Northern Ireland

Labour's Barry Gardiner calls for Invest NI HQ probe

Invest NI's Belfast headquarters
Image caption Spotlight's research indicates that Invest NI's rent for its Belfast headquarters in 2012 was at least double the market rate

A Shadow Cabinet member and former Northern Ireland minister has called for an investigation into Invest NI's Private Finance Initiative contract.

Barry Gardiner said he would ask the Audit Office to investigate revelations by the BBC Spotlight programme about Invest NI's Belfast headquarters.

The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was a way for the government to get buildings now and pay later.

But many contracts have been criticised as they turned out to be too expensive.

Taxpayers are expected to pay up to £260m this year alone, for the deals.

'Double the market rate'

Invest Northern Ireland is a business development agency which aims to promote economic growth by providing government support to firms.

It signed a PFI contract for its new headquarters in Belfast in 2005.

The contract meant Invest NI would get its building straight away, without large upfront payments.

PFI expert, Prof Paul Hare, told the programme: "it sounds like a disastrous deal".

Spotlight's research indicates that in 2012, Invest NI's rent was set at £25 per square foot - at least double the market rate.

This set a record for Belfast, which still stands.

Invest NI has said that these are not valid comparisons, given the long-term nature of the projects.

Labour MP Mr Gardiner, who was Northern Ireland's direct rule enterprise minister when the 2005 contract was signed, said he will ask the Audit Office to investigate.

Mr Gardiner said he took ministerial responsibility for the decision.

The programme also revealed details of Invest NI's current multi-million pound debt which was sold to US investment fund Cerberus in 2014.

It is understood that Invest NI has been paying the controversial fund £1m in interest per annum.

You can watch Spotlight here.

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