if not for the first couple of years, and then it escalated. Nevertheless, we will write to the Committee and clarify what it was year by year.

227. Mr McLaughlin: Thank you.

20 May 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)
Lord Browne
Mr John Dallat
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Mr Jim Shannon


Mrs Tracy Meharg
Mr Alastair Hamilton
Mr Mel Chittock


Invest Northern Ireland

Mr David Sterling


Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Also in attendance:

Mr Kieran Donnelly


Comptroller and Auditor Genera

Ms Fiona Hamill


Treasury Officer of Accounts

228. The Chairperson (Mr P Maskey): David, would you like to introduce your colleague who has joined us at the table?

229. Mr David Sterling (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Joining us is Tracy Meharg, who is the managing director with responsibility for innovation.

230. The Chairperson: Tracy, I welcome you to today’s Committee meeting. We will move straight on to members’ questions.

231. Mr Lunn: At paragraph 11 on page 24, we see that two sets of consultants were engaged to appraise the incubator project, and they appear to have identified some relevant potential threats that later damaged the success of the project. I would have thought that the project required a high standard of risk management. Why did it not receive that standard of risk management?

232. Mr Sterling: We accept that. We do not disagree with the general conclusion that the value for money achieved by the project was poor. It is worth noting that the incubator supported 15 companies against a target of 20, six of which are still operating.

233. On the issue of risk management, it is clear that this was an innovative project and that it was inherently risky. There was sufficient evidence to conclude at the time that the benefits of the project would exceed the risks, but we acknowledge that the risk management could have been better. However, effort was made to manage the key risks that were identified at the outset of the project. Those had been identified under four areas.

234. The first concern was that there may not be a sufficient number of people interested in becoming “incubatees", which is an awkward word. Nonetheless, ICL Fujitsu encouraged its workforce to start up a small business to avail of the opportunity. They ran seminars and there were monthly progress reports. Risks around the uncertainty over accommodation were flagged up. The fact that it was difficult to find a permanent site for the incubator was a major problem in the early days, but the industrial research and technology unit (IRTU) and the industrial development board (IDB) co-operated to find premises.

235. There were risks in and around private sector financing. The risk was such that no new private sector financing was available. We must acknowledge that, at the time, the project was a concept. It was expected that there would be much stronger growth of information and communications technology (ICT) business, but globally, the ICT business crashed post-2001, partly because of 9/11 and so on. That made it a much more difficult environment in which to operate.

236. We now know much more about what is needed and how to manage incubator-type projects. It is quite clear from analysis that has been done across Europe that most of those units require some ongoing private sector funding, and few of them generate profits. Nonetheless, efforts were made to address that particular risk and ICL, for example, seconded three of their executives to the incubator. Those executives would normally have been expected to generate four times their own salary for ICL. The benefit in kind to the incubator was around £700,000 from those secondments, and ICL also provided services.

237. Those were some of the ways in which risk was managed, but we acknowledge that there are lessons to be learned from the project. Those lessons are now being learned and applied.

238. Mr Lunn: Mention has been made of the fact that six of those businesses are still in operation. That seems to be at odds to the report. Page 23 states that there were only five of those businesses on site when the incubator ceased to operate. Of those projects, one relocated to Jordanstown, two to the Northern Ireland Science Park, and the two that were left were experiencing trading difficulties. That is either five or three. Are you satisfied that there are still six in operation?

239. Mr Sterling: Additional work has been done to track down those companies. Tracy will comment on that.

240. Mrs Tracy Meharg (Invest Northern Ireland): One of the big issues that the Audit Office identified in the process was the absence of good information on the incubating companies. It was difficult to find that information. We have now been able to identify six companies that are still operating that came through the incubator, and we know what their employment is. I am happy to pass that information to the Committee after the meeting.

241. Mr Lunn: Do you know how many people they employ? Can you tell us, or do you want to write to us?

242. Mrs Meharg: I am happy to write to you on that. It is in the region of 40 people.

243. The Chairperson: Can you tell us where they are based at the moment?

244. Mrs Meharg: I will be happy to do that.

245. Mr Lunn: It seems odd that there were only five companies on site when it closed down.

246. Mrs Meharg: I have included in the six the synergy company, which was there at the start, and may be included in the Audit Office’s numbers.

