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Caterer cleared after Waterfront enquiry

Belfast City Council clears Mount Charles of outstanding invoices after enquiry into historic catering contract

Pictured: Mount Charles Group operated all catering facilities at Belfast Waterfront hall from 2002 to April this year

Investigations into unpaid catering bills surrounding Mount Charles' contract at Belfast's Waterfront Hall has found that the outstanding invoices were paid back in 2013 and that "administrative oversight" was to blame for the delay.

The enquiry carried out by Belfast City Council, which was launched after an anonymous whistleblower came forward in March this year, found that the catering company Mount Charles had paid back all monies owed in November 2013.

It had been alleged that Mount Charles, one of the UK's biggest catering companies, owed the Waterfront Hall tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid invoices, in a period spanning up to five years, while it was contracted at the venue until April this year.

A council spokesperson said its review into the matter found the books had been balanced when the discrepancy was identified in 2013, but said it highlighted that an "administrative oversight had resulted in a delay in invoicing the contractor".

The total amount that was paid back has not been revealed.

In a statement to M&IT, a council spokeswoman said: "In March 2016 the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) received anonymous allegations relating to income from historic catering contracts at the Waterfront Hall, while it was administered by Belfast City Council. 

"The allegations related to contracts that went back more than 10 years. The main allegations were that the contractor did not provide a portion of their income to the council as required under the terms of the contract and that, when an issue of non-recovery of income was recognized, only part of the income due was recovered. 

"In line with established protocol when such allegations are made, the NIAO referred the matter to the council for initial investigation and, in turn, reviewed the outcome of this investigation and, where they deemed appropriate, followed up on any issues arising with the council. 

"The review found that all invoices as calculated on the basis of the contract terms were paid in full by the contactor. All income due from the contractor in respect of the annual franchise fee was also received in full. 

"The review highlighted that an administrative oversight had resulted in a delay in invoicing the contractor but, once this was identified, the franchise fee and sales commission were invoiced in full and all income due was received. A further allegation regarding an alleged a conflict of interest was not substantiated.

"Following an open and competitive process that was compliant with the EU and Public Procurement Regulations, the current catering concession for both Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall venues was awarded to a new company in early 2016. 

"Since April 2016, both venues have been operated by a wholly-owned council company, known as Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall Limited (BWUH Ltd)."

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