‘Inaccurate’ portrayal of college whose staff had ‘no work’

The president of Limerick Institute of Technology has accused the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee of portraying the college inaccurately when a recent meeting heard that LIT paid €627,000 to a number of staff members over a four-year period when it had no work for them.

Dr Maria Hinfelaar wrote to the PAC after Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told a committee meeting last month that three LIT staff members who had joined following an amalgamation with the Tipperary Institute were “supernumerary”.

“They [LIT] have an approved level of staffing, and these are above that level of staffing, but in this case they actually have no work,” Mr McCarthy had told the meeting.

“There are still a number of staff members that are supernumerary in the college and the cumulative salary cost for those staff to date has been €627,000, of which €216,000 was incurred in the year ended 31 August 2014,” he said.

The revelation came as a surprise to committee members.

“So they’re getting €70,000 a year for doing nothing?” Independent TD Shane Ross asked. “That’s absolutely crackers, isn’t it? I mean, it’s just bananas,” he said.

“So they’ve had no job since 2011 at €72,000 a year and no one has done anything about it?” Patrick O’Donovan, Fine Gael TD for Limerick said.

Responding at the time, a spokesperson for LIT said a five-year integration process for redeployment of staff was undertaken from 2011, and the process required upskilling and retraining of staff. The spokesperson said this transition was due to finish ahead of schedule.

Dr Hinfelaar has since written to the PAC, claiming that the exchanges contained inaccuracies. She outlined the efforts that have been made to achieve savings following the 2011 merger, which involved the transfer of 10 surplus staff.

“I am sure the Public Accounts Committee will be aware that under current employment law and various agreements, public sector employees are protected and no redundancy scheme exists,” Dr Hinfelaar wrote.

“We are justifiably proud of what we have achieved and the level of cooperation demonstrated by all staff.

“I strongly feel that the manner in which we were portrayed at the PAC session, and in the media subsequently, is inaccurate. Having discussed this with the Minister for Education and Skills, I trust that this correspondence will go some way towards setting the record straight,” the letter read.

The correspondence stated that LIT was afforded a five-year “ring-fenced period when relative overfunding of the Tipperary Institute operations would taper off” — a period due to end next September. It also explained how some staff were redeployed.

It further outlined how an independent report by Grant Thornton halfway through the five-year period identified €1.7m worth of savings made between 2009 and 2011.

“Since this report was compiled, student numbers have increased further to just under 1,000 across both campuses and we are working with the HEA (Higher Education Authority) to bring the ring-fenced funding model to a conclusion,” Dr Hinfelaar wrote.

“Importantly, we have also fully redeployed the remaining staff that were still on the surplus list in 2014 and this issue is now resolved,” the letter stated.


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