Wednesday 20 March 2019

Bruton says education board must sharpen up

Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Richard Bruton has formally instructed Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB) to sharpen up, following an investigation into a series of transactions involving former chief executive Seán Ashe.

Mr Bruton said a report on the investigation into KWETB by Dr Richard Thorn raised "matters of serious concern" and highlighted certain "shortcomings" in how the board's business has been conducted.

Dr Thorn's report, published yesterday, confirms that some of the matters under investigation have been referred to the Garda Fraud Squad.

The Thorn investigation included scrutiny of a property rental deal as well as contracts for school heating and boiler maintenance and small building works involving a company with which Mr Ashe had a family connection.

Other issues under investigation included additional costs of €483,000 on a school building project, value for money around the purchase and sale of a van that was sold a year after it was bought because of numerous faults and breaches of, or inconsistencies with, procurement requirements.

The business case for the use of a car pool and any benefit-in-kind obligations that may accrue as a result also came under the spotlight.

The concerns first came to light following an audit by the State spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General.

In a letter, dated yesterday, to the chairperson of KWETB, Noel Merrick, Mr Bruton noted that while the report outlined adequate arrangements to manage procurement and conflicts of interest were in place, there were "shortcomings on an operative basis in the implementation of procurement processes and in relation to management intervention in certain projects".

Mr Bruton said KWETB was already improving governance arrangements and addressing matters of concern, but, in light of the final report from Dr Thorn, he has formally directed it to take further measures. He has this power under Section 41 of the Education and Training Board Act.

Among the actions already taken by the board is a review of the use of pool vehicles with a view to terminating the practice.

The full range of actions to be taken by the board are to be agreed between KWETB and the Department of Education. KWETB has an annual budget of about €130m and 2,500 staff.

The minister said his department was also updating the code of governance for the entire ETB sector to reflect issues arising from the report.

KWETB chief executive Dr Deirdre Keyes welcomed the publication of the report and the directions issued by Mr Bruton. She said the board would meet shortly.

Irish Independent

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