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Sunday 21 January 2018

€2m wasted on HQ as VEC relocates to rented property

Craig Hughes

ALMOST €2m was spent on the VEC headquarters in Longford in recent years, but the property will lie vacant in the coming months as the offices are relocated to Mullingar at an additional expense to the State.

The Sunday Independent has learned that €470,000 was spent on refurbishments while a further €1.4m was spent on the adjoining land.

But now the VEC is moving its office to Mullingar, where the department will pay €118,000 a year in rent.

The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) John McGuinness TD strongly criticised the move after spending such a significant amount of taxpayers' money only to leave the property to move to a rented property at a significantly greater cost to the taxpayer without any clear-cut justification.

"I am not convinced that the department 'gets it' about the cost of the VECs and how to manage their €1bn budget effectively. I think the department has a long way to go to restore confidence," he said.

Speaking before the PAC earlier this week, outgoing secretary general for the Department of Education, Brigid McManus, said the reason for the move was to have a headquarters in a central area and because of potential in the long term.

However, when asked by Mr McGuinness how much the State had invested in the Longford property, Ms McManus admitted she did not know the exact figure.

Earlier this week the PAC heard of a litany of waste and bad management practices within the Department of Education including:

"Cork VEC had overpaid teachers, put students at risk by allowing a convicted rapist to drive students around, lost €161,000 in a software project and a potential €400,000 after signing away the rights to the intellectual property.

"Kildare VEC spent €890,000 on computers as well as additional services from a former employee. Kildare VEC had to be bailed out by the State at a cost of €20m on the back of a failed property deal.

"€92m of funding was obtained from the EU globalisation fund to retrain and upskill unemployed workers who had lost their jobs at Waterford Crystal, Dell and SR Technics as well as in the construction industry. However, due to 'estimate errors' by the department, €60m of this funding was returned to the EU.

"€17m has been spent on psychological assessments of children yet the department has no idea how many children have actually been assessed. Despite there being no cap on the amount of funding to have children assessed, many families are going to charities such as the Saint Vincent de Paul in order to finance private assessments as public appointments."

On foot of this, Mr McGuinness now plans to investigate Institutes of Technology as well as County Enterprise Boards to ensure the taxpayer is getting value for money.

Sunday Independent

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