Cork ETB adopts whistleblower policy after scandals

The Cork Education and Training Board (ETB) has introduced a whistleblower policy to help prevent a repeat of financial irregularities which rocked the education body it succeeded.

The ETB board approved the policy yesterday but stopped short of issuing a formal apology to Humphrey Deegan, a former member of the dissolved Cork County VEC who chaired its audit committee, and who went public in 2011 with his concerns about certain aspects of the operation.

Following several complaints to the Public Accounts Committee, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) launched a probe into the internal controls of Cork County VEC.

C&AG Séamus McCarthy’s report, published last week, found €114,000 was paid to students ineligible to take part in courses at the VEC’s Macroom Youthreach centre. The money is unlikely to be recovered, the report said. It found that teachers working at the centre were paid for more than 1,000 hours for which they were not time-tabled, at a cost of €60,000, and payments were made to two staff members without PRSI or PAYE deductions.

Cork County VEC made a tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners in 2013 of more than €115,000. The report found that the body spent more than €200,000 between 2010 and 2013 on legal settlements related to employment issues, and more than €442,000 on legal costs. The C&AG said these costs were above the nationwide VEC average, particularly in 2013, when Cork County VEC paid €156,200 to solicitors and barristers when the national spend was €30,000.

The report also flagged concerns about leases which were entered into without the required permission of the education minister, scholarship costs linked to a land lease deal in Schull Community College, and storage costs for a boat donated for sail training courses. Cork County VEC was dissolved along with other VECS in 2013. Cork ETB assumed responsibility for Cork City VEC, Cork Co VEC and Fás and became responsible for all assets, liabilities and legacy issues.

In February 2014, Cork ETB had to pay almost €170,000 to a VEC employee as part of a settlement brokered by the Equality Authority. Cork ETB chief executive, Ted Owens, told board members yesterday that he is now satisfied that the ETB faces no further financial exposure arising out of VEC legacy issues. He said no legal actions are pending and a raft of new internal controls and policies have been introduced, including the tendering for legal services.

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