RHI Inquiry: Even when civil servants kept minutes, sometimes they were altered

Stormont civil servants are now operating without any democratic oversight
Stormont civil servants are now operating without any democratic oversight

Having already established that civil servants often deliberately do not record minutes of important meetings, the RHI Inquiry yesterday revealed how even when minutes are taken they are sometimes altered.

The inquiry took Trevor Cooper, the head of DETI’s finance division in 2015, to the minutes of a June 9 2014 meeting of senior civil servants looking at the expansion of the RHI scheme to cover domestic properties.

The first version of the minutes said that Mr Cooper had asked what budget had been set aside and was told that the allocated budget was £6.35 million for both domestic and non-domestic schemes.

He then asked for how that was split between the two schemes and asked if there was a forecast of expenditure.

John Mills, the head of DETI’s energy division, said that “they didn’t have a reliable forecast but they didn’t anticipate it [the 2014-2015 budget of £6.35m] being fully spent”.

But the following day Mr Cooper changed the minutes, removing the reference to £6.35 million and leaving it for Mr Mills to confirm what the actual budget was and asking for further confirmation of the budget figure.

Mr Cooper said he was going back to Mr Mills and saying “you need to look at this again”.

Keith MacLean said that Mr Cooper was significantly expanding on what Mr Mills had actually said at the meeting and added: “Are you using the minute as a means of getting something that you want that may not have been discussed and that he may not actually agree with?”

Mr Cooper said he now could not be sure what Mr Mills had said in the meeting “but I certainly wanted it to be clarified”.

As the minutes went through six drafts, at least one other section was added.

Dame Una O’Brien said the “ex post facto resolving of action points through versions of the minutes” meant that it was impossible to be clear as to what actually was said at a meeting.