Northern Ireland

Invest NI in £15m bad debt write-off

INI building
Image caption Invest Northern Ireland is attempting to recover £54m

Invest NI, the Executive's industrial support agency, has written off almost £15m it is owed by various companies.

It said it is currently attempting to claw back another £8.5m from firms that still owe it money.

A large portion of the debt is owed by Nortel which had a factory in Monkstown, County Antrim, and which went into administration last year.

Invest NI is also negotiating with Tyrone Brick for the return of more than £400,000.

In the current climate of public spending cuts, every pound of taxpayers money is under scrutiny.

While the Executive is forced to shave its budgets, it has emerged that its economic development agency has written off millions of pounds in bad debts.

Recover

Since 2005, Invest NI has been attempting to recover £54m in debts from companies it gave grants to, but is owed some of the money back.

While most of it, more than £30.7m, has been clawed back, figures obtained by the BBC show almost £15m has been written off as bad debt.

Invest NI's finance director Brian Dolaghan said: "Two to four percent of the money we have invested over that period has not been recovered back into the public purse.

"We are not happy when we don't recover all our money. In fact, what we want to do is get the maximum economic benefit with the money we invest.

"So we are not actually about collecting money. What we are about is levering economic benefit. "

Image caption Brian Dolaghan said Invest NI would make every effort to recover the money

Another £8.5m owed to Invest NI, which it is currently trying to recover, remains outstanding.

Mr Dolaghan said: " It is important to recognise that we take our stewardship function very very seriously at Invest. We pursue to the Nth degree our recovery of monies and any clawback situation.

"We will pursue outside these territories. If there are parent guarantees we will pursue with those. Having said that, we are in business relationships with people.

"Invariably we can look at trying to maximise our position with these investments which isn't always about getting the pure cash back, but if there is an issue with that, we will always pursue the cash to the fullest extent possible."

Discussion

Out of £8.5m, the lion's share is owed by Nortel which had a factory at Monkstown and went into administration last year.

According to Invest NI, Tyrone Brick is another company that owes it money and its currently negotiating with it to get back more than £400,000.

"That is a very live issue at the moment. There are currently negotiations and discussion going with that company with regard to that particular default under the letter of offer," Mr Dolaghan said.

Tyrone Brick received approximately £423,000 in primarily revenue grant support from Invest NI over a four-year period from 2006 to 2009.

In a statement, Tyrone Brick confirmed the grant money was the subject of discussion with Invest NI.

"Tyrone Brick received approximately £423,189 in primarily revenue grant support from Invest NI over a four year period, from 2006 to 2009.

"These grants were mainly used to support business development initiatives in the areas of product development and sales & marketing activities.

"Due to a general contraction in the construction industry, Tyrone Brick experienced a significant downturn in demand for its product.

"As a consequence of this downturn production at the plant has ceased."

Tyrone Brick is part of the CRH group that recorded almost £700m of pre-tax profits last year.