Lack of accountability in Education Boards?

Let’s see now.. according to this BBC report, a NI Audit Office Dept of Education report into two of the Education Boards here “highlights serious failings in the execution of responsibilities within both boards and makes 49 specific recommendations for improvement relating to each board, its chief executive and chief finance officer” and, reportedly, accuses the two Chief Executives of a “very serious breach” of their responsibilities as accounting officers… but they ‘should not lose their jobs’. The actual report doesn’t appear to be online yet but, if the BBC report is accurate, then the question is – who should be held accountable for the deficits run up by the Boards? Updated

Update Thanks to our observant reader Alan.

Despite first appearances – and I’m blaming a lack of clarity in the BBC report.. Harrumph – it seems that this was an inquiry by the Department of Eductaion and not the NI Audit Office… hmmm.

The inquiry report can be found here

  • Alan

    Its at

    http://www.deni.gov.uk/elb_inquiry/index.htm

    While this is only one man’s view, it seems clear that the deficits are the result of Board systems. The report talks about :

    “lack of a system to track accruals, pre-payments, deferred income and other issues not captured within the Oracle system to ensure expenditure is kept within limits,

    need to insist on issuing formal warnings to the Chief Executive if, at any time, operational activities, or new policies, threaten to put the organisation into a deficit situation, or inhibit the elimination of past deficits,”

    Also, in one case –

    *Complete work on the system of budget holding within weeks so that each holder, or manager, is only allocated resources which they are in a position to manage and control, that no expenditure can be approved except by the responsible budget holder, and that any unallocated funds are retained in a Reserve which can only be used on the approval of the Chief Finance Officer after consultation with the Chief Executive and, normally, the Senior Management Team*

    The deficits were £21m and £11.4m. The cuts that are being implemented are a result of the deficits. They are not Government cuts.

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    I for one have been a bit worried by the board’s all jumping down Gardiner’s throats on this one. At the end of the day they’re the ones who couldn’t stick to their budget, and this disturbing tactic of manipulating children for political ends is a disgrace, of which the ELBs should be thoroughly ashamed. It’s through their mismanagement that these cuts are having to be made.

    If they needed a bigger budget that was something to be brought up with the minister, you don’t just overrun your budget by £10-20m and look back and say “oops”. Surely if this happened in the private sector heads would be rolling!

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    Correction re: above post. I’m fairly sure Gardiner only has one throat.

  • idunnomeself

    Alan I would have thought that the Accounting officers (IE the CEOs) were responsible for ensuring that they could keep track of their finances?

    Although they should have seen/ raised the warning sooner, I can see that the defeceits occured becasue of the weaknesses of the Boards (IE the uselessness of our local councillors, their refusal to prioritse and their inability to understand what was happening and/or make a hard decision)

    This only strengthens the case for the reforms proposed in the review of local administration. There will be one board, and half as many councillors. Both should therefore be better skilled.

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    Weren’t all the boards supposed to be merged? Which would make 1/5 the no. of councillors? Or have I read this wrongly?

  • Alan

    Couldn’t agree more!

  • idunnomeself

    beano

    I agree. Every bit of the public sector is engaged in ‘doing good’ and they all could spend more money. Overruns *cannot* be tolerated. Public finances couldn’t cope if every health trust, policing board etc etc spent freely without regard to their budget

    I remember Bairbre de Brun refusing to give money to a rape crisis centre who hadn’t made their application for grant. She quite rightly pointed out that no matter how admirable the cause she couldn’t breech procedures. She was right then and Gardiner is right now and it just shows local politicians amateurism to try to blame anyone other than the ELBs.

  • Gonzo

    Some have claimed that NI spends about 30 percent more on education than a comparable area in GB because it has so many schools compared to the size of population. This is because we have a segregated school system.

    If there was a more integrated school system, we would have better resourced schools – within the same budget.

  • idunnomeself

    beano

    sorry meant half as many councils (at least) therefore less councillors. therefore better quality (in theory)

    and then, yes, one management authority, so 1/5 as many councillors involved anyway (drawn from a smaller number of councillors)

    goodness now I am confusing myself..

