THE head of the Department of Enterprise has denied burying a critical report into an alleged €167 million Fás “slush” fund for employers.
The value-for-money review of the training scheme under the state jobs agency took five years to complete by the department and was only given to TDs in recent days.
Department secretary general Sean Gorman yesterday admitted the review of the Fás Competency Development Programme (CDP) had taken “an inordinate amount of time”, but he denied accusations his department had suppressed or tried to conceal the report.
A principal officer in his department heading the training scheme review had resigned over frustrations in its delay, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard.
Labour’s Roisín Shortall said the officer had quit over “serious foot dragging” in the department and because he had been asked to report to a department head who was also on the board of Fás.
Despite a suggestion by PAC chairman, Bernard Allen, that there had been an “attempt to bury the report”, Mr Gorman said: “I had no concerns about transparency [with it]... no concerns about suppression.” He said there was a delay getting data on the scheme, which is now being wound down.
Concern has been expressed that only half the courses for the 123,000 workers on the scheme were ever visited by Fás inspectors and that 90% of training was provided by outside or private trainers.
Ms Shortall queried the policy of allocating funds for trainers to upskill people in employment and asked what monitoring was in place since the scheme began in 2003.
She said that the massive amounts paid to trainers outside of Fás was a “slush fund” for employers during the boom when in other countries companies would have footed the training bill themselves.
“It’s hard to understand the justification when there was full employment and the economy was booming,” she said.
Ms Shortall claimed the huge amounts paid to groups like the Small Firms Association, Chambers Ireland, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions made it seem like there had been “a divvying out of public money by the social partners on the boards of Fás” under the scheme.
The department yesterday told TDs that members of the Fás sub-committee who had allocated the millions of euro in CDP’s funds included ICTU’s Des Geraghty, IBEC’s Jenny Hayes and Brian Keogh from builders John Sisk & Son among others.
There had been a lack of oversight by the department over the Fás scheme, claimed Ms Shortall.
A “culture” had developed between the department and Fás, she added, where the two groups were going on trips abroad and any “transparency went out the window as they were having too good a time”.
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