UFU react to RHI public inquiry report

Friday, 13 March, 2020

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says members who took part in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme have waited a long time to see where the failings of the scheme lay. It says many farmers who acted in good faith, have been left with their businesses facing short and long-term financial problems through no fault of their own.

Released today the public inquiry report, to which the UFU gave evidence, addresses the oversight and cost controls of the RHI as well as lessons that must be understood by civil servants and politicians. This is vital to ensure that no government scheme can again cause such financial damage to those who follow advice about how to make their businesses greener and more efficient.

Commenting on the public inquiry report UFU deputy president Victor Chesnutt said, “This has been a long-drawn-out process and this report is long overdue. All along the primary concern for the UFU has been our members who put their trust in this scheme and the Government, only to be sold out to the interests of political expediency. RHI participants have been made scapegoats for others' failings.  We welcome the report's conclusion that those who used the scheme are not to blame for its failure. That responsibility lies wholly with the politicians and officials who created a deeply flawed initiative that has put the livelihoods of farming families across Northern Ireland in jeopardy.”

In an attempt to stabilise the scheme RHI tariff cuts were introduced by the Department of Economy (DfE) in April 2019 as a solution to their own problem. Farming businesses that invested in the scheme were already under pressure and the tariff cuts added more financial pain. The UFU provided oral evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee regarding these changes to the RHI, making it clear then that farmers were literally paying the price for the gross negligence of politicians and civil servants.

The UFU says the RHI tariff cuts pushed many farmers to their limits. Some have been selling stock and land, making all the adjustments they can to keep their heads above water but for some that hasn’t been enough. There are UFU members dealing with the reality that the RHI scheme could end their business.

“The tariff cuts have created a massive financial black hole and farmers are struggling to find ways to subsidise uneconomic RHI boilers elsewhere in their businesses. We repeatedly highlighted that DfE failed to consider the wider costs associated with a biomass boiler. The scheme is so unworkable now that many farmers are reverting to fossil fuels. DfE offered participants an unviable way out of the scheme.  This was condescending as we now know the failure was not caused by the participants.  All costs must now be built into the payments offered to make it comparable to the scheme in Great Britain and from the report, we know the core failure was that this did not happen in the first place,” said Mr Chestnutt.

The UFU deputy president concluded, “The report makes it clear that our members are the victims not the instigators of what has unfolded over the RHI. The actions of DfE have caused significant damage to the renewable industry and will have a lasting and detrimental impact on the uptake of future schemes. Farmers have lost confidence in Government run schemes. It is vital now that Government admit their wrongdoing, implement changes to RHI payments and learn fundamental lessons from its failings.”