The report draws attention to a number of matters including:
1. The unauthorised use of a corporate credit card
Between April 2000 and March 2001, the Manager of the New York Office charged £25,000 on travel, hospitality and other expenses to a corporate credit card. Senior management in NITB had previously requested that the card should not be used. Head Office in Belfast did not identify the re use of the card until April 2001. The Manager did not provide detailed back-up documentation to Head Office to support these expenses when they were incurred and when the supporting documentation was submitted, in July 2001, it was incomplete.
Mr Dowdall has identified a number of important lessons from this case including:
- the need for credit card expenditure to be subject to the same level of checks and controls as any other expenditure; and
- the need for all employee expenses to be evidenced by adequate supporting documentation, including original invoices.
2. Hospitality spending at an inappropriate level in New York
The Report recognises that the task of promoting Northern Ireland tourism overseas, in particular in a location such as New York, is likely to require levels of expenditure on hospitality considerably in excess of what would be regarded as the norm within Northern Ireland. However, Mr Dowdall is concerned that, "some spending on hospitality in New York was at an inappropriate level for a public body, particularly in relation to expenditure on alcohol and meals in prestige restaurants". The Report includes examples of such expenditure.
3. Payments to Former and Current Members of Staff
- NITB paid £60,000 to the former Deputy Chief Executive to buy-out his contract and a further £4,000 was paid to recruitment consultants to assist him find alternative employment. NITB stated at the time that this was "a consequence of redundancy upon a reorganisation of management responsibilities". The Report reveals that, "the decision to buy-out the contract of the former Deputy Chief Executive was taken following a very detailed examination of the situation by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and receipt of Departmental approval and independent legal advice".
- £34,000 of consultancy work was awarded to the former Chief Executive, which was not put out to public tender in line with required procedures. The Report records NITB’s view that, "the decision to request the former Chief Executive to undertake consultancy work…was reached on the grounds of cost and value for money".
- Salary increases worth £23,500 were paid over a two-year period to 31 March 2001, to two senior members of staff without the required prior approval of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. NITB said that the payments were "for undertaking additional responsibilities due to substantive Director posts remaining unfilled". NITB added that, "because the future of the NITB was not clear with decisions about Tourism Ireland Limited and Invest Northern Ireland still to come, the payments were a cost-effective way of securing necessary services" and "it was always intended that these payments were by nature short term". NITB estimated that "by not filling vacant posts and by entering into a temporary arrangement with the employees concerned the Board has achieved a net saving in public funds of circa £110,000."
- An out-of-court settlement of £30,000 was made to a former employee following a complaint of discrimination. The Report records a statement from NITB that "no admission of discrimination was accepted by NITB nor was such a declaration part of the settlement terms." In another case in November 1999 the NITB paid £22,500 to a former employee who had been unsuccessful in her application for a more senior post. NITB accepted that its position was "weakened by failure to observe proper procedures in staffing decisions" but added that, "that the settlements in both cases followed legal advice". NITB also said that, "the Equality Commission has reviewed its personnel procedures and considers them to be satisfactory."
Notes for editors
- The Comptroller and Auditor General is Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (the Audit Office). He, and the NIAO, are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of Government Departments and a range of other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to report to the Northern Ireland Assembly on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and public bodies use their resources. His reports are published as Assembly papers.
- The Comptroller and Auditor General's report on: Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) Accounts 2000-01 is published as NIA No. 45/01 of Session 2001-02 and is available from the Stationery Office throughout the United Kingdom. The report is embargoed until 11.30am on Tuesday, 26 February 2002.
- Background briefing can be obtained from the Audit Office by contacting Kieran Donnelly – 028 9025 1107.