CORE: A case study in the management and control of a local economic development initiative
Kieran Donnelly, the Comptroller and Auditor General, today issued his report to the Assembly on ‘CORE’, a case study in the management and control of a local economic development initiative.
In Northern Ireland, responsibility for economic policy falls to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Its remit includes supporting local economic development. Following an approach by District Councils, the Department made European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) monies available, from 1997, for approved local economic development projects and plans.
ERDF funding was provided by the Department under the Northern Ireland Single Programming Document, from 1994-1999, and Building Sustainable Prosperity, from 2000-06. Sums totalling £48 million were given in support of approved projects and plans submitted by the 26 District Councils in Northern Ireland.
One such project was the CORE initiative, which received funding of just under £1 million in the period under review. CORE was a new organisation, established and run by the eight Councils in the North East of the province - Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne, Moyle and Newtownabbey. CORE’s role was to stimulate economic development in the area and its primary activities included working with small and medium enterprises to help them access new customer and markets. It also sought to increase the level of networking among the participating businesses.
Main Findings and Key Lessons
Although the CORE initiative was a relatively small-scale operation, the report notes that even small organisations require appropriate internal controls and governance arrangements. It was clear from the work of the Audit Office, however, that these were not in place during much of CORE’s existence. As regards the outcomes of CORE’s activities, a consultant’s review identified certain impacts, but was unclear as to whether targets had been achieved.
The report concludes that there are a number of useful lessons from the case that can be applied to a wide range of organisations and situations. Areas where the Audit Office considers that these lessons could be of particular relevance include the various urban and rural regeneration initiatives, many of which involve partnership arrangements between central government, District Councils and the voluntary and community sector.
Overall, the report sets out a total of 36 key lessons. These highlight best practice and provide advice in a range of areas, including:
- The management and oversight exercised by funders
- Governance arrangements
- Financial management and control
- Monitoring and reporting
- Appointment and remuneration of staff in delivery organisations set up by the public sector
- Procurement procedures
- Audit arrangements
- Performance monitoring and evaluation.