Company at centre of safety probe accuses education department of ‘secrecy’

Company at centre of safety probe accuses education department of ‘secrecy’

The company that built schools where safety concerns have been raised has accused a government department of “distraction and secrecy” over an ongoing review.

Western Building Systems (WBS) said it has “serious concerns” over how long the independent review will take.

On Thursday, the Education Minister Joe McHugh confirmed that structural flaws were identified at 17 schools and could require further work to be carried out.

Some 42 schools constructed by WBS across the country have been at the centre of a safety probe.

Instead of decisiveness and openness, we have distraction and secrecy

Flagging its serious concerns over the length of the review, the company said that 10 months on it has “little understanding” of the process and has had no input into it.

In a series of queries put to the department, the Co Tyrone-based firm asked what criteria was adopted for the remedial assessments and subsequent works at the schools.

It also questioned why the schools identified which were certified by the department’s own professional assessors, were “suddenly” deemed to have defects.

In a statement the company said: “What were the department’s officials and employed professionals looking at when they were regularly on our school sites and every other non-WBS school site, and originally when evaluating tender proposals?

“We were told that a Clerk of Works appointed by the department was onsite at each school from 2017, yet schools completed in 2017 and 2018 are now the subject of remedial works. How has this situation come about?”

Scaffolding at Tyrrelstown Educate Together School in Dublin, which was closed last year amid concerns over ‘significant structural issues’ (Cate McCurry/PA)
Scaffolding at Tyrrelstown Educate Together School in Dublin, which was closed last year amid concerns over ‘significant structural issues’ (Cate McCurry/PA)

The firm also queried how many other school have been assessed by the department under the same audit.

“Until we get independent, expert answers to these and other questions, the damage done to the schools building programme throughout this process may be irrevocable,” it added.

“Instead of decisiveness and openness, we have distraction and secrecy.

“The approach appears to publicly scapegoat WBS and hide behind the cloak of potential legal prejudice when it is beneficial.

“In response to the Department’s press release, we will again write to the Minister for Education and Skills seeking a firm deadline for the publication of the independent report.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Education said that a report will be finalised towards the end of the year.

He added: “The minister has commissioned an independent review of current use and practices in the design and build procurement/construction model for the delivery of school buildings (or other similar public buildings) internationally.

“The procurement process for the organisation to carry out this work is at an advanced stage.

“The minister will announce the outcome of that process when completed.”

- Press Association

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