Training centre to shut as two out of five trainees drop out
SOLAS, the successor to FAS, is shutting down a training centre which has received millions of euro in state funding after uncovering financial issues and serious breaches of its training contract.
The agency, which funds further education programmes, took the decision not to provide further funding to the Drogheda Community Training Centre (DCTC), in Co Louth, last May.
However, the reasons for the decision were not fully outlined at the time.
It has now emerged that officials at Solas and its predecessor FAS expressed concerns about the running of the centre over the past three years.
According to records obtained by the Irish Independent, Solas officials found two out of five trainees were dropping out from courses at the centre, while only one out of every eight was progressing to further education and training.
The figures have been disputed by the training centre's board, which is seeking to overturn the decision to withdraw funding. Without this funding, the centre, which employs 17 people, will close next May.
The move by Solas comes as the new agency seeks to shake off the legacy of controversies which dogged and ultimately led to the dissolution of its predecessor FAS.
DCTC has been run by a local company, Drogheda Community Workshop Ltd, since 1990, providing training for early school leavers using millions of euro provided by FAS and latterly Solas.
The centre provides training courses up to FETAC level for 16 to 21-year-olds and offers 48 training places at any one time. Courses include woodwork, hairdressing, horticulture, upholstery, painting and decorating.
FAS and Solas officials warned the board on a number of occasions about the performance of the centre in recent years.
One official said records indicated that no training awards were applied for by the centre in 2012; the dropout rate that year was 41pc and just four trainees progressed to further education and two to employment after completing their courses.
"The issues identified represent a serious breach of contract and need to be immediately addressed," wrote Leo Mallen, a FAS training services assistant manager, in a letter to DCTC chairman Liam Leddy in March last year.
A financial monitoring visit in July last year found some invoices did not match statements provided by suppliers. It was also recommended that staff cease using a company laser card and that all purchases be paid for by cheque or direct debit. Solas eventually decided to pull the plug on funding, but the board is now planning to fight the decision.
Mr Leddy said: "There is absolutely no reason why this should be closed down. We are definitely trying to get this decision overturned. If there is something wrong, you fix it, you don't close it."
He also disputed the dropout rates quoted in Solas's correspondence, saying they included some people who had registered but never actually started courses. "We were given a year to put things in order and everything was flying, 100pc on target, and they just pulled the plug. They don't give us any students anymore," he said.
Mr Leddy said the board would consider at its next meeting whether to issue a fuller statement.
A Solas spokeswoman said its decision to suspend funding was made after "a range of issues" were raised with the centre's board of management following a review.
"As there was no significant progress to resolve these issues, a decision was made to withdraw funding as of from May 2015 in accordance with Solas's contractual agreement with Drogheda CTC," the statement said.
The Louth Meath Education and Training Board is now making plans to fill the gap left by the centre's closure.
Training functions previously carried out by FAS were transferred to the country's 16 education and training boards last January.
Solas is responsible for the research, planning and funding functions previously carried out by FAS.