Danny Kinahan, vice chair of the Stormont education committee, has told of his shock at the £16.5m spend by the Department of Education [DE] on the “failed Education and Skills Authority [ESA] project”.
The Ulster Unionist MLA said the figures were released to him earlier this week by the DE after he submitted a written question asking for ‘the cost of the Education and Skills Authority to date, broken down by area of expenditure’.
The money was spent “between 2005 and August of this year”, according to the answer.
“In spite of pressure on the education budget, minister John O’Dowd and his Sinn Fein predecessors in education have still been able to find more than £12.8 million to spend on salaries, £1 million on other office services such as postage, printing, telephony and stationery, and £886,000 on ‘consultancy’ as part of an overall bill of £16,535,000,” said Mr Kinahan.
He added that the final comment on the written answer – “the member’s party has been to the fore in blocking ESA and therefore must accept responsibility in the cost associated with the delay” – blames the UUP for its failure.
“In other words, John O’Dowd is in such a state of denial that he is blaming the Ulster Unionist Party for Sinn Fein’s failure to deliver ESA in a ministry they have held since devolution was restored.
“He 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 the ESA project was initiated with the aim of “finding an efficient replacement to five library boards”. But this was voted out in the last Assembly, he said, and a new goal set to create an ESA body to replace the library boards and employ everyone in education.
“But the UUP opposed this over the threat to grammar schools and the DUP indicated it needed to be changed,” he said. “Now it is stuck or frozen.”