247. The Chairperson: I take it that the report was agreed between the Audit Office and yourselves?

248. Mrs Meharg: Yes, that is right.

249. The Chairperson: You did not have the numbers either at that stage.

250. Mr Lunn: In 2009, as you know, the Committee published a report on the review of assistance to Valence Technology. There is a big difference in scale, but there are parallels with the Valence Technology project when it comes to controls, in particular the question of approval by the casework committee. What does a casework committee do? Where does it sit in the overall function of Invest NI?

251. Mr Alastair Hamilton (Invest Northern Ireland): I will answer the second part of your question first. Leaving the project under discussion aside for the moment, the casework approval process, in general, allows the client executive or the person responsible for the project to put together a case. The case is reviewed, depending on the value of the proposed support to the company, which, in turn, depends on the delegated limits within the organisation. The case is reviewed usually by a group of three people in the organisation to provide a peer review across the team. The casework needs to clearly identify what the project is, what the expected outcomes are, and the pros and cons, which takes us back to the Valence project.

252. It was said earlier that there was no upfront identification of the risks to the project. The casework must clearly identify those risks and identify the mitigation process against any such risks. This project came from the same era as Valence Technology, and, therefore, some of the systemic issues that existed at that time are visible in this case. Whether this project should have gone to casework is commented on in the report. The project was concluded under a programme called Foresight, which had single delegated authority and did not require casework. That does not justify what happened, but simply explains it.

253. Mr Lunn: Was there no approval by the casework committee of this particular project? Was there a failure to reappraise the project when major changes occurred as it went along?

254. Mr A Hamilton: There are two aspects to that. There was no casework for this project. The lessons that have been learned from other projects that are now in place mean that if this project was being done in this way today, a casework committee would oversee it. Again, there was a delegated authority level in the IRTU at that stage, and the proper delegated authority limits were enacted in this case. It was signed off at the right level with the right person. The lessons that have been learned across the organisation over the past 12 to 15 years in cases such as Valence means that all projects should have casework approval. That requirement has now been embedded in the organisation.

255. Mr Sterling: The project was reviewed and certain actions were taken following the withdrawal of Fujitsu. There was a consultants’ review of the management arrangements and changes to management structure were made as well as some other changes. However, we accept that the withdrawal of Fujitsu represented a material change to the project. It should have been formally reappraised at the time. Such a thing would happen under current arrangements.

256. Mr Lunn: You probably would not be amazed at how often we listen to people saying that lessons have been learned and mistakes will never happen again. That is what we are about. For all that, we hear about the same failings over and over again; that is the way it goes. I am absolutely in favour of Invest NI, and this type of project is fine. I would not be particularly critical. I have said it here and in other forums that if Invest NI never took a risk it would never have a failure; it would not be doing its job.

257. If one only backed racing certainties, there would not be many of them; so one has to take risks. That is fair enough. If we lose the odd few bob here and there from backing the wrong horse, that is fair enough, as long as we monitor them carefully. That is what seems not to have happened here. There is a parallel there with failings. This thing was allowed to run without proper control and monitoring. That is my problem with it. It is not the fact that you took the project in the first place, but rather that it was allowed to dribble away money and fade out of existence without proper control.

258. You can treat that as a question if you want.

259. Mr Sterling: I will let Alastair address that. However, we accept that, whilst there was monitoring of performance on a regular basis, the weakness was that there was no monitoring of financial performance. That is something that now happens consistently on projects of this nature and on projects generally. There have been improvements in control arrangements. You have said that you hear that time and again. However, let me repeat that, in this project, that problem occurred some years ago. We are confident that procedures are now much stronger.

260. Mr Lunn: That is exactly what we hear time and again. We should almost have a button on that desk, which, when pushed, plays out the words “Lessons have been learnt." I do not want to be too critical. I will leave it at that. The next questions might follow on from that.

261. Mr Beggs: I want to pursue that further.

262. Without appropriate monitoring, how can you take calculated risks and decisions? That is one of the main failures in this episode. Mr Sterling, paragraph 35 tells us that DETI and Invest NI did not receive detailed financial and management information from Synergy Centre Limited or Synergy eBusiness Incubator.

