€151,000 PR bill for state body with own media staff
THE National Consumer Agency (NCA) has renewed a €151,000 contract with a public relations agency, despite having a team of workers in house to respond to media queries.
The agency -- which has already spent €550,000 on PR since 2007 -- has renewed the contract, despite plans to amalgamate with the Competition Authority (CA) later this year.
The NCA has spent an average of approximately €18,000 a month on PR to date at a time when it has been pleading with the Government for extra staff.
Last year it warned that chronic staff shortages were creating relentless pressure at the agency.
But yesterday a spokesman defended the decision to spend approximately €12,600 each month this year on an external PR agency, saying it had a "very broad remit".
The contract was renewed despite the quango having its own "small internal team responsible for executing the agency's strategic communications plan" that includes "drafting all communications materials" or press releases.
Yesterday the Irish Independent asked the NCA a series of questions about the amount of work the PR company does and why they renewed the contract when they are set to merge with another agency.
However, the agency declined to respond to these queries.
Chief executive Ann Fitzgerald also failed to return numerous phone calls last night.
Since 2005 the quango has retained the services of Q4 -- a PR firm set up by former Fianna Fail general secretary Martin Mackin and Jackie Gallagher, a former adviser to Bertie Ahern.
The tender document from the quango stated that it required "specialist public relations support" in order to "assist it in the execution of its statutory functions in the area of consumer information, education, awareness and consumer law enforcement".
However, yesterday the NCA would not give a breakdown of exactly how much work the PR company carried out last year.
Last night Labour's Willie Penrose criticised the renewal of the contract at a time when so many cuts are being imposed.
"If there's any money in the pot it should be spent on essential services," he said.
"People are being denied these services and it's going to make them very angry to hear that a PR contract like this is being awarded. Surely to God they would be able to do their own PR?"
He added that the amalgamation of the two quangos should have happened at this stage, with further delays causing more money to be lost.
The NCA was set up in 2005 to supply information and defend consumer rights. It is best known for carrying out price surveys and telling consumers to "shop around".