Equipment for a school high jump in Northern Ireland cost £100,000 more than expected, an audit office report revealed.
St Colman’s College in Newry, a Catholic grammar, overhauled its athletics facilities and opened them up to the wider community in an innovative and unique way.
But auditor and comptroller general Kieran Donnelly found failings in how the £2.4 million project was handled. He said dropping then reinstating plans to install a special surface at the high jump cost 10 times more than originally envisaged.
“Sport NI has stated that it regrets this oversight and that its officials did not understand the significance of this change to the project specification,” the report said.
“It is concerning, given that Sport NI is the leading public body for the development of sport in Northern Ireland, that it failed to recognise the significance of a ‘synthetic D’ in the development of an athletics facility.”
The synthetic D is the area inside the track which is used for the run up to the high jump. It was replaced in the plan with grass surfacing but after a re-think it cost £113,000 to create a man-made surface because contractors had to protect the new track and reinstate site access to complete construction.
In July 2010 Sport NI had approved an investment of £1.4 million in a £2.4 million project to develop sports facilities at St Colman’s. Another £900,000 was contributed by Newry and Mourne District Council and the Department for Social Development. The development opened in November 2011.
Key findings of the audit included:
:: The business case underestimated the cost of the project, making it less affordable. In response, significant changes were made including reducing the running track from eight to six lanes and the removal of the synthetic high jump D. The synthetic D’s removal saved £11,000 but it was later reinstated at a cost of £113,000.
:: The business case was not revisited after the changes and Sport NI did not notify the Department (for Culture, Arts and Leisure) or the other funders of the changes in specification.
:: Erroneous statements were contained in the business case which cumulatively may have affected Sport NI’s decision to award funding to the St Colman’s project.
:: Communication between the funders was lacking and several key decisions were made without consultation.
:: Project rules were not formally documented until two months after construction began.
The report said: “Project management and oversight arrangements were poor.”
It added: “A number of key decisions were taken by St Colman’s College without any consultation with the funders despite substantial public sector investment.”
The document, Sport NI’s Project Management and Oversight of the St Colman’s Project, made four recommendations, including that public bodies must ensure business case assessments are robust and any issues identified must be considered and addressed.
:: Arrangements for assessing business cases should be clearly agreed and documented and a copy of any assessment performed should be made available for consideration by all relevant parties.
:: Where substantial changes are made to a project after a business case has been approved the case should be revisited and the project reappraised.
:: Where it becomes clear that it will not be possible to deliver a project on time, within budget or to the agreed specification, public bodies have a duty to ensure that they consult with all relevant parties.
Mr Donnelly said: “This type of innovation presents an opportunity for the public sector to develop public services in a cost-effective way and should be encouraged, however it is essential that any project in receipt of government funding is based on a valid and accurate business case and that it receives the appropriate level of project management and oversight.
“There are important lessons that can be learned from the St Colman’s case and they should be applied across the public sector.”