263. The sort of things that I understand to have been part of the grant arrangement are: board minutes, spending forecasts and four-monthly reports, which I understand were irregular and from which information was missing. Statisical information was inconsistent. I see from paragraph 19 that there was no source data to support the figure of 53 jobs. How solid was that figure? Do you accept that without accurate detailed information, which you had requested as a part of the grant arrangement, you could not monitor performance?

264. Mr Sterling: I do not want to repeat myself endlessly, but we accept that, whilst there was monitoring of performance, it was not sufficient. In particular, the absence of monitoring financial performance was a clear weakness in the management of the project. I acknowledge that.

265. Some of my colleagues may want to pick up on some of the more specific points.

266. Mr A Hamilton: I will pick up some of the points as to the granularity of the detail. I do not want to repeat David’s comments. Information was requested, but it was not provided in sufficient detail. That should have been fixed. My second point is that the programme under which this was supported did not require that financial information be provided, just information on the operational performance of the project. That has now been changed. All projects that we support are now required to provide financial information.

267. Another point made in the report is that we did not monitor the parent company. That was also a failing in the process, and we now monitor parent companies of all such projects.

268. My only point is about your reference to the board meetings. Let me be clear: we do not request board minutes from companies. We rely completely on the information provided in the annual report and accounts, any quarterly financial information requested and any operational monitoring reports.

269. Mr Beggs: If there are companies, particularly start-up companies, that are so reliant on that one aspect of their business, why do you not go for detailed information? In 2003, I noticed that there was another company spin-out from the operation and another £2 million with regard to NITAP. There were big risk factors. Why were you not keeping a careful eye on how the company was performing before giving out further significant amounts of public money?

270. Mrs Meharg: An economic appraisal took account of the financial performance of SCL before the NITAP money was given out. The economic appraisal was sent back three times because issues were found. The latest report was aware of the deteriorating financial position in SCL at the time. However, the report also looked at the changes that had been made post the restructuring in 2002 and concluded that, given the changes to the cost structure and the fact that the incubator was now part of the University of Ulster, it believed that it was sustainable in moving forward and that the cost structure should deal with the underperformance. An appraisal and a casework were done for the NITAP funding.

271. Mr Beggs: Can you assure the Committee that if a similar situation were to happen today that the parent company’s finances would be carefully monitored, particularly when the daughter company is closely related to it?

272. Mr Mel Chittock (Invest Northern Ireland): We review the risk profile of a potential project as part of the assistance that we provide. That also takes into account the parent company position, which would be assessed at the front end of a project. We would then attach a series of conditions to any assistance, so there would be pre-conditions, general conditions and specific conditions. There is a division of responsibility to sign off on those conditions to ensure that, first, they are adequately monitored and, secondly, that they are signed off at the appropriate level. We do that as part of our normal control framework.

273. Mr Beggs: I want to concur with some of the comments that my colleague Mr Lunn has made. I fully accept that risks are involved if one wants to achieve new businesses. However, it is a matter of trying to minimise the risks involved in doing that, and we try to maximise the use of public funding. I am encouraged to hear that 40 jobs remain today. Those 40 jobs have been provided for a considerable time and, hopefully, more jobs will come.

274. Mr Lunn: On the question of risk and reward, could you indulge me as this is more of a comment than a question? A few years ago, I was part of a Lisburn City Council trip that visited Estonia to look at its economic development. We visited an incubation unit, which was a pretty ramshackle affair. Nevertheless, people were beavering away inside. I did not think much about it until I was told that Skype had started in that unit, so there is hope.

275. Mr McLaughlin: You have given your clients far too good a quality of service.

276. An important point was made by Committee members about the risk, and I suppose that there is another risk here. If we engender a risk-averse approach, we will fall short of our targets and aspirations. The thrust of the Committee’s view is that risk is part of the process, so risk management must also be part of the process. If the Committee is critical, it is on that basis. It is certainly not to discourage people from taking risks, given the step change that we are trying to achieve with the economy. We will certainly have to repeat the Skype success story at some stage.

