First, the board and management of BIM take very seriously their obligation to produce annual accounts and reports quickly each year. I wish to deal very briefly with the 2000 annual accounts. As the Comptroller and Auditor General pointed out, the main delay in 2000 was occasioned by the queries that surrounded BIM's drawdown of £6.5 million in emergency aid. BIM had submitted draft accounts on 2 March 2001 and the contract auditors had more or less completed their work by the end of May. It took quite a bit of time to deal with the queries raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General on 10 July. The auditors' reports were eventually signed by him on 17 October.
To turn very briefly to the emergency aid schemes, the subject of the supplement to the audit report, I will not repeat what was mentioned except to say that on 5 December the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, and the then Minister of State at that Department, former Deputy Hugh Byrne, announced by way of a Supplementary Estimate a package of £4 million for the fishing industry and £2.5 million for the farmed shellfish industry.
BIM was asked to implement the aid programmes, the objective of which was to deliver once-off, urgent and emergency support to the fishing and aquaculture industries. I would like to brief the committee on the basis for them. The essential cause of the problem that year was that, in the case of the fishing industry, the price of marine diesel had increased from something like 14 pence per litre in 1999 to more than 30 pence per litre in 2000. At one point in the autumn of 2000 it went as high as 33 pence and 34 pence. Depending on the type of vessel used and fishing activity engaged in, marine diesel can account for between 50% and 80% of operating costs. Quite clearly, therefore, we had an emergency affecting the fishing industry in terms of its viability. A lot of vessels were not able to put to sea and were tied up in port.
In the case of the shellfish farming industry, we should be clear on the nature of the problem. There had been a period of closure for up to ten months in a number of the main growing areas and somewhat longer for some individual farms due to a naturally occurring problem caused by bio toxins in the water. This threatened the industry's survival because, without harvesting mussels, there is no income.
On 5 December we were asked by the then Minister and Minister of State, on foot of a Supplementary Estimate, to commence urgently to implement the two schemes in question. It was against this background that BIM moved to give effect to the emergency aid programmes and drew down the allocation of £6.5 million. We commenced immediately to announce the first part of the schemes, a white fish quality training initiative. We advertised in the national and local media on 7 December, giving details of training programmes at six regional venues around the coast for skipper owners of boats longer than 12 metres. A total of 1,754 fishermen from 384 vessels attended the courses. A second phase of the programme was initiated for small boats less than 12 metres in length.
Payments under the relevant scheme were made once BIM had established compliance with a number of criteria, including validation of RSI or PPS numbers with the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. We did not make payments in December. There was an expectation substantial payments could be made but we did not believe it was possible and good practice to do so because of these requirements which we insisted upon being in place. Proper processing and checking of the applications required that payments be delayed until January and February of the following year.
Under the scheme £947,848 was paid out, mainly in the three month period, January to March 2001. More than 85% of liabilities were incurred in December 2000, in other words, the payments related to the training programmes we had put in place in that month but we did not see fit to issue such payments because of insisting that strict criteria be applied to the applications.
To move on quickly, in 2001 the situation regarding international oil prices changed substantially. The price of marine diesel came down considerably and the remaining elements of the aid package for the fishing industry, that is, the figure of £4 million in relation to fuel efficiency, etc. were not put into effect. There was no way in which we, in BIM, could have foreseen that the serious requirement for emergency aid support would not have continued into the following year. In effect, the need for the scheme was removed by the reduction in oil prices.
On the aid package for the rope mussel industry, we moved immediately to put a comprehensive scheme in place in early December. The speed of implementation was affected by the impact of the foot and mouth disease restrictions in March 2001 because staff were not in a position to carry out site inspections as had been planned. The scheme in relation to farmed shellfish was certainly delayed by the impact of the foot and mouth disease outbreak. However, a total pay-out of £2.48 million was made in 2001 out of the total allocation of £2.5 million.
The key reference period for the assessment of liabilities under the remedial aid package for the rope mussel industry was part of the year 2000 - 1 May to 31 December, the period during which the problems had occurred on the basis of which all calculations and assessments of payments were made for the farmed shellfish industry. As mentioned, we received sanction, on foot of a Government decision, for the transfer of £1.5 million from the unspent aid package to aid the Castlemaine mussel fishery which was similarly affected by a biotoxicity problem. The remaining £1.5 million was repaid to the Department in December 2001.
BIM, in conjunction with the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, acted with urgency and in good faith to give immediate effect to a Government policy decision on an emergency affecting the fishing and aquaculture industries. Because of the practical difficulties, not least the obligation on BIM and the Department to adhere to rigorous criteria, it did not prove possible to make payments under the scheme in December 2000. However, they were eventually made in 2001 related, in the main, to liabilities generated in 2000. That, essentially, is our opening statement on the emergency aid programme.