Who’s telling truth over NI fund review?

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

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Liberal Vannin are accusing Ministers and senior officers of misleading MHKs over the Social Security and National Insurance review.

It’s the latest twist in the continuing controversy over the £775,000 cost of bring in specialist UK consultants to carry out the review.

Consultants Ci65 Limited were appointed for the second phase of the project following a decision by the Council of Ministers in September last year, without it going to competitive tender or a waiver being issued by Treasury under financial rules.

Ministers have defended the decision which is being investigated by the Public Accounts Committee.

Lib Van say Ministers and senior officers have given different answers to the straight forward question of who made the decision to appoint Ci65.

Giving evidence to the PAC, Treasury Minister Eddie Teare said it was a Council of Ministers’ decision, but with the concurrence of Treasury.

Chief Financial Officer Dr Malcolm Couch, Chris Robertshaw, then Minister of Social Care and the now merged department’s chief executive officer Yvette Mellor all told the PAC that the decision was made by CoMin.

But Chief Minister Allan Bell told Tynwald in May that CoMin did not appoint Ci65 Ltd and it had been a joint approach by the DSC and Treasury.

Asked why no FD8 waiver was sought, Mr Bell replied that he was not present at the CoMin meeting on September 12.

He told the court: ‘I understand that the proposal was brought to the Council by the Minister for Social Care, the Treasury was in attendance and the background to the paper was explained to Council at that time.

‘It was a decision taken within the Department of Social Care and it was ultimately endorsed by Treasury and by the Council of Ministers.’

Mr Bell’s words have been seized on by Lib Van who suggest that he appears to disagree with his two Ministers and the two chief officers.

In a statement, party leader Kate Beecroft (Douglas South) said: ‘If the Chief Minister is right then Ministers Teare and Robertshaw and their chief executive officers have misled the Public Accounts Committee. The decision was taken within the Department of Social Care and they needed an FD8 waiver, according to financial regulations, and they did not.

‘If Ministers Teare and Robertshaw and their chief executive officers are right then the Chief Minister has misinformed Tynwald. What a tangled web they are weaving but the question remains – who is telling the truth?’

PAC chairman Alfred Cannan has accused CoMin of pursuing ‘the politics of panic’ and ‘failing to prioritise policies’ after it announced all options need to be considered to prevent the collapse by the year 2050 of the NI Fund.

The Fund pays for state retirement pensions, the Manx pension supplement and part-funds other welfare benefits.

Treasury Minister Mr Teare and Chris Robertshaw, now Minister for Policy and Reform have accused Mr Cannan of prejudging the issue and have called for him to stand down as PAC chairman. Mr Cannan says he has not intention of doing so.

At the PAC hearing, he asked Mr Teare: ‘With hindsight, do you think it would have been advisable to have gone to Tynwald to inform Tynwald of the scale and costs?’

‘Arguably yes,’ replied the Minister.

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