Paying €118,000 a year in rent for a VEC building in Mullingar, while a similar facility is available for €13.33 a year in Longford is absolutely “reprehensible” given that €450,000 has been wiped from the budget of St Christopher’s Services, Cllr Mae Sexton said.
The Department of Education announced in October that the VEC in Longford and Westmeath were to be merged with operations moving to Mullingar. The merged VECs will become Education and Training Boards (ETBs).The move, due to happen in September, occurs despite a considerable investment in facilities in Longford in recent years and the massive difference in rent between the two.
“In the space of two weeks we have paid €450,000 for the Barracks – which was an absolute disgrace we had to pay for it at all – and then €450,000 was taken from the budget of St Christopher’s.
“In effect, €1 million has been taken from this county in the last few weeks, and now they’re proposing to pay €118,000 a year in rent when there’s a building available for practically nothing,” Cllr Sexton fumed.
“We’ve all been reading about Mahon all last week and I’m not going to sit idly by when something like this is clearly a Mahon waiting to happen. This was an act of political expediency – a political favour for Willie Penrose. If the VEC and the government allow this to happen, nothing has changed since Mahon; it’s just as bad,” Cllr Sexton continued.
In response to questions from the Leader, Longford Westmeath TD Wille Penrose said, “Of course I pitched for Mullingar; I’m from Mullingar, what else am I supposed to do?”
The former Minister of State for housing would not be drawn on whether this represented poor value-for-money for the taxpayer. “There’s a long term lease there that has to be paid anyway. No one is going to walk away from a lease with the VEC early in this climate. The Department made its decision and I’m not going to second guess the Department,” Deputy Penrose said.
In a statement, the Department of Education and Skills said Minister Ruairi Quinn considered a range of factors, “Including the need to ensure that the location of a VEC headquarters will, to the greatest extent possible, facilitate staff redeployment under a redeployment scheme within the context of the Croke Park Agreement and the need to operate at lowest cost having regard to the accommodation available in existing locations.
“In relation to the cost of leasing the VEC headquarters at Mullingar, the position is that County Westmeath VEC has approximately 13 years remaining on the lease on the Mullingar premises. In this regard, the VEC and the new Education and Training Board, when established, are committed to payment of this money unitl the expiry of the lease irrespective of the location of the headquarters,” the Department confirmed.
Willie Dennigan, parents representative of the Longford VEC, said he was “utterly disappointed” with the decision. “The Department said these amalgamations of VECs were cost saving measures but how could they possibly stand by that?
“This government was elected on transparency and delivering value-for-money for the taxpayer, but we’re not getting a glimmer of either of these right now,” Mr Dennigan said.