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HSE makes €42.5m bad debt provision over purchase of ventilators

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The Health Service Executive has made a bad debt provision of €42.5 million arising from advance payments it made for ventilators last year that it ended up not receiving or not being able to use.

State financial watchdog the Comptroller and Auditor General said the HSE had sought to purchase additional ventilators to increase its capacity to treat patients with respiratory symptoms as the Covid-19 pandemic hit early last year.

In a report, it said suppliers of such equipment with which the HSE had previously dealt had only been in a position to provide a limited number of the additional ventilators needed.

The comptroller’s report said the HSE turned to companies with whom it had not dealt previously and made advance payments of €81 million to 10 different firms.

“Two of the companies fulfilled the orders placed by the Executive, and another company delivered a small part of the order it had received. Subsequent to the deliveries, the Executive decided it would not be appropriate to deploy the machines that had been received. The outstanding orders were cancelled, and refunds were sought,” noted the report.

“At the reporting date, the Executive had not received value or refunds in respect of the full amount pre-paid for ventilators in 2020. A provision in the amount of €42.5 million has been made in this regard in the revenue income and expenditure account,” stated the comptroller’s report, dated May 28th.

The HSE’s annual report, which was laid before the Oireachtas in recent days, said it has begun legal action over the issue.

“Ventilators were key to treating Covid-19 patients in the height of the pandemic and therefore all measures were taken by the HSE on the behalf of the citizens of Ireland to ensure that there was a pipeline of orders to avoid shortages. Due to the market conditions, demand, and volatility the only way to secure orders from overseas suppliers was to make payments in advance,” it said.

Write-down of €370m on PPE

Separately, the comptroller’s report provides further details on the €370 million write-down by the HSE on the value of personal protective equipment stocks (PPE) bought by health authorities last year.

The Irish Times reported on Friday that this included a loss of €64 million on protective suits which are now considered to be effectively obsolete. The comptroller’s report suggests the HSE may be unable to use about 2.5 million of these suits prior to their expiry date.

A separate report on the issue by auditors KMPG, which was given to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly last week, said this equated to 41 years’ supply of such suits.

The comptroller’s report stated: “The Executive purchased a total of 4.4 million suits, at a cost of €112 million, or an average of €25.50 per unit. An estimated 1.4 million units were used by healthcare staff during the year, but usage rates of the suits declined when gowns became available.

“The manufacturers’ projected ‘shelf life’ of the suits is three years. The Executive has estimated that, at most, it is likely to use only 480,000 (16 per cent) of the suits on hands at the end of 2020 within the shelf life period. Accordingly, a provision for anticipated obsolescence of 2.5 million surplus suits has been charged to the 2020 revenue income and expenditure account. The amount of the provision is €64 million.”

The KPMG report, which was commissioned by the HSE on foot of a request from the Minister, said that at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 a hypercompetitive “sellers’ market” for PPE developed internationally as countries competed for stocks.

It said the HSE secured an unprecedented volume of PPE in the early part of 2020 to protect healthcare staff. But it added that on occasion it was forced to accept high prices and, in some cases, higher- than- ideal order volumes.


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Cladding-hit flat owner to send repair bills to developer after floor collapses

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‘I’ll be sending the bill to the chief executive’: Cladding-hit flat owner hits out at developer after his floor collapses in latest building fiasco

  • Homeowner sees floor at his London flat collapse in latest building fiasco
  • We exclusively reveal the full extent of the damage – a hole that is 40cm by 30cm
  • The damage is the latest question about building work in flats across Britain
  • Many flats have already been hit by the cladding crisis and face huge repair bills 










A leaseholder who is already having to deal with expensive cladding issues has hit out at poor craftsmanship after the floor of his flat collapsed beneath his feet.

Liam Spender explained that he was at home at the weekend when he felt the floor give way.

‘I felt the floor go and moved quickly out of the way. I turned back and there was a dip in the carpet. I nearly fell through the floor,’ he said.

Leaseholder Liam Spender (pictured) has hit out at poor craftsmanship at his London home in Canary Wharf

Leaseholder Liam Spender (pictured) has hit out at poor craftsmanship at his London home in Canary Wharf

Mr Spender lifted the carpet at his London flat near Canary Wharf to reveal the full extent of the damage – a hole that is approximately 40cm by 30cm.

He explained that his flat is across two levels, meaning that the floor between is allowed to be made as it is – with chipboard and wooden joists – and does not need to include concrete. 

However, Mr Spender claimed that the sheets of chipboard were not adequately supported by the floor joists. 

The damaged floor is on a gallery above his bedroom. ‘It could have been a lot worse and I could have gone straight through,’ he said.

Taking to Twitter, Mr Spender explained how the floor was not adequate, saying: ‘There is only air between the floor boards and the room underneath.’

Mr Spender claimed that the chipboard floor was not adequately supported by the floor joists

Mr Spender claimed that the chipboard floor was not adequately supported by the floor joists

The flat owner revealed the full extent of the damage - a hole that is approximately 40cm by 30cm

The flat owner revealed the full extent of the damage – a hole that is approximately 40cm by 30cm

It is the latest challenge Mr Spender has at his building, as he already faces a bill for remediation works due to cladding issues.

‘I’m going to get the bill for fixing the mess on cladding. The broken floor is literally a step too far. 

He said: ‘I’m going to get the bill for fixing the mess on cladding. The broken floor is literally a step too far.

‘I have not had my bill for the cladding issues yet. But I’ll be sending the bill for the floor and the cladding – when it comes – marked for the attention of the chief executive and chairman of Berkeley homes.’

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue.

Lenders have refused to provide finance on some types of cladding, leaving some flat owners trapped in unsafe homes that they are unable to sell.

