National College of Art and Design had to abandon software system after spending €138k

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) had to abandon a HR software system on which it spent €138,000 over three years because management failed to properly implement it.

It is one of a number of ongoing financial control weaknesses at the troubled college identified in its latest set of accounts which cover the year to September 2016.

The current NCAD board and its predecessors, appointed in April of this year and in 2015, respectively, have been working to address serious problems with finance and HR functions identified over recent years.

In the reports just published, it is revealed that the Core HR system was purchased in June 2014 to correct some of the “weaknesses in control over HR and payroll records.” By the time the project was cancelled over three years later, €138,000 had been invested.

“NCAD management did not manage the project competently and consequently management never fully implemented the project,” a statement on internal financial controls states.

As costs continued to escalate, [the board] decided in August 2017 to terminate this project due to non-delivery of the end product.

It is one of several weaknesses highlighted in the statement signed off in June by Sarah Glennie. In January, she became director of the inner-city Dublin college which has around 1,000 full-time and 600 evening students. It received €6.6m of its €18m income in 2016 from State grants, as well as around €5m in tuition fees paid from public funds.

Historic issues around income and spending on research are also detailed, showing that they were included with general income and expenditure in 2014, making it more difficult to identify financial aspects of NCAD’s research activity.

While new research contracts are being separately recorded from 2015 and 2016, uncertainty remained around older projects and work is continuing to more clearly distinguish research and other income for reporting in college accounts.

Although not unusual in third-level colleges or other large publicly-funded organisations, the 2016 financial statements also identified issues in relation to compliance with procurement rules. During the 2015/16 accounting period, goods or services for which 12 suppliers were paid €642,000 had not been procured in compliance with government and EU guidelines.

The college also appears to be still working on the introduction of policies on a range of issues. The financial statements report there were no written procedures prior to 2014 for confidential disclosures, avoidance of conflicts of interest, related party transactions, procurement, fraud, credit cards, travel and subsistence, information technology, banking, or processing of journal entries.

Written policies were drafted for all these areas in 2015 and 2016, and are in the process of being finalised and implemented,” said the financial control report.

In relation to weak controls around payroll and HR, it is stated that policies and procedures have been drafted “but implementation remains an issue”.

Richard Thorn, former president of Institute of Technology Sligo, became chair of the new board in June. An unpublished review for the Higher Education Authority of creative arts in the higher education sector has recommended merging NCAD and Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire.

See also: Details of financial control problems at NCAD not surprising

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