Schools authority overspent by £19m after budget squeeze

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said he was 'disappointed' at the overspend
Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said he was 'disappointed' at the overspend

The body which funnels funding to Northern Ireland’s schools overshot its budget limit by £19.1 million as it struggled to cope with a demand to rein in spending.

The Education Authority (EA), an arm’s-length agency set up in 2015 to take over management of schools from the five old education and library boards, has its budget set by Stormont’s Department of Education.

The Auditor General Kieran Donnelly has now gone through its 2016/17 accounts and declared himself “disappointed” to discover that the EA exceeded its spending limits.

That year, the EA was given a budget of £1,429m – a sum £101m lower than the previous year.

It was only told what its budget would be six days before the start of the new financial year in 2016, and it took the EA another five months to devise a plan to cope with the lower level of spending.

However, it struggled to make the savings needed to stay within budget, and even though the amount of funding it got for the year was later upped to £1,516m, when all expenditure was taken into account it still overshot its budget by £19.1m.

The main reasons for this were individual schools overspending their budgets, extra money needing to be directed to special needs education, and higher than expected spending on maintenance and repairs.

During its initial year of existence, the EA had managed to keep within its budget.

However, the audit report – officially published today – noted that funding for the education authorities is now about £200m lower per year than it was in 2010/11.

Mr Donnelly said that it is his intention to publish a report later on this year on the overall financial health of schools in Northern Ireland.