Rent costs spiral from Agri HQ decentralisation

The most expensive rented building for Department of Agriculture staff in Portlaoise is the Grattan Business Centre.

The most expensive rented building for Department of Agriculture staff in Portlaoise is the Grattan Business Centre.

Leased since 2006, it costs E264,640 to rent annually more than E100,000 to fit out for up to 100 staff. A former Eircom building costs E191,000 annually - it has been leased since 2005.

Three buildings at Gandon Court near Portlaoise Prison are rented separately. The total annual cost is more than E213,000. Another office at Grattan House is costing the taxpayer E75,000 each year while a warehouse in the Clonminham Industrial estate costs almost E100,000 annually.

When the total bill is totted up the bill on these rents amounts to more than E11 million but the cost excludes other property expenses caused by decentralisation such as the cost of buying a site for the proposed HQ on the Mountrath Road. The were also design plans for the building which cost more than E240,000.

Separate figures show that the Agri bill could put the decentralistion rent bill higher. A office for staff of the NCCA and Equality Tribunal is being rented at almost E70,000 annually - the offices cost nearly E360,000 to fit out.

The last Government scrapped a public private partnership approach but to building a HQ in 2009 budget but it said construction could go ahead a “traditional procurement process”. Portlaoise was part of a PPP bundle with Mullingar and Carlow. A preferred bidder had already been chosen.

More than half of those due to move to Portlaoise, 317, were already working here by last June. While none of the 150 Ministerial staff were due to move, including the Secretary General, the new HQ would have offices for Minister and the top civil servants. Problems also emerged over the transfer of 150 IT staff.

An review of the project carried out in 2009 said the Department had made “excellent progress” but questioned the move of ICT (computer) staff. It raised concerns over the building of a HQ for 800 staff because it might be under-used because of the slow transfer of ICT staff and the cut recommended by An Bord Snip Nua of more than 1,000 from the Department.

The OPW said a preparation of a report on the new HQ is a matter for the Department of Agriculture. It said any decision on the halting of decentralisation to Portlaoise would be decision for Government.

“We have not been advised of any decision to halt the Department of Agriculture project, other Government Department moves are pending review later this year,” it said.

Assuming that a decision to proceed is given by the end of 2011/beginning of 2012, the OPW said it would expect that a building could be completed by end of 2014 - assuming no planning delays.

The former Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy announced decentralistion in his 2003 Budget.