  • idunnomeself

    Gonzo,

    surely it costs much the same to educate a kid whether you do it through Irish or English or in a grammar? are the extra costs really that high?

    maybe it’s also because we don’t have a significant private sector? that has to ease the burden a little on the state sector?

    bearing in mind comparisons are going to be difficult due to ELBs having different responsibilities (eg youth services, libaries)?

  • George

    Philip McDonagh, chief economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Belfast, estimates that the public sector accounts for an incredible 65% of GDP in Northern Ireland.

    Is it any surprise that there is enormous wastage in every area and in every department and that, considering the majority of the people in the region are directly or indirectly living off this waste that there is no accountability and there are so many layers of bureaucracy?

    No change unless administered from outside by people like Gardiner. The Northern Ireland public sector turkeys are never going to vote for Christmas.

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    “surely it costs much the same to educate a kid whether you do it through Irish or English or in a grammar? are the extra costs really that high?”

    I’ve never seen the figures but I’d imagine that a lot of the schools with intakes as low as a dozen or so cost a lot more to run per pupil than my own high school with circa 1200.

  • Alan

    Integration isn’t the whole answer, but it is most of it.

    There were 45,000 empty school places some years ago when the Assembly Public Accounts Committee got DENI to agree to establish a working group to consider integration as a means of reducing the number of empty places. To my knowledge, nothing has happened as yet

    Integration, at least in rural areas would be the answer to declining population numbers and could retain local schools. It should be tried at primary level first and then marched up to second level.

    There will still be a need for choice in education, people will still want denominational education, but at least those who are looking for an integrated option would no longer have their children forced into segregated education

  • George

    Quotes from said Mr Gardiner on March 25:

    “I accept that it is not helpful to tell people that they have to live within their budget.”

    “The real question is why did they (the councillors who resigned or protested) not feel like this five or six years ago?

    “We are now spending 54% more on education than we were then. If it is so bad now, why were these councillors not resigning then?”

    Apparently, not a single board member from any of the five boards said Mr. Gardiner was right.

    Can anyone explain why if the British government is claiming 54% more cash has been put into education that everyone says there are cuts?

  • Gonzo

    No-one ever said integration was the whole answer, but it could certainly be a big part of the solution.

    Two schools serving 100 each cost a lot more to maintain than one with 200 pupils. Fewer, larger schools would mean better facilities, since they would be shared by more children.

    Simple economies of scale. Course, that would mean changing the status quo, and no-one likes that.

  • idunnomeself

    Gonzo

    Yes, I know it sounds simeple, but the numbers i saw in some recent PQs about Irish langauge education were that it was actually working out a little cheaper to educate a child in an Irish medium school than otherwise.

    I never tought you’d be the sort to base an argument on ‘commonsense’ when the figures say the opposite?

    George
    The British Ministers don’t count the beans. NI civil servants do and they are the same people as before. There’s an election coming up and these local politicians are thinking about their campaign and trying to avoid their culpability.

    Are you suggesting the DE is lying while the politicans (who obviously wouldn’t know what a balance sheet was) aren’t??

  • Gonzo

    I never tought you’d be the sort to base an argument on ‘commonsense’ when the figures say the opposite?

    You’re slightly misinterpreting me, and I haven’t seen those figures…

    If people really want Irish language schools, then fair enough. If the schools are full, and the demand is steady, of course that individual school is going to be economically viable. And it may be cheaper to educate a child there simply because it is smaller and the average cost of educating a pupil elsewhere is higher than it should be.

    It costs about 30 percent more than it should to educate children in NI.

    But if you think having a couple of Prod schools and a couple of Catholic schools in every town saves money, rather than having fewer, bigger integrated schools, it ain’t me needs the maths lesson!

  • Alan

    *Can anyone explain why if the British government is claiming 54% more cash has been put into education that everyone says there are cuts?*

    Elementary, paying back the overspend has been claimed as a cut to services. People’s jobs and services to people in need now seem to have to be cut because someone decided that it was appropriate to agree expenditure way beyond their budget.

    It’s a bit like the Liverpool militants who spent beyond their means and then had to hire taxis to send the redundancy notices to council staff. It’s huff and puff economics. Let’s hear some straight talking from the political parties on this!