No more taxis to Dublin…

THE Auditor General has found significant financial control failures in the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Irish language body, Foras na Gaeilge. The report is somewhat overdue, since it refers to the first year of the two bodies’ operation, 2000.

David Gordon reported:

Their key points include:

• An internal audit of the Ulster Scots Agency in 2001 found that internal controls were “largely non-existent” and “even the basics of regularity and propriety were absent”.

Mr Dowdall and Mr Purcell express “concern” at this finding and state that the boards of public bodies are “required to ensure that controls are in place”.

• Both the Ulster-Scots Agency and Foras na Gaeilge issued grants in 2000 without the payment arrangements having been formally approved by higher authorities. This was in breach of the legislation governing the two bodies.

• Foras na Gaeilge also did not have “substantiating documentation” in the year for grants worth £720,000.

There was a lack of invoices, inspection reports and audited accounts to demonstrate that the funding had been used by groups for the intended purposes.

• The two Auditor Generals also raise a legal query over overseas spending by the Ulster-Scots Agency. They believe that the legislation which established the body restricted its promotional work to the island of Ireland.

The Ulster-Scots Agency has funded a number of foreign trips including a £50,000 visit to the USA in April 2001, which involved most of its board members, as well as a photographer and five musicians.

The two state auditors have received assurances from both the language bodies that the shortcomings in their first year have been addressed, with new controls and procedures put in place.

  • aonghus

    Some context is required here. (For Foras na Gaeilge)

    First of all, approval from the higher authorities could not be obtained, because the UUP was preventing meetings of the relevant North South ministerial council. The board of Foras na Gaeilge held one meeting in 2000, and was then preventing from meeting again for months due to the hiatus in the North.

    Also, it is not the case that no substantiating documentation was available, simply that the auditors found that insufficient documentation was available.
    The sum I saw was IR£90K rather than 720k.
    Considering the same staff had to deal with an explosion in responsibility, they didn’t do too badly.

  • fair_deal

    I am amazed DCAL has come out of this unscathed.

    This report has tried to shift responsibility to the Board but DCAL was deeply involved at all stages.

    When challenged about the Chief Executive’s lack of even basic knowledge of Ulster-Scots cultural and linguistic issues DCAL defended the appointment on the basis of they wanted someone who knew how to establish the necessary systems of management and control – the very systems this reports now show weren’t introduced. The first Chief Executive also had a track record of this. He had been brought before the Public Accounts Committee in connection with his time as a Belfast Action Team Leader

    There were also a number of people (individual and groups) that acted as whistleblowers to DCAL but no action was taken.

    The Board on a number of occassions directed the Chief Executive to do certain tasks and these directions were ignored.

  • Jo

    FD
    Depending on the governance arrangements, the CEO is bound only to accept direction from a Minister, not the Board.

    In any conflict, the CEO can and should seek clarification from the Minister, as can the Board.

  • idunnomeself

    Aonghus

    So did the new FnaG keep worse records than the old BnaG? Was the issue not that the records regime in BnaG was not up to scratch and it wasn’t until the North got involved that the ROI side began to tighten up its accountability?

    FD

    I thought DCAL sent in the infamous internal audit of the Ulster Scots Agency in 2001 due to the whistleblowing (Laird claimed he caused it to be sent in). How can you say that DCAL took no action?

    As far as I can see the first chief exec was appointed before DCAL was set up.

    I thought you were in the a public sector yourself, so I am amazed that you are suggesting that the Audit Offices are engaged in a cover up on behalf of DCAL. Normally they try to skewer their victims..

  • aonghus

    No.

    The issue is that BnaG supported 4 organisations, and had a much smaller budget; FnaG had a much wider remit, a much larger budget, but initially the same staff. It took time to put appropriate procedures in place, something that was hampered by both the board of FnaG and the North South ministerial council being suspended during the critical roll out period.

    Technical mistakes were made, as happen in any major reorganisation.

    My understanding is that most of the delay is due to the fact that both Agencies are part of the Language Agency, i.e. FnaG was prevented from issuing its report due to the problems with the Ulster Scots wing of the agency.

  • idunnomeself

    really?

    I heard it was the other way around, FnaG did their accounts up wrongly and the USA had to wait on them. Then there was a delay as they worked out how to put them together, then another delay as the 2 Audit Offices worked out how to Audit them. The draft accounts (the ones that were leaked) were produced over a year ago.

