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Watchdog's report into training fund finds problems with nearly €1m in spending

A €4 million training fund administered by a senior SIPTU official was used to pay for promotions, travel and hospitality.

Seamus McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, has identified failings in the oversight of how a HSE-supplied fund was spent.
Seamus McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, has identified failings in the oversight of how a HSE-supplied fund was spent.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A REPORT by the State’s official spending watchdog into the management of a HSE training fund, administered by a former senior SIPTU official, has taken issue with almost €1 million in spending from the fund in its 12-year existence.

The National Health and Local Authority Levy fund cost taxpayers a net total of €3.15 million between 1998 and 2010, when queries about the fund and how it was spent were raised in national newspapers.

The report from the Comptroller & Auditor General said a range of State bodies had provided over €4 million to the fund, with €999,000 returned to the State bodies when the fund was wound down in 2010.

While €2.2 million of the remainder was spent on the fund’s identified purpose – to fund training programmes and provide grants for related operations – there was also “substantial” spending in other areas which had less apparent connections to the purpose of the fund.

That included €348,000 in marketing and promotions, €99,000 in “hospitality” spending, and €598,000 in travel and accommodation – which included travel undertaken by employees of public bodies, arrangements which were deemed to be “inappropriate”.

The fund also paid €49,000 to charities – payments “may have resulted in worthwhile social benefits, but they were clearly outside the scope of the funding objectives”.

€11,700 in cheques drawn for cash

Elsewhere, it found €125,000 refunded by individuals but, reads the report, “the inspection was not able to match this to specific payments or to conclude if all refunds due were repaid because of the limited and incomplete records”.

The spending included €98,000 for which invoices had been submitted twice, and cheques worth €11,700 which was drawn for cash.

SIPTU welcomed the report, saying its findings mirrored those of its own internal investigation into the operation of the HSE/Skills programme, compiled by Grant Thornton.

“The report has highlighted a number of foreign trips organised by the administrator of the Fund, details of which were not made available to the SIPTU Trustees in advance of their report in 2011,” it said in a statement.

“The union accepts the finding of the C&AG inspector that foreign travel arrangements paid for by the fund were, as the report states, ‘inappropriate as they bypassed internal controls over the charging of, and accountability for, foreign travel incurred by public employees’.”

SIPTU said it had asked for permission to attend a hearing of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee to further clarify its stance on spending out of the fund.

Read: SIPTU urges administrator of ‘slush fund’ to release confidential report

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Gavan Reilly

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