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Comptroller finds failings over Bytel cross-border broadband plans

The NI Auditor and Comptroller has reported major failings and areas of concern over a plan to provide high speed cross-border broadband coverage throughout Armagh, Craigavon and Dundalk, and Dublin and Belfast.

In his report published today (Tuesday), the Comptroller and Auditor General Mr Kieran Donnelly reports costings for the project, including public monies paid out for the plans by the Belfast company Bytel.

It reveals that parts, known as Nortel racks, intended for the project were bought using public cash for over £940,000 when the actual value was in excess of £20,000.

In actual fact these parts were never even used.

Mr Donnelly, in his report today, states: “Bytel shows what can go wrong when projects like this are not handled properly. I have serious concerns over how it was managed and the legitimacy of the grant payments made. The response to whistleblowers fell well short of the standard required and a robust investigation took too long to complete.”

Although it was not eligible to be funded, over £940,000 was given for the cost of equipment which was never used and described as almost obsolete.

The project, which had been approved in 2004, was to be funded by the EU.

The report says that in the end the EU pulled out because of irregular expenditure – this saw DETI lose over €2 of funding and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the Republic of Ireland losing €1.8m.

The Audit Office also reports that Bytel was paid grants worth €4.3m, while its total actual costs came in just  under €4m.

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