277. My questions deal with the experience of not having the information to hand. Paragraphs 38 to 40 characterise the post of project evaluation as being delayed and lacking detail. The Committee has returned to that issue time and again, and it emphasises the importance of strong post-project evaluation and the lessons learned — to go back to Trevor’s point again.

278. What improvements to procedures has Invest made since those events?

279. Mr A Hamilton: I fully accept the challenges presented to our post-project evaluation, and I can outline exactly what the organisation does today. To ensure timeliness, we require an independent post-project evaluation to be completed within six to nine months of the end of the project. We rigorously enforce that timeline. I will not explain some of the problems and difficulties experienced with the company that we are talking about today.

280. Mr McLaughlin: They are well described in the report.

281. Mr A Hamilton: They are. To provide visibility of what we do annually, we evaluate individual projects such as this one and programmes under our umbrella of support for programmes, including research and development. In the year that we have just exited, 313 post-project evaluations (PPEs) were conducted in Invest NI on both projects and programmes. We currently have a rolling three-year process within which we evaluate every one of our more than 100 programmes. Therefore, there is an intensive process at project and at programme level to ensure that PPEs are done.

282. However, doing them differs slightly from doing something with them. I assure the Committee that what is learnt from those project and programme plan evaluations is ploughed back in. There are two examples today of programmes which are currently suspended because their PPEs highlighted issues that must be resolved before each programme, or a variant of it, carries on. In answer to Mr McLaughlin’s question: we have a very detailed process, 313 of evaluations were conducted last year and there is a rigorous process to ensure that derived learning is ploughed back into both projects and programmes.

283. Mr McLaughlin: The Committee is encouraged to hear that, although, in this case, core data was not available to make its post-project evaluation particularly effective or successful. There are lessons in that as well, and I am giving Invest NI credit for responding to them. Recalling the action and the process is required to develop the type of risk management that can identify any potential value from post-project evaluation.

284. I reiterate that, provided that the process is rigorous enough, members defend Invest’s risk-taking ability and capacity. Politicians, who often get it in the neck from the media, could inhibit Invest’s manoeuvrability. Therefore, we must give each other confidence and support. Managing risk is key and I hope that that is reflected in both our approaches. It is not a matter of finding fault because, from start to finish, the project is challenging.

285. Paragraph 41 highlights a number of important areas in which SeBI could have been better appraised and managed. Will Alistair Hamilton assure the Committee and indicate to it how project management has changed to ensure that we good money is not thrown after bad?

286. Mr A Hamilton: In response to your earlier comments, we welcome the fact that its members understand the challenges involved in trying to drive some of these policies forward. I fully understand, and the organisation takes seriously, the difference between risk avoidance and risk management to the point of project management, in which roles and responsibilities are clearly defined when a project is entered into.

287. Let me return to the casework: right up front in the casework, the risks of the project are identified, as are the mitigations against those risks. Immediately after a casework committee signs off a project, those risks are apportioned to an individual in the organisation and that information is tracked in our client contact management system. Therefore, the information is recorded so that individuals know exactly who is responsible for the ongoing management of that risk.

288. For high risk projects, we now ensure that monitoring meetings take place regularly, and that those meetings are minuted and recorded in that CCMS system, together with any outcomes of that. This refers to Mel’s earlier comment about parent company guarantees, company liabilities or any of those issues that arise in response to that ongoing project management. If there are any issues, they are then highlighted up the management chain.

289. Mr McLaughlin: Would we get an earlier response if there was shortfall or deficit in the job creation targets and the milestones that had been set out in the original business plan?

290. Mr A Hamilton: All of that is now tracked on the CCMS system.

291. Mr McLaughlin: It is not a matter of gathering the information; rather, we must use it.

292. Mr A Hamilton: A decision will always be taken at a point where a project starts to go off track according to the delivery mechanisms. Let me give you an indication of the scale of the operation: currently, there are 7,000 live letters of offer in Invest Northern Ireland that are tracked and managed on that CCMS system.

293. Mr Sterling: It is also worth recognising that any performance that is related to a Programme for Government target or public service agreement target flows from Invest NI to the Department and is reported to the Executive and ultimately to the Assembly in the PfG reporting mechanisms.

