Financial irregularities and missing files in Skillnets scheme

SERIOUS questions have been raised over the delivery of the state’s Skillnets programme after the C&AG report uncovered issues over the non-delivery of courses that were already paid for, financial irregularities and missing documentation linked to tenders.

Skillnets is funded by the National Training Fund and had a final budget of €16.6m for 2009, funding 103 training networks training a reported 40,123 people. However, an investigation by accountants uncovered serious issues over the delivery of some training programmes.

According to the report: “Following the receipt of anonymous allegations in February 2010 in relation to a specific training provider, Skillnets began an investigation and identified 24 networks that had made payments to that training provider in 2008-2009.

“There was evidence to support the allegations in relation to 12 of these networks. No evidence of irregularities was found in 10 and investigations into the remaining two are ongoing.”

The 12 networks paid the training provider a total of €319,520 for 24 courses, but:

- Eight courses were not delivered.

- A further eight of the courses were delivered to companies who were not members of the relevant network.

- Eight courses were delivered to network members but, in four of these cases, there was insufficient evidence that all of the trainees claimed for attended.

- In three of the eight courses that were delivered to network members, the training provider collected the matching income directly from member companies.

- Payment for one course which was delivered was disallowed because, although the company was a member of the relevant network, it was publicly funded and, therefore, ineligible.

In addition, for courses that did not take place, there were trainee profile sheets, evaluation forms and signed attendance sheets on file for the trainees who allegedly attended these courses.

One of the 12 networks made a payment of €12,000 to the training provider for the delivery of two courses, only for the training provider to subsequently inform the network that the payment should not have been applied for as trainees paid their own fees for one of the courses and the other was cancelled due to lack of numbers.

“The investigation found that documents may have been fraudulently prepared or manipulated in relation to the course that was cancelled,” the report states, adding that the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation was informed while the provider refunded the €12,000 to the network even though the incident was never disclosed to Skillnets.

According to the report, the maximum loss of public funds is estimated by Skillnets to be €59,645.

Regarding allegations linked to Fás, it says “the potential loss of public funds cannot be accurately estimated until the investigation is complete”.


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