No conscious decision to put off RHI cost controls, says official

David Thomson
David Thomson

A top civil servant has said he does not believe there was any conscious decision to delay the introduction of cost controls on the RHI scheme in the year before it ran out of control.

David Thomson – an official just one rung beneath the permanent secretary in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and someone who met Arlene Foster on a weekly basis when she was energy minister – said that he could offer no explanation for why cost controls were not implemented in 2014.

The department had run a public consultation on the issue, setting out the rationale for such measures: that some form of emergency brake was needed if demand for the scheme threatened to outstrip the available budget.

In the DETI hierarchy, Mr Thomson, who retired later that same year, was above those who were directly running the scheme.

At the public inquiry on Friday, he was asked if there was a conscious decision to defer cost controls in favour of expanding the RHI scheme in 2014, Mr Thomson said: “No. I am not aware of any.

“I accept that the cost control is not referred to there [in a document updating the Assembly on what was happening] but there is no conscious decision, certainly in my view... there was no, as far as I was aware, conscious decision to defer.”

He said if there had been a deliberate decision not to bring in cost controls at that point, he “absolutely” would have expected to have been aware of it and would have expected Mrs Foster to also be involved in the decision. He said that any such decision should have been recorded in writing.

He said that “cost controls should have been brought in in early 2014” but said he could offer no explanation as to why that did not happen.

Meanwhile, the News Letter understands that both Mrs Foster and her long-standing special adviser, Andrew Crawford, are likely to be called to give evidence in just over a month’s time, after the easter break.