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Sunday 21 September 2014

Joan Burton denies misleading Dail on cost of consultants

Published 23/03/2014 | 02:30

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Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection
Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has denied misleading the Dail after it emerged her department had spent almost €15m more than originally thought on external consultants and service providers since she took office.

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Burton is facing accusations of "mismanagement" from Fianna Fail after it claimed contradictory information was released by the minister.

In a parliamentary reply issued by Joan Burton to Fianna Fail in February, the minister said that contracts worth €20.6m had been entered into by the department since May 2011. These included deals worth €19.4m with IT and computer companies.

However, replying to a question from Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae in recent days, Burton said her department had actually spent €34.8m on external consultants and service providers since February 2011, the month before she assumed office.

The €14.2m difference between the replies has sparked uproar in Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail senator Marc MacSharry has been compiling information on consultancy spending by the Fine Gael/ Labour coalition.

"We are talking about stark differences of €14m or more in the use of taxpayers' money on consultants," MacSharry said.

"The difference in the information given in two different answers raises alarm bells, particularly at a time when we need greater transparency and accountability in the use of public money.

"At best, the minister has misled the Oireachtas about the use of public money on consultants. At worst, the contradictory information highlights gross mismanagement on behalf of the minister."

A spokeswoman for the minister admitted the differences between the replies was "confusing".

However, she rejected suggestions that the original answer was in any way misleading, and insisted Ms Burton had answered the questions she had been asked.

"One request was for the value of contract and the other was for the amount of money paid out," the spokeswoman said." They are comparing apples and oranges in a way."

The spokeswoman said that in some instances there would be discrepancies between the size of contracts and what was ultimately paid. Some companies would not have been paid the full value of the original contract announced as the amount of work originally anticipated was not needed, she said.

Some of the payments which show expenditure above that which might have been expected may also have been in respect of longer-term contracts signed before 2011, the spokeswoman said.

According to the two sets of information provided by Burton about consultancy and external service provider spending since 2011:

*Business consultants Bearing Point signed contracts worth €9.3m with the department, but has actually been paid €18.8m in that period;

*Management consultancy firm Accenture was awarded contracts worth €1.8m, but has actually been paid €3.6m;

*The Economic and Social Research Institute was retained on contracts worth €264,000, but has been paid €676,000;

*Computer firm Hewlett Packard signed contracts worth €1.1m, but has been paid €1.9m;

*Corporate finance consultants Deloitte was recruited on contracts worth €2.6m, but has only been paid €936,000;

*Software firm Fujitsu Ireland won contracts worth €2.8m, but has only been paid €786,000 to date.

Another company, Biometric Card Services, has not signed any contract with the department since Joan Burton took office. However, it has been paid €5.3m over the past three years for work on the new public services card, which is replacing the old social services card used to collect social welfare payments and the free travel pass.

Much of the money spent with IT consultants went towards a modernisation programme, known as 'Business Object Model implementation (BOMi)'.

The latest controversy comes just a fortnight after the Sunday Independent revealed seven Government departments and 14 State agencies had committed €165m towards the recruitment of external consultants and service providers since the Coalition came to power.

Big spending departments and agencies include the Department of Foreign Affairs (€50.7m), Revenue (€27.9m) and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (€27.3m).

Sunday Independent

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