Berkeley Group was approached for comment, but declined to comment. 

Mr Spender said the broken floor was 'a step too far' as he was already expecting a repair bill for cladding issues at his building

Mr Spender said the broken floor was ‘a step too far’ as he was already expecting a repair bill for cladding issues at his building

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How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

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We want to hear your views on the proposed new carbon budgets which, the Government says, will change how people live and work. The proposed budgets, published by the Climate Change Advisory Council, will apply to every sector of the economy and will outline a limit for total emissions that can be released.

The first carbon budget, which will run from 2021 to 2025, will see emissions reduce by 4.8 per cent on average each year for five years. The second budget, which will run from 2026 to 2030, will see emissions reduce by 8.3 per cent on average each year for five years. The council says the budgets will require “transformational changes for society” but that failing to act would have “grave consequences”. Environmental campaigners say the budgets will provide a cleaner, healthier and safer future but some rural groups such as the Irish Farmers’ Association say they will have “serious repercussions”.

How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

Now we’d like to hear your views: Do you support the budgets or are you against them; do they go too far or not far enough?

We will publish a selection of your responses online (If you are reading this on the Irish Times app, click here to access the form for submissions).

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House sales shoot up a THIRD in September amid fears of mortgage rate hike

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The number of homes bought and sold in Britain rose by two thirds in September compared to August, with experts believing buyers are seeking to get ahead of a potential rise in mortgage rates. 

There were nearly 161,000 property transactions in September on a seasonally-adjusted basis, a 67.5 per cent increase on the previous month, according to latest figures from HMRC. 

They also increased by 68 per cent compared to September 2020, and 63 per cent compared to the ‘normal’ market average in September 2017 to 2019.

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

Experts say the sharp rise was only partly a result of the Government’s stamp duty holiday, which has fuelled price growth of around £25,000 in the last year but finally ended on 30 September. 

It initially allowed buyers to save up to £15,000 in taxes as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of their property purchase under £500,000. 

But in September, the tax break would have had a more subdued effect.

In England and Northern Ireland, it was tapered down between July and September so that buyers could only save £2,500.

And the holiday had already expired in Scotland and Wales, on 31 March and 30 June respectively. 

Given that the impact of the stamp duty holiday was lessening, some suggest that other factors have become more important in maintaining high levels of activity in the housing market. 

There are a number of things at play, according to Lawrence Bowles, senior research analyst at Savills.

‘There’s more to this activity than a stamp duty holiday: record-low mortgage rates, desire for more space, and a core of unmet pent up demand all continue to push up transaction volumes,’ he says. 

Although it is one of several reasons why the housing market remains hot, the desire for a cheap mortgage has become more of a pressing issue for buyers in recent days and weeks. 

This is because speculation about a rise in the Bank of England’s base rate has threatened an increase in the current super-low rates.

At the moment, rates are available as low as 0.89 per cent – but they are already rising. At its lowest, the cheapest fixed rate on the market was 0.84 per cent.

Major lenders including NatWest, HSBC and Barclays have all moved to increase rates on some mortgages, after months of sustained falls. 

With a base rate rise being predicted by some for December, experts are suggesting that the threat of mortgage rates going up is the ‘new stamp duty holiday’ and that the rush to complete sales before rates rise is now keeping the housing market buoyant.

Simon Bath, chief executive of technology company iPlace Global which created the property advice app Moveable, says: ‘We have reached another crossroads in which following the stamp duty holiday, there is another potential deadline for Brits to prepare for.

‘It seems likely that house prices will continue to rise before demand slows down, as Brits race to obtain lower mortgage rates.’

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove 

Early statistics back his price rise theory up. According to Rightmove’s latest house price index, which covers the first half of October, the average house price jumped £5,000 compared to the previous month. 

In addition, every UK region broke asking price records for the first time since March 2007.

The property portal noted in its report: ‘The continued fast turnover of property for sale and a window of opportunity to buy before a potential interest rate rise seem to have overcome the final expiry of all stamp duty incentives and are keeping activity robust.’

This trend is keeping the market buoyant for now, but could it really lead to another buying frenzy? Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, says so. 

‘With demand for properties still high, and a potential mortgage rate rise on the horizon, this could be the perfect storm to see another frenzy to buy, so long as the shortage of stock doesn’t continue,’ he says. 

There is also the simple fact that people who were trying to meet the September stamp duty deadline, but failed, are unlikely to abandon their purchases, and will continue to add to the totals over the coming months. 

But others are less sure about talk of another buying boom. With the base rate rise only tipped to be from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent, the difference in people’s mortgage payments may only be a few pounds per month. 

For example, for someone with a £120,000, two-year fixed rate mortgage on a £200,000 home, the difference between a 0.89 per cent rate and a 1.04 per cent rate would be just over £8 a month, or just under £200 across the fixed period. 

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says: ‘People will still move without stamp duty holidays and will continue to refinance their homes, whether mortgage rates are below 1 per cent or around 2 per cent.

‘Borrowers are keen to secure these historically-low mortgage rates but if the right property comes along, they are still likely to buy even if they have to pay say 15 basis points more and won’t qualify for a stamp duty holiday.’

But as the stamp duty holiday proved, the psychological impact of thinking you are saving money can be powerful, even when the actual cash saving is negligible. 

While buyers did indeed ‘save’ up to £15,000 in tax, house price rises during the stamp duty holiday were upwards of £20,000, eclipsing the actual saving.   

The true impact that the mooted rise in mortgage rates will have depends on myraid factors, including whether there is further clarity on if and when the base rate change might actually happen, and how mortgage lenders continue to respond to the situation. 

All eyes will be on the October transaction statistics and house price indices to see whether the market is remaining buoyant. 

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