294. Mr Beggs: This is addressed to Mr Hamilton. I note that, on pages 81 to 84 of the annual report for 2008-09 and in note 31 of the accounts, there is a long list of transactions with the client companies where Invest NI board members have declared a private interest. I have no doubt that Invest NI benefits from that private sector experience to add to the decision-making process. Can you explain to us how Invest NI manages those conflicts of interest? In a potential conflict of interest, it is important that the process is managed so that there is transparency and also public confidence in the decisions made.

295. Mr A Hamilton: The current process that we use to manage the conflicts of interest is as follows. Twice a year, in April and October, all our board members are asked to declare their interests. They have to record all their interests and all the companies with which they are connected. The occasion in April is used for the compilation of our annual report. The transactions are all entered onto a system whereby we can hold all of that information together.

296. We then search across the Oracle database, which is our financial system for all the companies referred to in that database. I do not want to go back and start making excuses for some of the variants between the two questions, but some challenges are involved. Companies can be referred to in lots of different ways; for example, the Northern Ireland Science Park could be referred to as such, or as the “NI Science Park" or as the “NISP". So there are some challenges that we must manage in that process.

297. Anyway, we match those companies, and the transactions we do with them, with the list of board members’ interests. They are then broken down into grant moneys and payments for services. You will see those separated in our report. That separation between grants and services is done on a manual basis. Someone goes through all those transactions and separates them. There is scope for human error in that process. A distinction is then made on the point that David Sterling made earlier, between beneficial and non-beneficial interests, and that too is a manual process. Those, too, are separated. People within the Finance Department audit all of that information to ensure that it is up to date and accurate, before it is entered in our report.

298. That is a part of the answer to your question: how conflict of interest is reported. The second part of the answer is how those conflicts are managed in our organisation on a day-to day basis. As you rightly say, we should get maximum value and benefit out of having private-sector and well-connected people on our board, but we must minimise any potential issue arising from interests. At the start of every board meeting, as you would expect, the chairman of the board asks board members to declare their interests. If any interests are declared that are relevant to the agenda of the meeting, the chairman will decide whether any board members need to leave for the entire meeting or for a section of it. Some board members are very well connected across the business community, which is great for us, because we sometimes find opportunities through the board members. However, in general, there is a clear process in place so that if a board member wants to engage with our organisation, they can do so through an MD. He or she must go to one of the four MDs in the organisation to ask them to pursue an opportunity with a company. All those contacts are kept at MD level.

299. Through all those recording and monitoring processes, and in managing conflict, that is what we do today.

300. Mr Beggs: That is a very comprehensive answer. It is clear that those services are in great demand. It is appropriate that the organisation is managed as you have indicated. The public can benefit from your expertise.

301. I will turn to your employees’ interests. Undoubtedly, Invest NI employees will need to have a high degree of interaction with the businesses that they support and the business community generally. Can you assure the Committee that Invest NI operates a watertight system in relation to employees’ declarations of outside interests? In the past, there were problems with Northern Ireland Tourist Board funding. How is that process managed?

302. Mr Chittock: We have a clear code of conduct, which means that all staff must avoid all conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived. All staff are required to declare all outside interests to the human resources function, which holds a central register of all interests that staff members have. In addition, all our contracts of employment have a condition that requires that they do not work, or are not employed, in any other business apart from the work of Invest NI. Any breach of that condition is grounds for instant dismissal. We take our staff members’ interests very seriously.

303. Mr Beggs: What happens when staff move on? Some time ago, an employee of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development sat on a board and was transferred to a private company that had obtained considerable funding in the area in which that employee was working. Is there any protection against a situation in which, perhaps, a significant grant is awarded to a company, after which job opportunities arise for individuals who took the grant decision? Is there a requirement, particularly at senior decision-making level, that there would be a gap before an employee could transfer to a company that had benefited from significant public sector grants?

304. Mr Sterling: Are you asking about senior civil servants or senior —

305. Mr Beggs: I am talking about a situation in which a staff member who made a decision or who provided specific advice to a company that resulted in its obtaining a significant public sector grant, suddenly being offered a job by that company.

306. Mr Sterling: There are rules that apply to people who leave the Civil Service or indeed the Senior Civil Service. There are restraints on the activities that they can do and the organisations that they can join. I do not have the detail of that, but I am happy to write to the Committee with those details.

