DUP and Education Minister discuss SEELB situation

A DUP delegation comprised of Iris Robinson, Peter Robinson, Edwin Poots, Peter Weir and Cllr Jimmy Spratt, have today met with Education Minister Maria Eagle to discuss issues relating to the removal of functions from the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) and its replacement by Minster appointed Commissioners.

Speaking after the meeting, the delegation said they were appalled at the decision by the Minister to replace the SEELB with unelected and unaccountable Commissioners simply because the democratically elected representatives on the Board were unwilling to permit swathing cuts that would have severely harmed the education of some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.

The delegation said: "The present Board is in no way responsible for the budgetary overspend which contributed to this financial crisis yet they are being punished.

"The Board are more than able to manage a standstill budget but no one could manage the budget that the Department of Education handed down without harming education and in particular special needs provision.

"It is especially disturbing that with so much pressure on the South Eastern Board’s budget that these four Commissioners are being paid £500 a day plus expenses.

"Indeed, one Commissioner has to travel to Northern Ireland from the mainland. These costs are coming out of the Board’s budget thus further depleting the funds available for education."

During the meeting, the DUP members questioned the Minister about the rights of parents and others to appeal to the Board about closures and cuts and challenged the manner of the Commissioner’s appointment and added that they believe it was not consistent with the code on public appointments.

They continued: "We do not accept the Minister’s argument that this was not a public appointment."

Concluding, Deputy Leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson said: “I have today written to the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Northern Ireland to seek clarification on this matter as it would be absurd to suggest that whenever the Commissioner for Public Appointments has the power to supervise the appointment of the SEELB that they would not have responsibility to supervise its replacement. The matter could yet be subject to legal proceedings."

Speaking after the meeting, Education Minister Maria Eagle said: "This was a useful opportunity to discuss the issues involved."

The Minister explained that it is unreasonable for any public body to be undertaking or contemplating a course of action that would prevent it from living within the budget that is voted by Parliament.

She continued: "It was unacceptable that the SEELB was not taking the necessary decisions to live within its means. I could not stand back and let this happen - I will not let children in other areas suffer because one Education and Library Board could not control its expenditure."

Ms Eagle explained that the Commissioners are currently undertaking an in-depth examination of the Board's financial position and will outline initial proposals later in August.

Responding to DUP concerns about the Department of Education underspend, the Minister said: "Almost of all of the underspend relates to funding for ongoing capital projects, such as new school buildings, and money being carried forward by schools and Education and Library Boards. These are not surplus funds and will not be lost to education."


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