Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A ONE-off grant of €60,000 to ensure the future stability of Waterford Area Partnership (WAP) has been approved by Waterford City and County Council.

The funding proposal comes almost nine months after an audit report by Crowe Horwath revealed that WAP was subject to “major investigations” by Gardai, Revenue and the Charities Regulator and was at “risk of collapse”.

At Thursday afternoon’s Plenary Council meeting, held via Zoom last week, councillors widely agreed to give the go-ahead for the funding for the state-funded body, which works with disadvantaged communities in Waterford.

Even though all councillors expressed the desire for WAP to succeed and for services to continue to be delivered in communities across Waterford, Cllr Donal Barry (IND) said the Council has a duty to ensure that tax payers’ money is “properly spent and made accountable for”.

With that in mind, he asked if the various investigations have concluded.

Major issues

“This has been going on since 2018 when the Local Government Audit Services highlighted major issues there, yet they reported to the Council every month to the executive and to the LCDC and this thing was left develop into the situation it is now,” Cllr Barry stated. He affirmed that he would support the issuing of funding, but remarked that there wasn’t a mention of the Crowe Horwath report in the proposal brought before the councillors.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Ivan Grimes, the Director of Services with responsibility for Housing, Community and Emergency Services circulated a note summarising the proposal to pay the one-off grant to WAP, which he said was in recognition of the works that have been undertaken by the interim board since they were appointed in March of this year.

He said the board are satisfied that they have dealt with the “financial issues” that arose in the 2018 Annual Financial Statement.

“They will be signing off on their accounts next week. In doing that, they incurred costs, and by the nature of developing companies they are not able to generate surpluses to meet unforeseen or unexpected costs. Our objective, overall, in engaging with the company was two-fold: We were seeking to protect the services… and also to try and secure the jobs. We are satisfied we will achieve those objectives.”

Reassured

He later said he couldn’t comment on the outcome or status of investigations into another body, but is reassured by the interim Chief Executive of WAP that the resolution of the accounts will address the “substantive issues raised in relation to those investigations”. Mr Grimes stated the funding was being provided for specific reasons around financial control/ audit, HR system and a constitution for the company, who will serve WAP going forward for “many years”.

WAP is contracted by Waterford Local Community Development Committee (LCDC),  to deliver the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme 2018-2022 in Waterford and the LCDC has oversight of the implementation of SICAP.

Waterford Council Chief Executive Michael Walsh clarified that no money is going into the body other than under contract for services under the SICAP programme.

Independent board

Mr Walsh clarified that it is a one-off grant requested by a “completely independent board, who have done phenomenal work over the last six months to straighten up the issues… and secure the financial stability and the governance of Waterford Area Partnership into the future”.

“The reality is that board was brought together because of their competencies. They are all outside of Waterford, they have no stake in the game. They are entirely professional in what they are doing. They are overseeing the future in terms of getting a new leadership in place.”

The board will transition to include “more local” people, which will consult with the broader community sector and others involved in similar type of work.

One-off grant

“This is a one-off grant that we’ve been asked for by this new board, so that they can ensure that the company going forward is entirely stable, and so they can attract new leadership, so the company has a completely sustainable future.”

The CE went on to say that the Council doesn’t have knowledge of some of the historical issues, but added that the board is satisfied going forward that the future can be secured.

With no hesitation, the funding was proposed by Cllr Damien Geoghegan (FG), who stated that there was no obligation on the Council in relation to WAP, but he acknowledged that they “stepped up to the plate and delivered a very decent result”. As former Mayor he saw first-hand the work put in by CE Michael Walsh, Director of Services, Ivan Grimes and Don Tuohy, Senior Executive Officer, and their staff in bringing about a resolution to various issues. “The staff there deserve enormous credit. This is a good news story for WAP,” he said.

Seconding the proposal, Cllr Mary Roche (IND) said it was very important the social inclusion and community activation project isn’t lost from Waterford. Agreeing with the previous comments, Mayor of Waterford City and County, Cllr Joe Kelly (IND) commented that a great deal of work was done to keep the Partnership in existence and to save the 45 plus jobs. Sinn Féin Councillors met with Michael Walsh to voice their concern, but Cllr John Hearne felt that spending €60,000 to save 45 jobs was a “no-brainer” and it should be supported.

Having worked closely with WAP, Cllr John Pratt (LAB) congratulated the Executive on the work done to date to ensure job retention. Also supporting the motion despite the serious issues raised was Cllr Seamus Ryan (LAB) who said WAP provides excellent programmes, particularly in the areas of disadvantaged and learning. Even though Cllr Jody Power (GP) praised WAP as a “vital cog in the wheel of social inclusion for the underprivileged in Waterford city”, he said the results of the investigations and any sanctions imposed must be made known.

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