Sunday 25 February 2018

State paid double the value for now-abandoned FAS site

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

THE State training agency FAS paid more than double the recommended price for a site for a new headquarters in the heart of Taoiseach Brian Cowen's constituency, the State spending watchdog confirmed.

The land in Birr, Co Offaly, was among 12 sites costing almost €44m bought across the country for the decentralisation programme which is now not going ahead.

The C&AG found that the savings that were supposed to be gained for the State from property deals from the decentralisation programme has not happened to the extent expected. From the announcement that more than 11,000 public servants were supposed to move from Dublin, just 3,141 staff have actually relocated, with another 1,191 in the pipeline. And 718 staff have moved to locations where the full decentralisation programme has now been deferred.

Some 6,600 staff moves have been put on hold, following the deferral of elements of the decentralisation programme, ahead of a review next year.

The Office of Public Works bought 22 sites to house decentralised staff for nearly €67.5m.

Six of the sites were bought for a price higher than the benchmark decided upon by the C&AG. A further eight sites were purchased below the recommended price, but the C&AG pointed out that most of these were already owned by local authorities, which wanted to attract jobs to their areas. The cost of decentralisation is high on the list of money-wasting ventures engaged in by the Government that are now being scrutinised by the Dail public accounts committee.

The committee chairman, Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, said: "The C&AG's report draws attention to situations in which public money may not have been prudently spent."

FAS pops out as a classic example of wastage in the report. The State training agency bought a 5.59-acre site outside Birr in December, 2004.

The agency's own property consultants recommended a price of €700,000 in August of that year but the agency paid €1.5m for the site. Since then, the site has lain idle.

The purchase of the site was approved by the board of FAS.

Its then director general, Rody Molloy, who would later resign in disgrace following revelations of extravagant foreign travel, grew up in Crinkle, a short distance from Birr.

A FAS spokeswoman said the €1.5m paid was based on a revised evaluation from an independent professional adviser. She also insisted it was within the guidelines adopted by Government for benchmarking site market values.

FAS also hired office space in the town on a 10-year lease at €200,000 per annum for the 700sqm -- 77pc higher than the upper price or benchmark for leased offices in the area.

Also, only one firm, the landlord's building company, was asked to provide quotes for the fit-out contract. FAS planned for 40 staff to be moved to the offices, but only 20 have gone so far.

Irish Independent

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