Tuesday 26 September 2017

Companies in FAS probe got millions via 'slush fund'

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

MILLIONS of euro in taxpayers' money from a controversial 'slush fund' was paid to companies involved in the dodgy FAS courses scandal.

At least six private firms investigated over serious irregularities in training courses received substantial sums from FAS's €126m Competency Development Programme (CDP).

A businessman facing jail in a dispute over €2m worth of missing construction machinery also received a payment from the much-maligned fund, which was designed to upskill people in employment.

The now defunct programme was described as a 'slush fund' by Labour TD Roisin Shortall at the Public Accounts Committee earlier this year.

The comments were made after it emerged some members of a FAS board sub-committee which controlled the programme were closely associated with social partnership bodies -- which benefited from millions of euro in funding allocations.

But as well as dispersing large amounts to the social partners, the Irish Independent has learnt that huge sums were also given to a number of firms that have been investigated by the state training agency over course irregularities.

Irregularities

There is no suggestion of any links between the FAS sub-committee and the criticised training providers.

These included Dublin-based Ashfield Computer Training, which received €937,000 for providing courses between 2005 and 2008 under the programme.

The firm was dropped by FAS and later went into liquidation after it was discovered one of its tutors changed assessment results to enable students to pass exams. Other irregularities were also found.

Another firm, Mullingar-based Foras Computer Training, was paid almost €1.6m from the programme between 2006 and 2008. It was found by FAS to have falsified the number of people it had on its courses.

The Irish Independent is aware of at least four other firms who were paid money from the programme and that have been investigated.

At least one of these ran courses where exam papers were marked incorrectly, while others were cited for different irregularities or deficiencies in the quality of their courses.

It is not yet clear whether FAS will publicly name these companies. FAS chairman Michael Dempsey said it was hoped a final report would be released "as soon as possible".

Records seen by the Irish Independent detail €93m of payments made under the CDP to 650 training companies and other bodies for upskilling courses between 2003 and 2008.

Opposition TDs last night said the revelations of payments to firms at the centre of the dodgy courses controversy raised further questions over how money from the programme was allocated.

"There was a complete lack of quality control," said Ms Shortall.

Irish Independent

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