Following the passage of a bill relating to payments under the NI Renewable Heat Incentive scheme in Westminster last week, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee launches a short inquiry into the new payments structure.
The Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No. 2) Bill was considered in the House of Commons on Wednesday 6 March, with most formal stages of the bill's consideration fast-tracked through the Commons in one day. Ordinarily, such legislation is passed in Stormont but in the absence of a functioning Executive, Westminster is taking responsibility for certain aspects of NI legislation. The bill makes changes to the payment tariff rate for installations under the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, also known as the "cash for ash" scheme, which could reportedly see severe reductions in the payments to some participants.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is concerned that not enough time was given to scrutinise the revised payments before a decision had to be made. The Government told the House of Commons that the bill needed to be fast-tracked in order to allow business continuity. However, there is concern that some businesses in Northern Ireland will be negatively affected by the change in tariffs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley MP, stated "I hope that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, or another Committee of this House will now spend time looking at the issue."
In light of concerns around the new payments, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has launched a focused inquiry into the matter. The Committee has written to Sir Patrick Coghlin, Chair of the Independent RHI Inquiry, to advise of the scope of this inquiry.
Chair of the Committee, Dr Andrew Murrison MP said:
"Businesses across Northern Ireland have structured their finances on the very reasonable assumption that RHI payments were copper-bottomed. While the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme can hardly be regarded as a wholly successful policy, righting its wrongs requires proper scrutiny. My Committee will be looking at the Government’s hurried revision of the tariff rates to make sure they are fit for purpose and good for Northern Ireland’s busineses."
Terms of Reference
The Committee will be considering the following matters throughout the new inquiry:
- What was the rationale for the new tariff structure introduced by the bill?
- How will these new tariffs affect the businesses they apply to?
- What other options could be considered for payments to stay line with the 12% approved by state aid?
- How do these tariffs compare with those available in Great Britain?
- If these changes had not been introduced by 31 March, what would be the consequences?
- How far does the voluntary buy-out scheme mitigate the potential impact of the new tariffs?