Exams board hospitality 'excessive'
Some hospitality laid on by Northern Ireland's exams body was excessive, its chief executive has admitted.
Gavin Boyd said he deeply regretted how some public funds were spent, in one 2008 case on wine with lunch.
A £15,000 bill was run up for a two-day conference in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, in 2004. Other spending included hiring a private jet to fly 30 delegates from Belfast to Galway for a cross-border meeting of curriculum bodies.
Mr Boyd expressed concern about the wine bills while he gave evidence to the education committee at Stormont, saying: "On looking at some of the expenditure, I have to say, there have been occasions where that has been excessive, excessive, and I deeply regret that. That simply should not have happened but I believe that it happened on a small number of occasions."
Other spending by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) included a lunch bill of £1,009 for 20 people at Tedford's to celebrate an OBE awarded to a former CCEA chairman.
The expenses were incurred between 2004 and 2009 and came to light following a Freedom of Information request from a member of the public.
Mr Boyd said CCEA held around 5,000 meetings, events and conferences every year to discuss the setting of exam papers and other duties. The vast majority, 3,000 every year, are organised in CCEA headquarters in Belfast, but there are a large number of instances where events cannot be accommodated there.
As well as setting exams, CCEA was overseeing the revision of the school curriculum, culminating in the mid-2000s.
Mr Boyd said the decision to go to Letterkenny for the conference was influenced by the special deal which his organisation received.
Education Committee chairman Mervyn Storey said: "At no stage did anybody think, 'well, maybe this has become a bit too much and this is not really what should be the focus of our attention and this money should be spent more appropriately'.",