Belfast Telegraph

Stalled education body has chalked up £16.5m costs

By Anna Maguire

A single education body which has yet to be set up amid political wrangling has cost £16.5m to date.

South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan, who asked for the costs, has also called for more funding and enhanced powers for "hamstrung" education and library boards – which have been run down in anticipation of being replaced by the long-delayed Education and Skills Authority (ESA).

Figures released by the Department of Education reveal that between April 2005 and August this year, the Education and Skills Authority Implementation Team (ESAIT) – set up to implement ESA – and the Department of Education have spent:

* £12.8m on salary costs;

* £886,000 for consultancy fees;

* £918,000 on accommodation;

* just over £1m on services, including postage, printing, stationery, photocopying leases and computer maintenance.

Other costs to date include £88,000 on staff training and £48,000 for hospitality. The single education body has been stalled since 2005. Between 2008 and 2010 the Department of Education missed three deadlines to set up the body.

ESA was then shelved, before being resurrected by the First and Deputy First Ministers in 2011.

But the single education body is not expected to meet a Programme for Government commitment to be operational by the end of the year. The education minister has also threatened to cut funding to a working group representing controlled schools if there is no progress on ESA by December.

Education Minister John O'Dowd released the figures to the UUP's Danny Kinahan with a footnote accusing his party of being "to the fore in blocking ESA".

"Therefore (he) must accept responsibility in the cost associated with the delay," Mr O'Dowd said.

This was rejected by Mr Kinahan. He accused the minister – whose party has held the education portfolio for nearly a decade – of being in "denial".

"He (Mr O'Dowd) might be in a different position had he been prepared to sit down with all parties and sought a genuine consensus, rather than indulge in side-deals at Executive level," Mr Kinahan said.

"This is a simply shocking waste of money from a minister who is currently trying to cut millions of pounds from many schools as part of changes to the Common Funding Scheme (how schools are funded)," he said.

BACKGROUND

The Education Bill, which will herald in ESA,is stalled amid political deadlock over a raft of issues – from control of controlled state sector schools to shared education.

In April, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that 41 of a total 68 clauses in the Education Bill had failed to win the backing of the Education Committee, amid a split over Catholic versus state schools.

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