Somewhere inside this dreary grey building in a leafy south Belfast suburb lies one of the most expensive non-existent bodies in the history of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing Assembly.
Forestview, nestled close to scenic Belvoir Forest, is home to a number of organisations including the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) — a body that has been on the cards for more than six years and a black hole that has cost the taxpayers millions of pounds.
So far it has run up a bill of more than £12m, including more than £800,000 on external consultants and hundreds of thousands of pounds on the salary of the chief executive designate Gavin Boyd (right), who receives the handsome salary of at least £155,000 a year.
To put £12m in context, it would pay a year’s salary for 549 newly-qualified teachers or build two small primary schools.
That figure is set to keep rising as the days, weeks and months keep ticking by before — or if — ESA ever becomes a reality.
For ESA, a single education authority that will replace eight education bodies including the five education and library boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, has already stumbled at so many hurdles, never quite managing to get the necessary support to become a reality.
However, it has always been the Department of Education’s mantra that ESA — when it becomes operational — will save £20m through the streamlining of services, raise educational standards and lead to greater sharing in our segregated schools.
Though the path has not been an easy one for ESA.
Under former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane, ESA missed the first three deadlines of April 2008, January 2010 and April 2010 — never managing to even come close to rousing the support of the unionist parties and in particular the DUP before being shelved.
Then in the autumn of 2011 — following the Assembly elections and the appointment of new, less temperamental Education Minister John O’Dowd (far right) — the wheels on ESA once again began to turn.
On November 16, 2011, the first signals that the DUP — the largest party in Northern Ireland — was on board the ESA train came when the First and Deputy First Ministers published the Establishing ESA: Heads of Agreement document.
Four months later the Education Minister placed the draft Education Bill for ESA before the Executive.
But April, May and June passed with no sign of agreement on what emerged to be a controversial document, splitting not only the political parties but representatives of the Catholic Church and the voluntary grammars.
At times there were whispers that once again ESA was doomed to failure, there was no consensus.
However, in an unexpected announcement on July 18, 2012, the First and Deputy First Ministers confirmed that discussions on the Education Bill had successfully concluded that the approved Bill would be brought to the next meeting of the Executive.
Two days later in a confident interview with the Belfast Telegraph Mr O’Dowd decreed that he believed ESA would be operational by April 2013 — although that date is still three months away, it is unachievable as Stormont’s education committee has been granted an extension to scrutinise the Bill until April 8.
In September 2012, the Executive agreed the Education Bill for the establishment of ESA and in October it passed the first and second stages of the legislative process in the Assembly 77 votes to 15.
Since November, the Bill has been before the education committee which has been hearing evidence from key stakeholders — and it is apparent that there are still mountains to climb before ESA is universally accepted.
Those expressing concerns with the Bill in its current form include voluntary grammar schools, the Irish-medium sector, the integrated sector, the Catholic sector and the teaching unions.
Next the committee will have the task of analysing the controversial Bill clause by clause — if it rubber-stamps it by April, and there are rumblings that it falls short on honouring the commitments laid out in the Heads of Agreement — then it will begin its Assembly journey, where again it will be looked at on a clause by clause basis.
The Programme for Government has set a deadline of December 31, 2013, for ESA to be finally born. Whether that date is achieved remains to be seen.
Where cash was spent 2006/07
1. Programme management
support, PA Consulting, £235,610
2. RPA newsletter design,
Lesley Stannage Design, £910
3. Preparing RPA workshop materials, Mentoring Connection, £2,674
4. Recruitment of ESA CE designate, Capita Resourcing, £24,385
5. RPA DE communications audit, Weber Shandwick, £2,000
6. EQIA training, Key Consulting, £711
7. Printing RPA newsletter, Commercial Graphics, £746
8. Review of research, monitoring & advice, PA Consulting, £59,950
9. ICT audit, PWC, £32,250
10. Communications support, PA Consulting, £9,350
11. Outline business case, Deloitte, £39,761
12. HR support, Deloitte, £26,000
13. Joint consultancy with NILA — finance systems |development work, PWC, £5,500
14. Programme management support, PA Consulting, £10,090
15. ESA 2nd tier structure & location strategy, Deloitte, £20,000
16. HR support, Deloitte, £14,000
17. Change management, Parity Solutions, £70,000
18. ESA management systems, Vivienne Walker, £11,496
19. Change management & organisational design, PA |Consulting, £60,698
20. ESA 2nd tier structure & location strategy, Deloitte, £3,618
21. Developing policy codes for use by the proposed ESA, Jackie Simpson, £1,969
22. Joint consultancy with NILA — finance systems development work, PWC, £200
23. Evaluation of ESA directors remuneration, Hay Group, £12,315
24. Implementation of RPA programme, QBM, £7,400
25. Change management, Parity Solutions, £65,745
26. ESA management systems, Vivienne Walker, £10,113
27. HR support, PWC, £60,855
28. Workforce database & organisational development, Deloitte, £44,926
29. Design and branding concepts for ESA, Hamill Bosket, £2,750
30. Design and artwork for ESA, Tandem Design, £3,755
31. Design development for ESA, Frank Designs and |Communications, £3,750
32. Creating ESA corporate brand, McCadden Design, £3,960
33. Workshop, Parenting Forum, £1,250
34. Telephone interviews, Millward Brown Ulster, £2,015
35. Training seminars, Brian |Walley, £11,742
36. Working group on Controlled body sectoral group, Chambre of Public Affairs, £2,807
37. Change management, Parity Solutions, £275
36. Working group on controlled body sectoral group, Chambre of Public Affairs, £2,807
37. Change management, Parity Solutions, £275