Friday 28 October 2016

It's high time that dinosaur known as Ibec became extinct

Shane Ross

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

SECRET SALARY: Ibec accounts don’t reveal how much chief executive Danny McCoy is paid or why they spend €2,000 a week on public relations even though they have a press office
SECRET SALARY: Ibec accounts don’t reveal how much chief executive Danny McCoy is paid or why they spend €2,000 a week on public relations even though they have a press office

In prehistoric days, the dinosaurs were dangerous. Today's dinosaurs are confined to museums or to the odd guest appearance in Scotland's Loch Ness. Or to the stage.

  • Go To

And then there is Ibec. The Employers' Group (the Irish Business and Employers Confederation) has a neck of brass that would make its prehistoric predecessors blush.

Yet there it was, a headline in the Irish Times; front page of the paper of record claiming that "Ibec calls for teachers to be trained in 'entrepreneurial thinking'".

Did the paper of record have the two parties in its story the wrong way round? Surely what they meant to say was that teachers were calling for Ibec to be trained in entrepreneurial thinking?

No, the paper of record was right. The dinosaurs were brazenly requiring that modern members of the teaching workforce pull their socks up. Pupils needed to be better educated about the real world, by implication, the space occupied by the trade union of employers, commonly known as Ibec.

Ibec's attitude to teachers was deeply patronising. The fallen social partner, desperately seeking to reinvent itself in a post social-partnership age, struggled to identify with the world of enterprise.

I was a bit suspicious of Ibec's efforts to wrap the unlikely flag of enterprise around its withered body. So it was time to find out who feeds the dinosaur these days. Perhaps it was the real champions of enterprise, like Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, or all those small businesses that keep the Irish economy afloat?

Far from it. Ibec is a pretender at the court of the kings of enterprise. The dinosaur is still spoon-fed and watered by the least savoury of Irish businesses.

First call was to Irish Water. Was the dreaded state monopoly subsidising Ibec with taxpayers' money? After a long day's waiting for Irish Water's response, a spokesman admitted that it was indeed quenching the thirst of the dinosaur. Its parent company, Ervia, was a member of Ibec and this covered Irish Water.

A precise figure for the cost of membership was not available before the deadline because the key person was "on holiday", but it is a fair guess that its annual sub to Ibec runs into six figures.

Six figures? For an annual sub from a national laughing stock to join a group of redundant employers? Well, just a guess because the State is feeding Ibec royally from other troughs. The troubled state-owned bank, Permanent TSB, is donating €145,000 a year to Ibec. This is the same basket case that failed the ECB's stress test last year.

Last week, the bank insisted that the three grand a week was given for "support and advice on HR issues and related matters". Not bad for a retainer.

Perhaps AIB, the largest of Irish banks, the biggest bail-out beneficiary of all, baulked at the social partner's bait? Not at all. AIB - another (99pc) state-owned bank - buys into the bosom of Ibec every year for the privilege of membership. Despite being a state-owned company, its fee is kept a dark secret between itself and Ibec.

A few years ago, the fee stood at a phenomenal €194,000 a year. It is probably higher today. No wonder they do not want such wanton waste to keep reappearing in the press.

Bank of Ireland is a member. Today, all the banks are suddenly reticent about the fees they pay to the dinosaur, but a few years ago, Bank of Ireland conceded that it was paying €200,000 in annual fees to be part of the club. A pattern is emerging.

The big banks and semi-states are still Ibec's main supporters. Hardly a gang of entrepreneurs. Quite the opposite, unless you regard the property frenzy, the reckless lending and the bonus culture as the ultimate in enterprise.

Ultimately, the State itself, through various outlets, is on the hook to Ibec for millions every year.

An Post is a member. The DAA is a member. The ESB is a member. RTE is a member. Their exorbitant fees are kept secret in all cases but, on the basis of previous revelations, we can expect them to range between €100,000 and €200,000 a year, each.

Big money changes hands every year when these state monopolies decide to ride on the back of the dinosaur. While state monopolies are hardly the most credible champions of enterprise, the end result is a bulging bank balance for Ibec.

Apart from lobbying on behalf of the banks and state monopolies, what on earth does Ibec do to merit such largesse from these floundering bodies? On Thursday, it was time to dig out Ibec's annual accounts. As Ibec is a rare creature - a trade union of employers - the accounts can be found at the Registrar of Friendly Societies, like any other trade union's.

The accounts are opaque. Ibec's membership fell by another 138 last year. At least a few entrepreneurs have rumbled Ibec and headed for the hills. Yet members' contributions have risen, indicating that some poor semi-state or down-and-out bank has been fleeced for an extra few bob.

They do not reveal how much the chief executive Danny McCoy is paid. But like all accounts, they beg a few questions. Why did they have €360,000 worth of cars on their books last year? Why did they spend over €2,000 a week on "public relations", especially as they have their own press office? What are the unexplained, non-audit expenditure items of €14,000 billed by the firm's auditors? When did Ibec last change the auditors from the long-favoured PWC?

Questions needed to be answered, not least: what in the name of God does Ibec do, now that social partnership is dead?

I rang Ibec's press office. I told the staff member that I wished to ask a few questions about their sudden enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and their 2014 accounts. She willingly volunteered to provide the paper on entrepreneurship. She was more defensive about the accounts.

"I do not think the accounts for 2014 have been published. They are not out."

Ibec's press office did not even know that the accounts have been in the public arena since the end of May!

I told her I had a copy in my hand. She asked where I had got it, to which I replied that the Registrar of Friendly Societies had obliged. I left her with a few questions, pleading for an early response. It didn't come. When I rang - after 5pm - I was told there was no answer from the press office because "everybody usually wraps up about 5.30". Precisely the response you might expect from a big bank or a semi-state.

Entrepreneurs and their champions never close their doors at 5.30pm. They work 24/7. The next day, the entire Ibec press office was, predictably enough, "on their lunch" just after one o'clock.

Ibec regularly claims to be the voice of business. It is no such thing, let alone the champion of enterprise.

Ryanair is not a member of Ibec. God bless Michael O'Leary, the ultimate entrepreneur, for giving the two fingers to the former social partner. Ibec is the voice of banks, big business and state monopolies. Irish Water, AIB, Bank of Ireland, An Post , RTE, the DAA, Permanent TSB and others with a similar business culture pull the strings.

Any entrepreneur thinking of joining should realise that the dinosaur's appetite for soft state pickings remains voracious.

Social partnership died many years ago. A relic survives. The model failed, partially because of Ibec's craven capitulation to indefensible public expenditure programmes, which any entrepreneur would have torpedoed.

There is a budget on the way. The mandarins are in search of savings. The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, should stop the vast payments to Ibec from the banks, Irish Water and the other semi-states.

If that means the extinction of another dinosaur, real entrepreneurs will rejoice.

Sunday Independent

Read More