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Boards pay out £2m in out-of-court settlements

Compensation from education bodies soars by 70%

By Lisa Smyth

The amount of compensation being paid out by Ulster's education boards in out-of-court settlements has soared by almost 70% in a year, it can be revealed.

Almost £2m was forked out over the past year by the education boards, sparking concern that the money could have been put to better use within the cash-strapped education system.

The information was released by the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, in response to a written question, however, the Department of Education was unable to provide specific details about the claims, including whether they were submitted by staff or pupils.

According to the department the total amount paid out by all the boards in out-of-court settlements in 2005/06 was £1,052,453, but this rose to £1,764,212 last year - a difference of over £700,000.

The figures have been released as schools across Ulster prepare for the results of a ballot for industrial action by classroom assistants who are currently locked in a bitter battle with the Department of Education for better pay.

The statistics show that in 2006/07, the NEELB paid out the most amount of money at a cost of £460,547 to the taxpayer - a massive rise of over £360,000, with 17 more claims settled out of court compared to the previous year.

In just one out-of-court settlement last year, NEELB paid £131,265.12 - the majority of which was for damages to the claimant.

The smallest bill faced by the Board for one claim was for £55, which did not include any costs to either the plaintiff or the Board.

Overall, the SEELB settled out-of-court on 55 occasions between 2005 and 2007 at a total cost of over £544,000 to the taxpayer.

In contrast, the WELB settled out-of-court 28 times during the same period and paid out just under £388,000.

Ms Ruane released the stastics as a result of a question submitted to the department by UUP Assembly member George Savage.

He asked the minister to detail the number of out-of-court settlements for each education and library board over the past two years and to supply the costs incurred in relation to legal fees and compensation on a case-by-case basis.

Expressing his outrage at the money spent by the education boards, Mr Savage called for someone to be made accountable for what he referred to as " gross negligence".

He said: "The total figure that the boards spent on legal fees and compensation in two years was £2.8 million. It is sobering to think that this would pay for 113 teachers or 226 classroom assistants.

"I call upon the minister to investigate this and to come up with some answers that will actually carry weight and resonate with the public and those in the education sector.

"What I find even more worrying is that we do not know how much settlements decided upon in court have cost the department or the boards.

"This issue is very important because it cuts right to the heart of an ongoing debate within education circles, that being, who is accountable for how money is spent and how resources are allocated?

"It is my belief that the minister and her officials have a lot to answer for."

Belfast Telegraph


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