Enterprise Ireland spent most of funding on itself


ENTERPRISE IRELAND, the organisation responsible for growing Irish businesses abroad, spent two-thirds of its budget on administration and only a third on industry grants in 2008, a Dáil committee was told yesterday.

Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley also outlined irregularities in funding through training organisation Skillnets. Examining the C&AG’s report on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts was told that of a €160 million budget for Enterprise Ireland in 2008, more than €100 million was spent on administration and general expenses.

Just over €56 million was spent on grants to industry.

In 2009, the figures were €94.4 million and over €100 million respectively. Fianna Fáil deputy Seán Fleming said he was concerned about the 2009 figures, but the figures for 2008 were “utterly alarming” and “bizarre”.

He asked secretary general of the department Seán Gorman if there was a chance they might have “another bit of a Fás”.

Chairman of the committee, Fine Gael deputy Bernard Allen, asked if the department was satisfied with all of the expenditure incurred by Enterprise Ireland, including foreign travel and entertainment expenses.

Mr Gorman said a lot of the work carried out by the organisation was “on the ground” with people and companies, and there was also a lot of overseas work carried on because of the nature of the organisation.

He also said the department had communicated guidelines on travel and expenses to all of the agencies under its auspices and the chairman of each agency had to certify compliance with those guidelines.

“We take that statement as read,” he said.

Outlining irregularities in funding through Skillnets, Mr Buckley said it had received €16.5 million from the department’s national training fund in 2009.

An investigation was carried out into an organisation, a limited company that offers training to employees in private businesses, after anonymous allegations were made in February 2010 about one of its training providers. It was discovered that of 24 courses paid for, eight had not been delivered, but there were trainee profile sheets, evaluation forms and signed attendance sheets on file.

The training provider was paid €319,520 for the 24 training courses. But the Department of Enterprise said the net loss to the exchequer was €50,000. Naming the training provider as Empower Training, Labour Party deputy Róisín Shortall questioned the level of scrutiny applied by the department to the running of Skillnets.

There was something very strange that at the height of the boom, money was channelled into “a private company” to provide training for people in employment when businesses could supply their own training.

She suggested it was “a creature of Ibec”.

In a tetchy exchange, Labour Party deputy Pat Rabbitte asked Gráinne McGuckin, principal officer at the Department of Finance, if the department was satisfied with the “lapses” regarding Skillnets.

She responded that the department set broad policy parameters and it was up to departments to adhere to them.

Mr Rabbitte asked if it was not reasonable to assume the Department of Finance would talk with the Department of Enterprise about lapses in this case.

After a long pause, Ms McGuckin responded: “Perhaps.”

The committee also heard that a debt of €1.9 million owed to the Department of Enterprise from Clover Meats was written off in 2009.

Some €319,000 owed by business organisation Chambers Ireland was also written off.