307. Mr Lunn: You have a well-established system of checks and balances in relation to conflicts of interest. However, do you ever find yourselves in a situation in which you have to tell a board member that he either has to give up his interest in one of your client companies or his interest in the board? Is that too simplistic? There seems to be a recipe for clear conflict.

308. Mr A Hamilton: As I have outlined, I believe that we can manage all the conflicts that exist. Let us bear in mind that board members’ interventions in the day-to-day operation of Invest NI come in two ways: first, through monthly board meetings, and secondly, by way of casework, through which, by way of the delegated limit that I talked about earlier, board members become involved in higher-value projects. It is quite easy to ring-fence those projects, based on the expression of interest from the board members, and keep them away from projects in which they have an interest.

309. Mr Lunn: “Keep them away" is a grey area, which would apply to employees, too. I do not see how somebody could have a financial interest in one of your client companies, and be a senior employee or board member. I heard what Mel said about the necessity to intervene at least at managing director level. I do not see what difference that makes.

310. Mr Chittock: We have very clear rules. If employees have a financial interest in an organisation outside Invest NI, they are not allowed to have any contact with that company or any intervention from Invest NI. Therefore, they are not part of the management of that relationship.

311. The Chairperson: The Committee has never advocated that the public sector should be risk averse. The Committee said that on a number of occasions, and it needs to be restated. It is unfortunate consistently to have to say that where there is risk in public sector activities, that risk needs to be identified, as Trevor and Mitchell said. When identified, the risk needs to be managed in keeping with the best practice guidance issued by the Department of Finance and Personnel.

312. The Committee recognises that risks have to be taken in areas such as Invest NI. There will not always be a successful outcome, but it is important that the risks are well managed and handled more professionally. The Committee supports well-thought-through and well-managed risk taking. Regrettably, if we are being honest, that is not what the Committee saw today.

313. Invest NI needs to ensure that all interests, including those of board members and staff, are recorded in a register of interests, which you said will be done. Obviously, the register will be updated regularly and properly reported. Conflicts of interest are to be managed effectively, or better still, in most cases hopefully, avoided altogether.

314. Mel, Alastair, David and Tracy, at this stage thank you very much.

Appendix 3


Chairperson’s Letter of 24 May 2010
to Mr David Sterling

Room 371
Parliament Buildings

Tel: (028) 9052 1208
Fax: (028) 9052 0366

24 May 2010

David Sterling
Accounting Officer
Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment
Massey Avenue

Dear David,

Public Accounts Committee Evidence Session on Campsie Office Accomodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator (SeBI)

Thank you for your participation in the Committee’s evidence session on this inquiry.

As agreed in the course of your evidence, I would be grateful if you could provide the following information to the Committee.

1. Confirmation of who held the positions of Chief Executive at the Industrial Development Board (IDB) and Permanent Secretary for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment at the time of the option to break from the leases for Campsie.

2. Whether any performance bonuses were paid to these individuals during this period.

3. Confirmation of the rental costs for each of the Campsie units broken down for each of the first four years of the lease.

4. A breakdown of how many prospective tenants IDB and Invest NI brought to view the units at Campsie.

5. A summary of land and property acquisitions by INI during 2009 – 2010 and the value of unoccupied land and property as of 31 March 2010.

6. Confirmation of the write-off value to the INI land and property portfolio during 2009 – 2010.

7. A site-by-site analysis of unoccupied land and property as of 31 March 2010 including how long each holding has been unoccupied.

8. An overview of the costs attributed to the maintenance of vacant property or land annually.

9. Confirmation of the name, location and employment numbers of the 6 companies who are still in operation since their exit from the Synergy e-Business Incubator.

10. An overview of the framework adopted by Invest NI that manages leaving staff taking up a position in an organisation that they have been instrumental in providing financial or other assistance to them.

The Committee Clerk will be of assistance should you wish to discuss any of these points.

