Taxpayers to foot bill for rent of empty VEC buildings
TAXPAYERS are facing rent bills of millions of euro for years to come on buildings that will lie idle after the number of vocational education committees is halved.
Five offices due to be vacated under a major rationalisation have a combined 68 years still to run on their leases.
Among them are the Tullamore headquarters of Co Offaly VEC, which has almost 16 years left on its lease, at an estimated cost of €2.25m.
The others are Longford (20 years); Kilkenny (16 years); Dun Laoghaire (11 years) and City of Galway (six years).
The decision to cut the number of VECs from 33 to 16 meant that many counties lost out to their neighbours as regards where the merged headquarters would be located.
In the case of Offaly, the merged headquarters will be in Portlaoise, Co Laois. Longford has lost out to Roscommon, Kilkenny to Carlow, City of Galway to Athenry and Dun Laoghaire to County Dublin VEC in Tallaght.
Ultimately, where a vacated property has time to run on a lease, the department will have to foot the bill unless a new tenant can be found.
In the current, depressed property market, the chances of offloading the offices are regarded as slim.
The Department of Education would not comment on the potential cost of the leases for the offices involved.
A spokesperson said: "The detail in relation to the disposal of existing property interests will be worked through by the department in conjunction with the VECs involved and the new merged body when established."
The VEC offices earmarked for closure could be empty from next year as Education Minister Ruairi Quinn hopes to set up new structures early in 2012 following the passage of legislation currently before the Oireachtas.
Offaly Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen, a Tullamore-based auctioneer, has provided the €2.25m estimate of the cost of the 16-year lease for the 767 sqm offices of the Co Offaly headquarters. He queried the decision to opt for Portlaoise, where the offices are owned by the local VEC.
The so-called Bord Snip report suggested reducing the number of VECs from 33 to 22 with a view to saving €3m a year.
Mr Quinn is going further than that and is halving the number of VECs to 16, which the department believes will increase the saving, but cannot give a figure.