Sunday 4 December 2016

VEC slammed by watchdog over teacher payments

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 29/04/2015 | 15:36

Seamus McCarthy C&AG
Seamus McCarthy C&AG

An education body paid teachers for hundreds of hours of work they were not rostered to do, according to a damning report by the State’s spending watchdog.

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Early school leavers were also paid €114,000 to take part in a second chance education project, even though the students were ineligible for the programme.

The criticisms are among a range of adverse findings made by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, against the former County Cork VEC.

The C&AG launched his probe after allegations about the running of the now defunct body were made to the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee.

Much of the inquiry focused on the running of a Youthreach project in Macroom, which provided education and training for early school leavers aged between 15 and 20. It found:

• Eight students who were ineligible for the programme were paid a total of €114,000 between 2007 and 2012;

• Two people paid student allowances were not students at all and were actually employed to provide tuition in English;

• The VEC paid for 1,070 teaching hours in 2009 and 2010, at a cost of €60,000, where teachers were not timetabled;

• Two part time staff did not have PAYE or PRSI deducted from their wages.

One of the ineligible students received payments totalling €34,000. The students should not have been allowed into the programme as they were either not EU citizens or already had an education qualification.

Mr McCarthy found there was no documentary evidence to clarify why the students had been included in the programme in breach of the guidelines.

The C&AG said some of the concerns were previously the subject of an independent investigation and a separate internal audit commissioned by the VEC in 2010.

He said attempts were made to interview the project’s coordinator, but this did not happen due to poor health.

The C&AG’s report said the coordinator retired on health grounds the following year.

Mr McCarthy said a retirement due to ill health allowed for additional years service to be added on to the coordinator’s pension, provided they underwent an independent medical assessment.

The assessment never happened and the VEC added on the additional years on the strength of a letter from the coordinator’s GP.

Mr McCarthy’s report also found that the VEC had failed to get the approval of the Minister for Education to enter leases for Youthreach buildings in Macroom, Mallow, Fermoy, Bandon and Ballincollig, although this was granted retrospectively.

Separately the report found the VEC had made settlements  totalling €111,600 between 2010 and 2013 in employment law cases. A further case last year, mediated by the Equality Authority, resulted in the payment of arrears of salary of €168,368 and compensation of €10,000.

The VEC was dissolved two years ago and its functions were take over by the newly established Cork Education and Training Board (CETB).

In a statement, CETB chief executive Ted Owens described the concerns raised in the C&AG report as “legacy issues” and said steps had been taken “to ensure these failings in control procedures and policy will not happen in the new organisation”.

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