I should appreciate your response by 8 June 2010.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Maskey sig
Paul Maskey
Public Accounts Committee

Correspondence of 11 June 2010
from Mr David Sterling

Massey Avenue

Telephone: (028) 9052 9441
Facsimile: (028) 9052 9545


Our ref: PS DETI 152/10

11 June 2010

Mr Paul Maskey MLA
Public Accounts Committee
Parliament Buildings
Room 371

Dear Mr Maskey

Public Accounts Committee Evidence Session on Campsie Office Accommodation and Synergy e-Business Incubator (SeBI)

Thank you for your letter of 24 May, regarding the provision of additional information to the Committee. I regret the delay in meeting the Committee’s 8 June deadline. In responding, for ease of reference, I have used the paragraph numbering in your letter.

1. The Chief Executive of the former Industrial Development Board in 1996, at the time of the option to break, was Mr Bruce Robinson. The Permanent Secretary of the former Department of Economic Development was Mr Gerry Loughran.

2. An examination of DETI pay records shows that, during the period in question, no bonuses were paid to the individuals referred to in paragraph 1.

3. The rental costs for each of the units at Campsie up to the option to break were as follows:

First six months
Nominal rent of £1, if demanded.
Next two years
Annual rent of £16,875.
Next two years
Nominal rent of £1, if demanded.

4. From 2005 to the dates of surrender of the leases, the Campsie Offices were presented as property options to 21 companies which resulted in six visits. Prior to 2005 records were not kept in a format to allow this analysis.

5. During 2009/10 Invest NI made two site purchases as follows:

Location Acreage Purchase Price

Note: The above figures include stamp duty. The Strabane acquisition includes an element of flood plain and this is reflected in its purchase price.

Invest NI also spent £2.8m in 2009/10 on buying back previously sold sites from clients judged to be in acute hardship. Buying land under these circumstances is one of the interventions that make up Invest NI’s credit crunch initiatives.

The value of land and property classed as unoccupied in the accounts at 31 March 2010 was £36.5m (land) and £1.4m (property).

6. There was no “write off" of land and property in the 2009/10 accounts. However, as part of the annual valuation by DFP’s Land and Property Services, there has been a restatement in the value of the holdings.

During the year 2009/10, a charge of £7.4m was taken to the net expenditure account through asset impairments. This represented 5.5% of the total land and property value at 31 March 2009, and related to a reduction in the value of the land and property holding as compared with the original cost. In addition, at 31 March 2010, previous upward revaluations of £26.5m were reversed, resulting in a decrease in the revaluation reserve of the same amount.

7. Annex A sets out the breakdown of unoccupied Invest NI Land and Property portfolio by Industrial Estate / Business Park. This shows its total landholding and remaining land available. Invest NI does not have information readily available which would show how long the property has been unoccupied.

Annex B sets out the small stock of unoccupied or partially occupied buildings either owned or leased by Invest NI.

8. The 2009/10 annual maintenance costs are as follows:

Factory/building maintenance inc landlord liability £ 10,902
Estate Maintenance £ 286,776
Grounds Maintenance £ 153,403

Note: There was no spend on maintenance by Invest NI on the Campsie Office accommodation.

9. The table below sets out details of companies that are still in operation since their exit from Synergy E Business Incubator.

Company Name & Address Number of Full-Time Employees as at May 2010
ECIT Building
Northern Ireland Science Park
OPSIS Limited
9 Heron Avenue
Consultus International Limited
TEIC Building
Shore Road
Co Antrim
BT37 0QB
Innovation Centre
Queens Road
CANDO Interactive Limited
ECIT Building
Northern Ireland Science Park
New Media Warehouse Limited
5B Weavers Court
Linfield Road
BT12 5GH
Total Employment

10. Invest NI has taken steps to mitigate the risks involved where one of its employees leaves to take up employment with a company or organisation where he/she has been involved in the provision of funding or other support and the organisation

In relation to the risk of competitor knowledge being passed to the employing organisation, every Invest NI contract of employment has a clause which binds the employee to maintain the confidentiality of all information about the affairs of both Invest Northern Ireland and its client companies. Any employee leaving Invest NI to take up a position with another organisation is reminded that this contractual requirement remains in force after the termination of his/her employment.

