EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn last night failed to explain why FAS was allowed to spend €300,000 on a public relations contract -- even as he warned schools that more cuts are on the way.
Mr Quinn failed to clarify why the €300,000 contract was awarded by the controversial organisation which he is promising to break up.
He refused to answer questions from the Irish Independent on his future plans for FAS.
But he is devoting this week to attending teacher conferences where he is warning that painful spending cuts are on the way in education.
Mr Quinn provided no detail and no answers on the PR contract awarded to Fleishman Hillard.
Among the directors at the firm is Mark Mortell, one of the architects of Fine Gael's historic election victory, and a key adviser to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Now the Department of Education, FAS and Fleishman Hillard are all refusing to divulge the value of the contract.
Sources estimate it will be worth up to €300,000, and although the department claims it is considerably less, it won't give the figure.
The spotlight is firmly on spending at the department as Mr Quinn runs the gauntlet of teachers' conferences across the country this week.
Yesterday, Mr Quinn told the conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland that the country has to manage with less money.
He told delegates he could not pretend previous government decisions could be reversed. And he warned recovery plans included a cut in teacher numbers in 2011 despite a rise in student and payroll costs from 2012.
Mr Quinn says he was not aware of the FAS contract awarded to Fleishman Hillard as the decision was made before he was appointed.
"It is understood that the contract was publicly tendered, and awarded in line with best international practice," a spokesman said.
But Mr Quinn responded dismissively to a series of 15 more detailed questions on the necessity for the contract, and his future plans for the organisation. He gave a four-paragraph response, which provided no detail on the contract.
Mr Quinn would not say who decided that FAS needed to spend this money on outside consultancy, nor would he divulge who signed off on the contract.
And he did not detail his plans for FAS, considering both he and Fine Gael called for it to be scrapped before the election.
The Government has promised to set up a new National Employment and Entitlements Service -- meaning FAS itself will soon become redundant.
All employment and benefit support services will be integrated in a single delivery unit managed by the Department of Social Protection.
Mr Quinn's spokesman said the minister was "reviewing options regarding the provision of further education and training and the structures to support it with a view to providing the best service to trainers, learners and the wider enterprise sector".
"This review is wider than just looking at the remit of FAS or a new skills agency which might take its place. The intention is to ensure that the various players work together to ensure optimum synergy in the delivery of further education and training," said a statement.
A FAS spokesman said the board began a planning process in anticipation of major restructuring, on foot of a decision by the previous Government.
"FAS undertook a rigorous public tender process in line with procurement procedures. In this instance, the successful tenderer was Fleishman Hillard," the spokesman said.
FAS said that in common practice with all public sector bodies, it "routinely goes to competitive tender" for goods and services.
"This is an integral part of proper public procurement procedure. The procurement of services is an operational matter and there is no role for a parent government department or minister in this process," the spokesman added.