    I take your point about Foras having more to do, but if the regime in BnaG wasn’t good enough to account for NI public funds that would be at the root of the problem. The extra work, and the delay in adding new staff to deal with it, will have just delayed addressing the problem

  • fair_deal

    IDM

    “I am amazed that you are suggesting that the Audit Offices are engaged in a cover up on behalf of DCAL. Normally they try to skewer their victims..”

    I am not looking for conspiracy simply responsibility dodging. DCAL made mistakes, key staff made mistakes and the board made mistakes.

    Normally, yes but FIVE years to produce a report? The first report was to be released in December but then delayed for over six months with no explanation.The report of the following year is ready too and was supposed to have been released in March but still no sign of it. This report was placed in the House of Commons Library on 11th July 2005 – lots of our local papers were going to pick that story up on 12th July weren’t they?

    The establishment of the cross-border bodies was all a bit of a mess. However, cross-bordery is not something that can be afforded too much examination so rather than face up to the practical problems we will get some pussyfooting around it.

    Their creation represented a conflict of two political and administrative cultures further confused by a number of existing bodies being amalgamated. Governance, accountability and financial management across a number of the bodies suffered as a result.

  • aonghus

    Governance, accountability and financial management across a number of the bodies suffered as a result

    Exactly. At least things are moving on. The last 4 years reports are apparently with the ministeries now.

  • idunnomeself

    F_D
    To be fair to both Agencies, Audit Offices, DCRGA and DCAL the parts of the report were produced far quicker, most of the delay has been procedural. The accounts were available to the respnsible officials, although not the public. The Responsible and Accountable Officals obviously aren’t suggesting that the delay is a great conspiracy.

    ‘Governance, accountability and financial management across a number of the bodies suffered as a result’
    And were apparantly promptly and properly dealt with by the responsible Departments.. how boring! This report isn’t much use to the conspiracy theorists, but unfortunately, despite your cynicism, it is the final word.

    I know that great and complex conspiracies involving Ulster-Scots have been suggested, and I see that Nelson McCausland is in the BT again. This report doesn’t suggest that there are any- so can we expect Ulster-Scots activists to stop playing this record and move on?

    But I’d be more interested in your thoughts on whether this explains why Lord Laird jumped ship 18 months ago!?

  • fair_deal

    IDM

    DCAL said they wished to appoint someone with experience of their systems to establish the agency (even though this meant no knowledge of Ulster-Scots linguistic or cultural issues). DCAL appointed an Acting Chief Executive with a track record of failure on financial systems (the report gets this basic fact wrong and says the Board appointed the Chief Exective). The Agency then has a failure of financial systems. DCAL did not act against the Chief Executive instead allowing him to remain in post until he retired. (Neither “prompt nor proper” action by DCAL)

    DCAL then appoints a second individual again with the defence that he is to set up the systems that the first guy was supposed to do but failed. This individual tightened up the small grants programme but then awards at least one major contract without following the necessary procedures or the agreement of the Board. The person remained in post until his arrest in the USA. (Neither “prompt nor proper” action by DCAL)

    DCAL appointed two individuals who failed in their core role.

    I somehow doubt any conspiracy theorist would expect any official report to say they are right.

    I don’t try to fathom the workings of Lord Laird’s mind but no I do not think he left because of this. Regrettably like too much of what Lord Laird did during his time at the Agency his resignation was politically motivated.

  • idunnomeself

    well I could do a willowfield and point out your inaccuracies and ask you to acknowledge them, but I’m not sure I see the point.

    DCAL did not appoint the first CEO
    he didn’t have a ‘track record of failure on financial systems’ (or do you know something about his previous work that I don’t?)
    The Agency then a whistleblowing incident, which the Department investigated (LL claims he was the whistleblower, although subsequent investigations appear to have fingered him as chief culprit)
    The CEO retired during the investigation (therefore was not ‘allowed to remain in post’)
    Are you saying that the second CEO didn’t put in systems either? I was under the impression that he did, until his unrelated arrest.

    Are you going to repeat the allegation that DCAL appointed him, knowing that he would get arrested, purely to discredit the Ulster-Scots movement? I’ve heard that several times, and frankly it makes Ulster-Scots activists look unhinged.

