Sunday 26 May 2019

No excuses for the SUSI debacle in year one

Former minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Former minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The chaos that engulfed SUSI in its first year of operation is perfectly understandable, and completely inexcusable, after reading the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Séamus McCarthy.

Page after page details what went wrong and why, in a damning indictment of the planning and organisation that went into setting up the new single grant awarding authority.

Many students suffered hardship in its first year as a result of blunders and delays that left them waiting for the grants on which they were depending to pursue their studies.

Now, the C&AG reveals that hundreds of students received grants to which they were not entitled - and which have not been repaid. Happy days for the students, but the taxpayer is on the hook for €4m.

The taxpayer also stumped up millions more euro than originally anticipated to pay for extra agency staff in SUSI's first year, and beyond, as promised redeployment from other areas failed to materialise on schedule.

The report points the finger of blame in a number of directions, not least the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the very Government agency that is supposed to be driving a more efficient and cost-effective public service.

The C&AG's clear message is that proper planning would have anticipated, and avoided, the mess that ensued a few months after then Education Minister Ruairí Quinn launched SUSI with the words "this is an excellent example of public sector reform. It has significant benefits not only to students seeking or in receipt of grants but also to the public purse".

Now in its third year of operation, SUSI is running smoothly while also bringing a consistency to the processing of grant applications. The hope is that over time it will indeed show itself to be a model of public service reform - and also a model of what not to do.

Irish Independent

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