Ewart defends board record amid criticism

Lisburn’s Alderman Allan Ewart has defended his record as a former paid member of the Libraries NI Board after allegedly drawing criticism for lack of attendance during 2014/15.

Named in a Sunday newspaper as one of two board members whose attendance during the last financial year was apparently called into question in an as-yet unpublished Northern Ireland Audit Office provisional report, Mr Ewart said this week the role involved much more than just board meetings.

Last week’s Sunday Life identified Mr Ewart and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Councillor Carla Lockhart as two unnamed Libraries NI board members of which the audit office reportedly said: “It is unclear how these two remunerated board members contributed to the overall governance of NILA (Northern Ireland Library Authority).

“NILA received poor value for money through the non-attendance at board meetings of these two board members.” It was reported that despite picking up £3,000 a year, plus expenses, to sit on the board, this at a time of budget, staff and library opening hours cuts, Ms Lockhart attended just one board meeting during the last financial year, while Mr Ewart (who said this week he was in fact no longer a board member, having completed his five-year term) - attended none.

However, Mr Ewart, a DUP councillor and special adviser to Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey, said it was misleading to judge his contribution to Libraries NI on one year’s meetings.

“The role of a board member involves much more than just board meetings,” he said. “On behalf of people right across Northern Ireland and in my own council area I used the platform in Libraries NI to get better outcomes for constituents.

“Over the five years on the board I was a tireless advocate for the people and fought hard to reform the libraries’ provision.

“To judge my contribution on the basis of five meetings gives a false impression and is misleading.

“Such statistics fail to show the scores of issues which I worked directly with the Libraries NI management to resolve.

“The remuneration for the post is reflective of the amount of work which takes place outside the meetings. If it was only for attending those five meetings it would be £600 per meeting. In fact over the four previous years my attendance (70%) compares favourably with other board members.”

Mr Ewart said he had proposed board meetings be held in the evenings to allow those members who worked to attend more regularly.

“This is a bigger issue for corporate governance for all public bodies to consider,” he said. “A Board member is a part-time role. Some public bodies recognise this by having their meetings outside normal working hours.

“Perhaps it is time for others to consider this approach.”

Ms Lockhart likewise stood by her record as a board member and said it gave a false impression to judge her contribution on the basis of five meetings.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office, meanwhile, has reportedly recommended board members’ payments be based on meetings attended rather than annual salary.