VEC relocation plan to increase rent from €13.30 to €118,000


THE RELOCATION of a VEC headquarters from Longford to Mullingar would mean an increase in rent from €13.30 a year to almost €120,000, a Dáil committee was told yesterday.

The public accounts committee was told as part of plans to amalgamate vocational education committees (VECs) and make savings of €3.2 million, the number of VECs would be cut from 33 to 16.

The organisations have responsibility for vocational training, some second-level schools and further education colleges.

Longford and Westmeath VECs were earmarked for amalgamation, with one headquarters in Mullingar.

The general secretary at the Department of Education, Brigid McManus, said the annual rent for the Mullingar premises was €118,300 while the Longford office had “peppercorn rent” of €13.30. The decision had been taken to move to Mullingar because of its central location and its potential in the long term.

Chairman of the committee, John McGuinness TD, said the figures were shocking. The Longford offices had been refurbished recently, and the decision to move from them was “poor value for the taxpayer”.

John Deasy TD asked Ms McManus about the decision to locate the amalgamated Wexford and Waterford VECs’ headquarters in Wexford.

She said both locations were considered suitable by the department, and it was Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn’s decision to choose Wexford.

The committee was also told a VEC worker in Cork city who set up a company to sell computers to the school in which he worked was still employed there.

Ted Owens, chief executive of Cork City VEC, said the company bought laptops and then brought them to the “large PLC college”. The college was charged €12,000, but a later internal audit showed the school could have acquired them for €10,000. A second company was also set up that supplied parts to the school to build computers. One of the people involved had retired and the other had his increments withdrawn, and the profits he made, of more than €4,500, were recouped by the VEC. A file was also sent to gardaí.

The committee also examined reports from Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley on Cork County VEC and Kildare VEC.

Cork County VEC had spent €162,000 on a “novel” project involving computer-generated animation for Glanmire Community College, but the project was not approved by the Department of Education and was never completed, Mr Buckley said.

Joan Russell, chief executive of the VEC, said since the issues came to light they had improved auditing processes and developed new procurement practices. The project was initiated “in the utmost good faith”.

Mr Buckley also raised concerns about Kildare VEC, including that it had sustained a loss of €20 million as part of its relocation to a modern campus at Piper’s Hill, Naas.

Seán Ashe, chief executive, said the €20 million would have been largely offset by the sale of its original premises to Superquinn, but having paid the deposit the company went into receivership.