Friday 24 November 2017

VEC accused of wasting €420,000 in premises move

Kieran O’Donnell: vice-chair of the PAC
Kieran O’Donnell: vice-chair of the PAC

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

A VOCATIONAL education body has been accused by the Dail's spending watchdog of wasting over €420,000 in taxpayers' money.

The accusation came after it emerged the former Wexford Vocational Education Committee (VEC) moved to a new premises despite being locked into a long-term rent agreement on its original headquarters.

The VEC, now part of the newly formed Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board (ETB), claims it got approval from the Department of Education for the move.

However, the department told the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) it could find no record of giving approval.

PAC vice chairman Kieran O'Donnell said the "wastage of taxpayers' money", calculated at €420,500, "defies logic".

Department Secretary General Sean O Foghlu said the VEC left its old headquarters at Iberius House in Wexford in 2006, as the building was "deemed to be unsuitable", and moved to new rented premises at Ardcavan Business Park.

The move took place despite a 20-year lease on Iberius House, with a total annual cost of €67,465, which is not due to end until October of this year.

The old headquarters was initially sublet for two years, between July 2006 and June 2008, for an annual sum of €51,000 – €16,465 less than the VEC was paying out in rent.

Since then it has only been able to sublet part of the premises for an annual rate of €7,000.

Mr O Foghlu said the total amount received in rent for the former headquarters from 2006 to 2014 was €119,500.

He said in the same period €540,000 was paid in rent on Iberius House, resulting in "net expenditure of €420,500".

Mr O Foghlu said the matter came to his attention following an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

He said ministerial approval was required before a VEC entered into a new lease.

"Despite a thorough search, no document from the VEC seeking such approval has as yet been identified," he said.

He said Waterford and Wexford ETB chief executive Clare McMahon's recollection was that approval was granted by the department.

Mr O'Donnell asked the secretary general to take some sort of action on the issue.

Mr O Foghlu said he shared Mr O'Donnell's concerns.

However, he said it was reasonable to suggest that the VEC would not have gone ahead with move if it could have foreseen the eventual collapse in the rental market.

Irish Independent

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