Longford and Westmeath Education and Training board hit by €96k fraud

Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB) has been hit by a suspected €96,500 fraud in relation to payments for students being trained by an external service provider.

Gardaí have been informed about the incident and the LWETB says that a process to ensure the money is refunded has been put in place.

The probe has come to light in newly-published 2016 accounts of the board, which spent more than €24m of its €51m budget on further education and training.

It said LWETB management were told of a suspected fraud during 2016 “in relation to a third party providing training to students”.

After an investigation, the loss incurred was estimated at €96,527. But in a report on internal controls signed in early December, board chairman Frankie Keena said this was based on current knowledge and may need to be adjusted.

“Since the incident, tighter controls have been put in place around recording of attendance and the payment of students. A process is in place to ensure monies will be refunded to the ETB,” he wrote.

In response to a query about the nature of the suspected fraud, LWETB said it has informed all the appropriate authorities in relation to the matter.

As well as gardaí, the issue has been notified to the Department of Education, the further education and training authority Solas, and the board’s own audit committee and its internal auditors.

“When the investigation of the incident is completed, all appropriate actions will be taken by LWETB,” a board spokesperson said.

The Department of Education told the Irish Examiner it was aware of a suspected fraud issue in relation to LWETB, and said it has been regularly kept up to date on the issue by the board.

It would not comment any further because of an ongoing investigation into the matter.

LWETB contracts out training in dozens of disciplines each year to independent trainers and community organisations, who teach a range of skills to different levels at locations throughout the Midlands.

All contracted providers are expected to submit student attendance sheets and a summary of the training delivered when they issue monthly invoices for payment to the board.

The board administered payments of €8.4m in training allowances to students on a range of further education and training programmes in 2016.

These included nearly €1.4m to those attending on Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) and Youthreach programmes.

A further €1.9m was paid in training allowances for apprentices, and nearly €2.5m for students at community training centres, local training initiatives or courses provided by specialist training providers.

LWETB provided training during 2016 to more than 1,500 course-participants at 83 locations.

Those included services provided under the Laois-Offaly ETB training budget, for which LWETB was responsible up to the end of February 2016.

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