Oversight of educational body like Wild West, says watchdog

The chairman of the Oireachtas’s public spending watchdog has criticised the prior management of County Cork’s vocational education and asked why board members of the time remain in their positions today.

Oversight of educational body like Wild West, says watchdog

Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness yesterday described oversight of Co Cork VEC as the “Wild West” as the committee met to discuss the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report into the educational body, and the management of Macroom Youthreach.

The report on the management of Macroom Youthreach draws heavily on the findings of an internal VEC audit, which were previously revealed by the Irish Examiner.

Between 2007 and 2012, a total of €114,000 was paid to eight students who were subsequently deemed by the VEC to be ineligible. The C&AG also found Co Cork VEC leased buildings across the county without prior approval from the Department of Education.

The report found that, between 2010 and 2013, legal settlements amounting to €111,600 were made by the VEC from its own funds and a further 23 cases were settled and paid for by the VEC’s insurers at a cost of €95,000.

A tax audit of Co Cork VEC by the Revenue Commissioners resulted in a settlement of €115,700 in June 2013, and related to tax periods dating back to 2003.

Ted Owens, CEO of Cork Education and Training Board (ETB), the body that replaced the VECs, admitted that there were “significant control weaknesses”.

“As chief executive of Cork ETB, I am committed to ensuring that this new organisation delivers education and training in the Cork region in a compliant, efficient and competent manner,” he said.

However, Mr McGuinness highlighted how many on the ETB board also served on the board of County Cork VEC.

“You refer to the future as being a well organised, well policed, regulated system,” he said. “Well, the past must have been the Wild West from what I can read and there must have been a complete absence from the two departments that oversee, or should have been overseeing, your sector.

“While you changed the nameplate on the doors from VECs to ETBs, can you tell me what changes have taken place in relation to those that serve on the board locally? For me, the only thing that has changed is the name.”

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