    I really don’t see what your entire secod paragraph has to do with DCAL’s ‘prompt and proper action’

    Because of previous threads I have put far more time and enquiry than I ought into this topic, but your version of events is so riddled with inaccuracy I find myself doing it again! I would be worried if (by repetition of half truth) Ulster-Scots groups, including marginalised Protestant groups, actually believed that the Government was out to get them. I can’t see how this can increase self confidence in working class Protestant communities. This conspiracy theory has done too much damage to people who deserve better and that is why I’ve invested so much time investigating it.

    Think you’re right on LL, it would be a neat theory, but he’s brazened out worse before.

  • fair_deal

    IDM

    You seem to be talking about what others say rather than what I say. Ask them not me.

    “DCAL did not appoint the first CEO”

    Yes DCAL did appoint him. DCAL ran the recruitment process by an internal trawl of the NICS (the Board did not even exist at this stage). The Agency had three acting chief executives whom DCAL recruited.

    There was a long-running argument between the board and DCAL on the personnel description of the Chief Executive (DCAL fought tooth and nail against requirements on anything to do with a knowledge of Ulster-Scots culture or language).

    The first Chief Executive appointed by the Board with a recruitment process the Agency oversaw was actually George Patton.

    “do you know something about his previous work that I don’t”

    Previous work of his had been the subject of a Public Accounts Committee investigation (his management of a BAT team) nor had he shone in other positions either (talk to anyone who worked at the HSE).

    The gap in time between discovery and retirement was not insignificant – 9-12 months.

    “Are you saying that the second CEO didn’t put in systems either? I was under the impression that he did”

    I was clear on what he did and did not do. I pointed out where he improved procedures e.g small grants. However, he did award a large contract without following proper procedures (which should appear in the reports of subsequent years but no doubt that will be the boards fault again too).

    I am not responsible for what LL claims nor others. I am specific about what I say.

    “I have put far more time and enquiry than I ought into this topic, but your version of events is so riddled with inaccuracy I find myself doing it again”

    You didn’t even know about the PAC stuff nor the process for recruiting the Chief Execs so your enquiries haven’t got very far.

  • idunnomeself

    Well i don’t want to fight, so may leave it there. I appreciate your views and the reasoned way you put them forward.

    But i thought that the first CEO was appointed before DCAL was formed. I can check this easily enough.

    And that isn’t the story I heard about DCAL ‘interfering’ in the CEO job description. This is. I gather, another myth. They passed on legal opinion about the demand by particular board members that the CEO needed to speak Ulster-Scots (that it was an ‘essential’ criteria). Basically there were no exams in it so it couldn’t be on the job spec as it could be challenged. Makes sense to me.

    Here again the real story is a bit different than what your version would lead people to believe.

    The Board is the corporate body charged with spending the public’s money, they can’t try to pass the blame onto the Department (although it makes their life easier if they do- you can see this in any public body).

    They *are* responsible

    And on to the topic of giving contracts without tender, well who was pushing for that?
    and they are the people standing up trying to blame everything on DCAL?
    and also the people spinning the conspiracy theories?

  • fair_deal

    IDM

    “But i thought that the first CEO was appointed before DCAL was formed. I can check this easily enough”

    No DCAL was formed first. I can’t remember the dates of all the maneourvrings that went on but I am pretty certain it went like this. There was an agreement on the departments and bodies. However, the departments were established and ministers appointed in shadow form. However, the cross-border bodies did not go live until full devolution did.

    That was one of DCAL’s objections to the personnel spec but they had more. DCAL were much more active through the Linguistic Diversity Branch in the Agency that your postings take account of. There was more than one legal opinion on the matter. Also a test was devised for the transcriber’s role at Stormont so the lack of pre-existing qualification was not an insurmountable barrier.

    If the Board are shown to have given instructions to a staff member who doesn’t do it what then? Is the staff member not culpable as well as the board? If this staff member has a track record of this, do the recruiters not have questions to answer?

    In my opinion DCAL made mistakes, the Chief Executives made mistakes and the Board made mistakes. This report points blame in one direction.

  • 6countyprod

    Fascinating article on the importance of the Irish language

  • Ciall

    As an aside, funny story about the Ulster-Scots examination for the transcriber job in Stormont that fair_deal mentions above.
    A fluent Irish speaker from near Dundalk (a lecturer in DIT at the time) applied for the job to see how he would get on. Sat the exam and tried to answer the questions “like his Granny from Antrim used to speak”.
    He didn’t get the job, but bumped into the guy who did a few months later. It turns out he got the second highest result in the proficiency exam – only himself and the successful candidate managed to pass it.
    This linguistic parity can be a funny old game…