Northern Ireland Appropriation Account 2000-2001

Mr John Dowdall, Comptroller and Auditor General and Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office, today reported the results of Financial Audit work undertaken over the last twelve months. Mr Dowdall has qualified his opinion on seven accounts including four of the 2000-2001Appropriation Accounts produced by Government departments.

DHSSPS Vote C, Health and Personal Social Services Superannuation

Mr Dowdall qualified his audit opinion because receipts of £2.8 million included in the 2000-2001 Account had been received in 1999-2000. In his opinion the Department had failed to account for these receipts in accordance with Government Accounting Northern Ireland which requires receipts to be accounted for in the year they are received.

DRD Vote A, Roads, Transport and Other Services

Insufficient documentation supporting certain payments by the Roads Service Agency to external contractors for maintenance and minor capital works on roads, bridges, street lighting and car parking led Mr Dowdall to limit the scope of his audit opinion on this Account.

Roads Agency Account 1999-2000

Mr Dowdall was unable to form an opinion on the Roads Agency's account for 1999-2000 because of difficulties with the valuation of the Roads network and the Land held for Road Schemes.

Roads Agency Account 2000-2001

Mr Dowdall's audit opinion on the Roads Agency's account for 2000-2001 was limited because of uncertainties:

  • about the assumptions made by the Agency when valuing non-trunk roads and footpaths;
  • about the valuation of the land held for future road schemes; and
  • about payments made to external contractors.

DSD Vote C, Urban Regeneration and Community Development

Mr Dowdall was unable to give an audit opinion because in a wide range of the funding activities involved, the appropriate information did not exist to enable him to establish that expenditure was applied to the purposes intended and accorded with relevant statutory regulations. Activities involved included:

  • physical and social regeneration by way of Urban Regeneration grants in Belfast and Londonderry;
  • funding the Making Belfast Work and Londonderry Regeneration Initiatives;
  • grants to voluntary bodies; and
  • the facilitation of payments from certain European Funds and Programmes.

Much of the expenditure is administered through third parties such as Intermediary Funding Bodies, community groups, voluntary organisations and District Councils.

Department for Social Development, Vote D: Social Security

Mr Dowdall qualified his audit opinion because of the estimated level of incorrectness of £50 million identified by the Social Security Agency in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance payments due to fraud and error.

He also qualified his opinion due to the Agency's policy on document retention which prevented him from validating a number of Child Benefit payments from within the total expenditure of £298 million.

Northern Ireland Child Support Agency: Client Funds Account

Mr Dowdall qualified his opinion due to:

  • Overpayments of maintenance by non-resident parents estimated at £1.1 million; and
  • Inaccurate assessments of maintenance which led to errors in the amounts owed by non-resident parents.

Other matters addressed in the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report include:

Internal Fraud: Local Enterprise Development Unit (LEDU)

This report deals with the separate actual and attempted frauds by two employees of LEDU, Atwell and Gribben, estimated at over £219,000 between 1995 and 1998 and focuses primarily on the Gribben frauds. Mr Gribben, LEDU's Assistant Accountant, discovered the Atwell fraud before becoming involved in fraudulent activity himself. His frauds, actual and attempted were estimated at £101,000.

Although LEDU introduced new control procedures following the Atwell fraud Mr Dowdall found that "many of the basic control weaknesses that were present in the Atwell frauds, such as inadequate separation of duties inadequate supervision and inadequate control over purchase orders were also present in the Gribben fraud". One of the lessons identified by Mr Dowdall is that "Fraud investigations should be wide-ranging and rigorous and speedily undertaken".

Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, Vote B: Training and Employment Agency Control over funding from the Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and from European Social Fund Initiatives.

  • Mr Dowdall recognises the steps taken by the Department to improve the level of control and accountability for Peace and Reconciliation expenditure and he commends the work of the Departments Financial Audit Support Team in uncovering deception. His report focuses on:
  • the continuing failure of two of the intermediary funding bodies distributing funds to adequately monitor the projects they administer.
  • five cases where the Department intends to recover substantial amounts of ineligible expenditure. The total amount involved is estimated at £894,000 but the final amount to be recovered may vary in the light of additional information provided by projects.
  • two cases where projects made misleading returns to the Department in order to obtain funding for which they were not eligible.

Other Topics

Other topics covered in Mr Dowdall's report include:

  • Job Evaluations in the Public Library Service and Education and Library Boards.
  • DHSSPS: Weaknesses in Control of Grants made to Voluntary Bodies and Payments made under Special Initiatives.
  • Department of Finance and Personnel: Safe Custody of Works of Art in Departmental Ownership. Construction Service: Duplicate Payments.