'Too late' to address issues at troubled Waterford Area Partnership

Local authority accused of deflecting blame after 'no action' taken over 2018 whistleblower claims
'Too late' to address issues at troubled Waterford Area Partnership

The new chairwoman of the Waterford Area Partnership has said the city and county council has acted “too late” in addressing issues at the troubled company.

Una Dunphy was responding after the local authority had confirmed it is considering terminating its multi-million euro contract for social inclusion services with the organisation.

She said that a whistleblower had contacted the council and Partnership management in March 2018 and claimed that "no action" was taken to address the concerns flagged. 

"Now Waterford Council has decided to deflect blame onto the current board for issues that were the responsibility of others," she told the Irish Examiner.

Councillors heard this week that the authority is now taking legal advice on what options are available to secure services and jobs overseen by the company. 

There “has not been sufficient progress” by the board to address the findings of a number of reports into the company, or in attempts to complete its already delayed 2019 accounts, council chief executive Michael Walsh said.

A recent audit by the Department of Rural and Community Development recommended winding up the Partnership — which employs 47 people directly — while the company is also under investigation by gardaí and Revenue.

Board resignations

The latest development comes following correspondence between the council and WAP last week, where Mr Walsh suggested that any directors who sat on the board prior to this year, such as Ms Dunphy, should step down.

Many of the old board resigned over recent months while the chief executive tendered his resignation in January, and has been on sick leave since.

Ms Dunphy said that some of the voluntary board members were kept in the dark about the extent of the company's woes because "subcommittees of the board failed to report back and instead took decisions of their own".

She added: "When a whistleblower went to highlight their fears and make a protective disclosure in March 2018, they not only went to the management of the Waterford Area Partnership — they also went to the management of Waterford City and County Council. There was no action taken however."

Waterford Council declined to comment on Ms Dunphy's claims.

In his scathing letter delivered to the board and councillors on Wednesday, Mr Walsh said that the Partnership is trying to lay blame at every agency for its difficulties but itself.

“With in excess of 40 staff, many of significant experience and competency, the company is not without resources, yet there does not appear to have been a single forward movement to resolution of any of the core issues," he said.

Instead there seems to be only a strategy to seek to lay blame at the door of every other agency who have had no hand, act, or part in the creation of the WAP difficulties. 

Mr Walsh added that the council will not pay any of the contract for Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) in advance as the financial position of the company remains unclear. 

SICAP is worth a cumulative of €5.5m over five years and employs 16 people directly.

"The scrutiny of the new board is completely off with the scrutiny of the former board and management," said Ms Dunphy. "They have refused to give reasonable timeframes and allow for realistic outcomes."

WAP is funded through a number of government and European agencies, adding up to €3m annually.

The council and the board will meet again on its future on Monday.

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