Sunday 21 February 2010

Broke DDDA to hire more spin doctors

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA), which recorded a deficit of €213m last year, plans to boost spending on its public relations.

The state-owned authority, which already has two in-house PR staff, is tendering for an expert in “corporate PR, crisis management and public affairs”.

The value of the PR contract will not be revealed until the tendering process is completed. Industry experts believe the contract will be worth between €8,000 and €10,000 per month.

The agency is bracing itself for the publication of what is widely expected to be a damning report on its business activities.

The report, by Niamh Brennan, the authority’s new chairwoman, is being examined by the attorney-general.

Expected to be published within weeks, it is thought to be critical of the DDDA’s corporate governance and planning procedures.

The agency recently had a write-down of €186m on its investments, mainly relating to the purchase of the former Irish Glass Bottle site in the docklands.

The DDDA spent more than €650,000 on PR between 2006 and 2009, most of it paid to Wilson Hartnell, a large Dublin PR firm.

Joe Costello, a Labour party TD, said the latest tender was neither “ethical nor proper” and called on John Gormley, the environment minister, to intervene. “The docklands have gone dead, there is nothing happening except for one or two things,” Costello said.

“They are not taking on new business and are embroiled in debts and planning challenges. To take on a company at this stage with public money is not ethical or proper. There is no sense in them talking about taking on a PR company to provide good publicity when they haven’t any good publicity to talk about.

“It’s totally unacceptable to use up money that they don’t have. [Gormley] should step in.”

A spokeswoman for the DDDA said the agency’s in-house staff have other duties in addition to PR, and that some corporate and communications work could not be dealt with due to staff shortages.

“It comes down to in-house resources,” she said. “We have to abide by the moratorium on fixed-term contracts and we have gone from a staff of 50 to 36.”

She predicted that by the end of the year, the DDDA will be reduced to a staff of 25. “So we do require external support for some services,” she said. “Costs have been aggressively reduced in light of the financial position faced.”

Last year, the DDDA’s deficit of €213m was mainly due to the purchase and devaluation of the Irish Glass Bottle site.

Sunday Times

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