Today the shocking level of corruption and incompetence that runs through the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) can be exposed. Whilst the Alliance party wax lyrical about the failings of other departments, it has now become clear that shocking levels of incompetence has left the Northern Ireland public purse with a multi-million pound black hole- all thanks to the mismanagement of European money by DEL officials, acting under the authority of Minister Stephen Farry.
Among those from within the community and voluntary sector, who are suffering as a result of DEL’s internal failings, is the Disability sector- who on June 10 2015 was owed a whopping £12m, as attached, leaked letter shows.
DEL is an effective “letterbox” for receiving European Social Fund money- which is designed to improve employability and within NI is targeted at those furthest removed from employment opportunities. This community and voluntary sector EU money is known as “priority one” funding.
Due to repeated failings in departmental audits- the EU suspended payments to DEL on three occasions. After the third temporary suspension it is understood that the EU have said they will not consider any further claims under priority one funding.
At the DEL committee on July 1 2015 when questioned by Pat Ramsey, an SDLP MLA, on whether the failings that led to these temporary suspensions, lay solely within the department, Minister Farry confirmed that this was indeed the case.
Due to these suspensions small community and voluntary sector organisations were pushed to the point of bankruptcy and this had a knock-on effect to small businesses and self-employed facilitators who were left waiting on payments that were long overdue.
Whilst the community and voluntary sector were pushed to the brink, DEL halted any payments owed whilst they re-trained their existing staff- at huge cost. During this period a multi-million pound black hole developed, all due to internal DEL staff failings, and Minister Farry could offer no solutions to fulfil the department’s contractual obligations to many of the small community and voluntary sector organisations who were being made to suffer, as a result of the horrific internal mistakes made by DEL staff.
In Farry’s attempts to cover-up the epic failings within DEL, he decided to move the community and voluntary EU money into the DEL public budget. However, it is understood Mr Farry carried out this contrived move without seeking the necessary approval from the Minister of the Department of Finance, “gatekeeper” Arlene Foster.
At this point in time DEL are still suspended from Europe, therefore the money “flipped” from the public budget into the EU budget- in a underhand attempt to fill the black hole DEL’s errors had created- may never be eligible for repayment from the EU and thus a massive multi-million pound hole will emerge in the public purse.
As the general public feel the nip of the merry-go round of the Stormont farce and austerity, DEL have decided to increase their staff management unit from ten to a whopping thirty-five. SEUPB- who manage European money for both Northern Ireland the Republic- have only a fraction more than this amount of staff.
Whilst Stephen Farry trotted off to Europe to meet the commissioners and attempt to explain the monumental errors emanating from within his department, he sought an extension for his technical assistance funding- which in reality is the staff wages for the same staff who caused these errors- and also his funding for DEL’s own programmes. The Minister gave no consideration to asking for an extension for the community and voluntary sector that have been left high and dry by the internal failings of DEL.
There are serious questions also to be answered around why DEL now effectively have “double funding” for technical assistance, as they are now operating two parallel European Social Fund programs with the only beneficiary being DEL.
If you think these epic failings are bad, they will dwarf in comparison to upcoming blogs that will reveal systematic corruption and preferential treatment of certain community and voluntary groups.