Mayo council pays back €1.2m in State grants after major issues found

Audit discovered ‘miscoded’ invoices and other problems regarding tourism schemes

Cyclists on a greenway in Co Mayo. Photograph: Gareth McCormack

Cyclists on a greenway in Co Mayo. Photograph: Gareth McCormack

 

Mayo County Council was forced to pay back more than €1.2 million in government funding after an internal audit found miscoded invoices and money drawn down before any work had taken place.

The council had been awarded significant funding for tourism and amenity projects as part of a fund to support outdoor recreation by the Department of Rural and Community Development.

However, a departmental audit of the scheme found major issues across five separate grants to the local authority resulting in the repayment of more than €1.2 million.

A copy of the report details how auditors first examined a €200,000 grant for development of a 45m suspended cycle bridge as part of the Achill Island Greenway.

It found that €27,000 in invoices had been “miscoded” from other projects. Another €32,000 had been spent on the scheme on underground ducting and professional fees.

However, the local authority had drawn down the full grant even though a tender for the bridge had come in three times over the budget estimate.

The report said: “The local authority has, during the audit, admitted to drawing down the grant without incurring the requisite expenditure and has informally requested additional grant funding.”

As a result of the findings, the auditors decided they would look at other grants that had been paid by Mayo County Council through the scheme.

For a section of the Clew Bay Greenway, the council had been paid €250,000 in funding.

However, the report found: “There has been no work done to date and hence the grant was drawn down on October 30th, 2019, in contravention of the terms and conditions of the scheme.”

No work completed

An examination of grant payments of €200,000 for improvements to the Great Western Greenway Network was also undertaken. This involved the construction of two short stretches of trails to take cyclists away from main roads.

One of the stretches involved was “substantially complete”, the report said, but work on the other section of the greenway had not even commenced.

The investigation said most of the expenditure had taken place after the grant had been paid and that there were about €16,000 in “probable miscoded invoices”.

Another €200,000 was paid out in grants for a project known as The Way – A Spiritual Journey, a 1.5km extension to a canalside walk in Ballinrobe.

The audit found that there had been no work completed on the project when the full grant was drawn down as well as some “small miscoded invoices totalling €8,000”.

It was a similar story with €200,000 in funding for the Bangor Trail and Ennis Access Bridge, which included a 130m suspension bridge.

Internal auditors said the findings were a “cause of some concern”, recommending that changes needed to be made to the scheme regarding how local authorities reported spending.

A spokeswoman for the department said additional inspections and audits had resulted in the full repayment of more than €1.2 million by the council.

This included about €1.1 million for “decommitted projects” and a sanction for €161,400 in spending on projects that would proceed and “can be delivered in a reasonable time frame”.

“Mayo County Council is finalising an implementation plan, to be agreed with the department, for the projects which are to be delivered over the coming months,” she said.

A statement from the council said they were addressing the matters that had been identified in the determination of the department.