Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Education body has cost £10m without beginning work

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane

The cost of the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) in Northern Ireland has reached £10m without beginning work.

Its establishment has been delayed by political divisions at Stormont.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said £10.2 million had been spent since 2005/6 on the centralised administration on preparations.

Ulster Unionist Sam Gardiner obtained the details in an Assembly question.

"If she (Ms Ruane) has so far failed to get Executive agreement to her proposals while at the same time pouring public money into this project, you have got to wonder: at what point she will stop spending?" Mr Gardiner asked.

"This looks like another spectacular Sinn Fein failure and another failure for their Education Minister, hard on the heels of the fiasco she produced over school 11 plus transfer."

The minister has described the costs as an investment to save. She believes it will release £20 million a year in unnecessary bureaucracy, raise standards and more effectively plan the education estate.

The ESA would take over the functions of organisations like education and library boards. Creating a single finance and accounts system is among measures already taken by ESA.

The minister's enthusiasm for a new single education authority has ran aground in the face of opposition from the Catholic and state sectors and some unionist politicians.

The ESA had been an organisation-in-waiting and had recruited staff to run it.

With no resolution in sight, and none likely in the coming months, many of those staff returned to their original jobs.

The ESA was due to take over the functions of the education and library boards and other bodies like the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) on January 1 2010, but the necessary legislation has yet to go through the Assembly.

The DUP has refused to back the new authority, conceived as part of the Review of Public Administration designed to streamline bureaucracy, because it is unhappy with the treatment of controlled schools, attended mostly by Protestant children.

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