Sport NI has cut its budget by £500,000 in the past two years, resulting in £1m being returned to the Department for Communities – a result which chief executive Richard Archibald admitted was “disappointing”.
Sport NI is a government funded organization that encourages people to take part in sport in Northern Ireland, and works to support elite athletes.
With the support of the government and the National Lottery, the arm-length group appeared to be struggling to follow the feedback from its parent department.
The minutes of the Sport NI board describe how representatives of the Department of Communities last year expressed their views on “the conduct of Sport NI in terms of governance, financial management and financial management” and that the organization “was considered dangerous by the Department of Public Affairs. The Audit Committee. “
Confirming that the £1m has been underspent, a spokesperson for the Department of Communities told BBC Sport: “As it is not possible to carry over breaks from one financial year to the next, the Sport NI £1m grant was used to address other departmental issues at the time .”
In response, Sport NI’s long-time chief executive Archibald told BBC Sport: “It’s disappointing, because if we’ve got a million pounds, we want to spend a million pounds.
“We have limited resources and we realize that there are serious problems in all levels of government. But we are trying to provide more money for many sports.
‘Only 53% of business targets achieved by 2023’
“We learned from Covid that the way we worked in the past could change. We developed responsive programs.
“As we transition from the pandemic and the fast-paced process back to business as usual, we want to bring more of that action.
“This led to a change in emphasis and focus on other programs that we have been running, in some cases, for years. And in those cases there was not as much utilization as we would have liked.”
Last year Sport NI met only 53% of its Business Plan targets, with business planning delayed by six months rather than approved before the start of the new financial year.
In addition, it is working on refunds for National Lottery accounts. The last audit of accounts certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General was for 2015-6.
“It was 10 years ago that there was a surplus found in our Lottery and Exchequer accounts,” Archibald said.
“It’s difficult because the lottery accounts have to go through the Northern Ireland Audio Office and the National Audit Office – but we had the 2015-6 accounts tabled in Parliament in September and we’re due to complete three more accounts by the end of March. We’re working really hard to get them right.” .
“Our focus here is on leadership – and a lot of effort has been made over the last two years to ensure that this is the case, without compromising our support to governing bodies, sports teams, and ensuring that we have enough resources to find and provide more funding for many sports.”
This year is the body’s 50th anniversary and Sport NI has been looking to break out of the tumultuous history of the past decade.
In 2015, nine of the 14 members of its board resigned before a meeting with then-Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin to discuss an “extensive” internal report on the “leadership, management and general culture” of the board. Later, Chairman Brian Henning and Deputy Chairman Ian McAvoy also resigned.
In the same year, CEO Antoinette McKeown was suspended and later fired when serious misconduct charges were brought against her.
An independent commission dismissed the allegations, saying it had found errors in the recommendations and Ms McKeown was reinstated in July 2017.
Four years ago a damning Northern Ireland Audit Office report on the period found it had cost the public purse nearly £1.5m.
McKeown is currently offline
Archibald, a former rower who competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics, has worked at Sport NI for 15 years but has been interim CEO for the past five months.
When asked about Ms McKeown’s absence at the moment, he told BBC Sport: “It’s not appropriate for me to comment on staff matters.
“The problem is, right now, I’m the CEO and I’m well supported. I have a strong relationship with the organization and the human resources department.”
When asked about the ongoing relationship with the arm’s-length organisation, a spokesperson for the Department of Communities said: “The Department continues to work with the board and the wider Sport NI team to ensure that it operates in accordance with the appropriate regulatory framework to address all threats and that the organization delivers positive outcomes for sport. .”