12 Feb 2021, 11.00

The Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) is calling on the Department of Education to carry out a comprehensive review by the end of this year of temporary accommodation in schools after it spent more than €56million on such facilities in two years.

In its report published today on the Examination of the 2018 and 2019 Appropriation Accounts for Vote 26 – Education and Skills, the Committee noted that the longest arrangement for temporary school accommodation dated back to March 2000.

The Committee examined the Comptroller and Auditor General’s 2018 and 2019 accounts for the Department in October 2020 and identified six issues and made corresponding recommendations.

Deputy Brian Stanley, Chairman of PAC, said: “Expenditure on temporary school accommodation in 2018 was €26.2 million and this increased to €29.5 million in 2019. The Committee questioned whether temporary accommodation arrangements for schools are providing value-for-money, particularly when there are agreements that date back up to 20 years.”

In order to address these concerns the Committee’s recommendations include that the Department of Education undertakes a review of all temporary accommodation agreements for schools that have been in operation for more than five years to identify and prioritise areas to commence construction of school premises, that the review process is completed by the end of 2021 and that the Committee is provided with a copy of the findings.

PAC also raised concerns about Department of Education expenditure on posting payslips to staff after it found €10.2million had been spent over six years posting payslips to approximately 130,000 staff on a fortnightly basis. The Department informed the Committee that it currently operates four separate payroll systems and that an interim upgrade of the payroll system is due to take place before the end of 2021.

Deputy Stanley said: “The Committee is of the opinion that the Department could use the €1.7 million it is spending every year more effectively than by posting payslips. While the development and implementation of an electronic payroll system would require up-front capital expenditure, this would represent value-for-money for the State in the long-term.

“We recommend that the Department begins to develop an electronic payroll system as a matter of urgency, provide a detailed timeline for the development of this system by the third quarter of this year and give the Committee annual updates on its progress.”

The Committee also examined issues around legal costs incurred by the Department in 2018, procurement, the winding down of Caranua (the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund) and defective buildings, and made a number of recommendations in each case.

The PAC is a standing committee of Dáil Éireann which focuses on ensuring public services are run efficiently and achieve value for money

The PAC Report Examination of the 2018 and 2019 Appropriation Accounts for Vote 26 – Education and Skills is available on the Oireachtas website.

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