2009-09-12: Headlines in Ireland’s News Media, very recently, have concerned a lack of proper budgetary control … make that ‘any’ budgetary control … in FÁS (Foras Áiseanna Saothair) – the Irish Training & Employment Authority.
FÁS operates under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and has functions in relation to the training of people with disabilities and the unemployed, the up-skilling of the employed and the administration of apprenticeships.
Special Report No.66 (dated 12th June 2009), from the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General in Ireland, examined:
- advertising and promotional expenditure by FÁS in the period 2002-2008 ;
- budgetary control over FÁS’s advertising and promotional expenditure ;
- general strategy under which advertising and promotional expenditure was spent in FÁS ;
- the extent to which the effectiveness of this expenditure was evaluated ;
- procurement of advertising and related services in FÁS.
Overall Examination Findings
Advertising, which accounted for almost half of the overall promotion expenditure by FÁS, is the largest in the non-commercial State sector. The examination found that
- Advertising and promotional activities lacked strategic direction insofar as a marketing and communications strategy had not been developed by FÁS despite longstanding commitments to do so.
- There was a substantial and prolonged breakdown in budgetary control in the area of promotional expenditure in the period under review with expenditure exceeding budgets by 38%. This lack of control was particularly evident in the area of general advertising where expenditure exceeded budgets by 66% over the seven-year period.
- Much of the advertising was ineffective in increasing an awareness of the services provided by FÁS.
- There was nugatory expenditure of €622,000 as a result of a series of transactions for which there was no evidence of goods or services having been provided.
- There was also considerable non-effective expenditure including over €600,000 spent on producing TV advertisements that were not broadcast and payment of €9,200 for a car that was not delivered.
- The rates FÁS paid for advertising were reasonably in line with industry norms.
Internal financial control was insufficient to ensure that all commitments were recorded and captured, and that procurement was conducted in accordance with public service norms and within expenditure authorisation limits. In particular, the examination found that
- Commitment controls did not function when agents were used to effect transactions. Procurement of certain goods and services by Corporate Affairs through contracted agencies meant that the Finance section only became aware of certain commitments when invoices were presented for payment.
- FÁS was exposed to probity risks through a failure to meet public sector procurement requirements. Exposures arose from the purchase from contracted agencies of goods and services that were not contemplated within the scope of their contracts and the potential consequences of FÁS playing a role in the selection of third parties by the agencies to provide services.
- Expenditure authorisation limits were circumvented through the splitting of payment claims into a series of invoices.
- There was a lack of clear accounting trails in regard to proceeds from the sale of exhibition space.
Why has it taken so long for this Report to enter the public domain ?
And … if there was no proper/any budgetary control in FÁS … is it reasonable to surmise that there were no proper/any technical controls either ?
- In reality … how well trained were apprentices ? When the construction industry started to go ‘wallop’ in Ireland, and our economy then nose dived into the ground, what happened to those apprentices … and where are they now ?
- How well trained were people with disabilities ? Did they get a fair deal ? What was the quality of their employment, after the FÁS training ? Are they still employed ?
- How good/effective were FÁS’s training courses dealing with, e.g. ‘safety on construction sites’, or ‘radon protection of buildings’, etc ? Was it a case of jobs for the ‘boys’ ?