As to other risks, e.g. of a staff member exerting undue influence, Invest NI has in place structures and processes, which make it impossible for an individual member of staff to agree a support package for a firm. Even for relatively small packages of support, a robust business case is required and the approval has to be countersigned by at least one other officer. For interventions of greater value, procedures include independent appraisal by Invest NI’s Corporate Finance team and a system of casework committees to approve proposals for support. As the interventions grow in value, approval at DETI, DFP, Ministerial or even HMT level is required. All of these measures are designed to prevent any undue influence on the process and to ensure proper and accountable expenditure of public funds.

In addition, if an employee leaves to go to any client organisation, Invest NI examines the level and frequency of contact he/she has had with his/her new employer. Where appropriate, it is made clear to the new employer that the ex-employee will not be acceptable as a representative on any team or delegation in discussion with Invest NI for a suitable period.

I trust that the Committee finds this information helpful.

Yours sincerely

David Sterling sig
David Sterling
Permanent Secretary

Invest NI Landholding at 31 March 2010

Industrial Estate Town/City Landholding (acres) Remaining Available land (acres)
Mandeville Craigavon
Global Point BP Newtownabbey
Campsie IE Londonderry
Wattstown BP Coleraine
Halfpenny Valley IE Lurgan
Skeoge IP Derry
Down BP Downpatrick
Woodside Road East and West IE Ballymena
Dungannon BP Dungannon
Antrim Technology Park Antrim
Carran Enniskillen
Charlestown Road IE Portadown
Balloo South Bangor
Trooperslane Carrickfergus
Killough Road Downpatrick
Creagh Toome
Lackaghboy Enniskillen
Craigavon Food Park Portadown
Springbank Belfast
Aghanloo West Limavady
Forthriver Belfast
Maydown Londonderry
Knockmore Hill Lisburn
Edenaveys Business Park Armagh
Hightown Mallusk
Ballyreagh Cookstown
Millbrook Larne
Garryduff Road Ballymoney
Ballyharry Business Park Newtownards
Aghanloo East Limavady
included with Aghanloo W
Whiterock Belfast
Glenbank Belfast
Springvale Belfast
Leyland Road Ballycastle
Granville IE Dungannon
Silverwood Lurgan
Orchard Road Strabane
  Total   750.27

Notes: The new land in Newry and Strabane are acquired but design is not finalised and hence are not listed below.

BP = Business Park; IE = Industrial Estate

Table Showing Properties Owned by Invest NI for Rental to Companies

Building Location Total Size (sq ft) Comments Unoccupied From
Antrim TechnologyPark Units 1 to 7, 10 & 11 Antrim 91,950 (of which 5,414 is currently unoccupied) Current live Interest on unoccupied areas and are being actively marketed N/A – Partially occupied
Ballygomartin 3 Belfast 18,200 (Unoccupied) Current live Interest for the whole property at heads of terms. October 2008
Charlestown Craigavon 91,700 (of which 20,600 is currently unoccupied) Current live Interest and is being actively marketed N/A – Partially occupied
Down Business Park Downpatrick 11,400 (Unoccupied) Current live Interests for the whole property and being actively marketed September 2007
Whiterock Belfast 22,400 (of which 7,140 is currently unoccupied) First Refusal to existing tenant and being actively marketed N/A – Partially occupied
Glenbank Belfast 19,500 (of which 10,017 is currently unoccupied) Current live Interests for 4,500 sq ft, 4000 sq ft and in legals for 2,100 sq ft and being actively marketed N/A – Partially occupied

Properties Leased by Invest NI for Rental to Companies

Building Location Size sq ft Comments Vacant From
Waterfront Plaza Belfast 21,302 (of which 12,088 is currently unoccupied) First refusal to existing tenant and being actively marketed N/A – Partially occupied
Galwally House (ex LEDU office) Belfast 9,500 (Unoccupied) Current live Interest and being actively marketed. Lease expires 31/05/2015. January 2006

Appendix 4

List of Witnesses Who Gave Oral Evidence
to the Committee

1. Mr David Sterling, Accounting Officer, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI);

2. Mr Alastair Hamilton, Chief Executive, Invest NI (INI);

3. Mr Mel Chittock, Acting Managing Director, Corporate Services, Invest NI (INI);

4. Mrs Tracey Meharg, Managing Director, Innovation and Capability Development Group, Invest NI (INI);

5. Mr Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General; and

6. Ms Fiona Hamill, Treasury Officer of Accounts.

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