A DUP special adviser accused of political interference in the award of a public housing contract in Northern Ireland could face disciplinary investigation, it was revealed.
The Department for Social Development (DSD) is to carry out a fact-finding exercise into the actions of Stephen Brimstone, the head of the civil service said, to help determine whether a code of conduct was breached.
It could lead to formal scrutiny of allegations that he tried to extend a multimillion-pound Housing Executive agreement with a maintenance firm despite suspected wrongdoing by the company.
Head of the civil service Dr Malcolm McKibbin said: “In the circumstances of this type of case the normal procedure is to carry out a fact-finding exercise to establish if there is any basis for proceeding with a formal disciplinary investigation, and this is how DSD has decided to proceed.”
Mr Brimstone, one of social development minister Nelson McCausland’s main sources of political guidance, made an eight-minute phone call to Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) board member and DUP councillor Jenny Palmer. She claimed she was pressured to change her vote at a board meeting considering the Executive’s contract with the Red Sky maintenance company.
Red Sky’s £8 million-a-year deal was terminated four months before the July 2011 board meeting amid allegations that the east Belfast firm had overcharged for work on NIHE properties.
The Executive was to vote on a request from Mr McCausland to extend Red Sky’s contract, which the minister said was so arrangements could be put in place for a proper re-tendering process.
Traditional Unionist Voice MLA Jim Allister requested Mr McKibbin view the BBC Spotlight documentary which made the claims and investigate whether Mr Brimstone breached part of the special advisers’ code of conduct. The code said advisers should act in a way which upholds the political impartiality of civil servants and avoid anything suggesting people paid from public funds were being used for party political purposes.
Mr McKibbin said the senior civil servant at the DSD, Will Haire, had been asked to consider whether the code was breached and he had confirmed his department would take the matter forward.
A DSD spokeswoman said: “The department can confirm that in accordance with normal HR procedure, it is carrying out a fact-finding exercise in relation to allegations made on the BBC Spotlight programme concerning the adviser to the minister for social development.”