Agency scandal fears delay EU grant applications
A GOVERNMENT department is "concerned" that some European funding for social projects could be lost due to the controversy over wasteful spending in the state training agency FAS.
The European Commission has queried several aspects of how FAS spending is accounted for and is still waiting for answers. As a result, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is holding back some applications for funding to the European Social Fund, which has provided more than €6bn for education, training and employment.
"We have withheld some elements of claims to the European Commission until the issues they have raised are resolved," the department's Secretary General Sean Gorman said.
The European Commission warned the Government as far back as 2002 that serious problems existed with the internal and financial controls of FAS.
This was after an audit had been carried out by its European Social Fund audit team. Mr Gorman said he did not believe the funding at risk was anything like the €100m figure mentioned in the letter, but confirmed that concerns over spending controls at FAS could have "implications".
"We're in the middle of the process. We don't know where it will come out. It's something we're concerned about," he said. The issue was raised at the Public Accounts Committee yesterday by its chairman Bernard Allen, who had been tipped off in an anonymous letter.
Yesterday, committee members complained they had still not received a report on a FAS training programme which cost €126m. The Competency Development Programme (CDP) provided funding to employers' groups, unions and private businesses to upgrade the skills of 123,000 workers in private companies. Labour TD Roisin Shortall questioned why the money had not been spent on helping people who were on the dole or educationally disadvantaged.
"It's very hard to understand why this was used as a slush fund with large amounts of money being shovelled into employers' organisations and unions," she said.
Ms Shortall said it had already been revealed that many of the participants in the programme didn't attend the training courses; that courses had been delivered by unregistered tutors; and that there was no evaluation of the benefits of some of them.
New FAS director general Paul O'Toole admitted that the constant revelations about spending excesses in FAS' corporate hospitality and foreign travel budget had damaged the organisation.
"You are absolutely correct. This has had a devastating effect on many people," he said.