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Community Employment review

As was the case in Oireachtas Brief 27, Community Employment continued to be an issue attracting considerable attention.  The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, gave further details of the present review of Community Employment (CE) to Patrick Nulty (ind, Dublin W) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 31st January 2012, 448-9).  The review, due end March, was being conducted by an assistant principal officer and would be subject to oversight from the policy committee of the department and senior management, while its conclusions and recommendations would also be subject to consultation with stakeholders in the range of programmes involved.  The programmes covered by the broader policy review included, as well as CE,  the Rural Social Scheme, Tús, the Jobs Initiative, the Work Placement Programme and the National Internship Scheme.

 

Replying to further questions on CE from Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) and Barry Cowen (FF, Laois Offaly) the minister drew attention to the limited effectiveness of CE in labour market progression (Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th January 2012, 86-8).  She cited the National Economic and Social Council Supports and services for unemployed job-seekers – challenges and opportunities in times of recession (August 2011) and the Economic and Social Research Institute What can active labour market policies do? (November 2011) which were critical of progression and noted previous studies that had determined that CE was not associated with increased post-programme employment chances and that previous participation in a CE scheme was associated sometimes with increased risk of long-term unemployment.  

 

The outcome of the current review would form part of the report to the troika referred to earlier.  Much progress would be made by the time they discussed the issue again in eight or nine months time.  All reviews, national and international, had been highly critical of the lack of progression.  It would be very odd, granted the spending of €315m a year, that we did not analyze the scheme or the total of €1bn on employment support schemes.

 

 

Role of training

Eamon O Cuiv said he did not see the point of training people year after year and that was why he had created the line of progression from CE into Tús.  He described the cut in the materials grant as a mistake and there were other savings that could have been made, such as routing CE through the partnership companies, with 53 companies rather than 400, each with a set of payers and auditors.  Effectively, CE had given rise to 400 unnecessary quangos.  The minister, Joan Burton, told him that there were over 1,000 voluntary companies with voluntary boards and their participation was really important.  The fact that they were companies limited by guarantee did give rise to major costs, with an audit costing €1,800 to €2,00 for not even full audits for small companies, as well as insurance costs.  There were substantial savings to be made and that was why she was trying to obtain a reliable picture from the review.

 

Eamon O Cuiv asked the minister did she accept that some people would never obtain open market employment and that progression was not a realistic option.  Would she agree that many services would fall apart if CE did not exist?  He had wanted a system whereby people who had undergone training for a certain time had what they were doing classed as a job rather than a training scheme, would move to Tús and continue there until they got alternative work.  He asked her was it not heartbreaking for unemployed people to be thrown off FAS schemes after four or five years and removed from the system – better they remain on a work scheme on a continuous basis.

 

The minister, Joan Burton, explained that  the review would identify services, assess value for money and deal with progression: here, the troika wanted to examine progression.  There were now 2,300 people on Tús and 4,000 on JobBridge.  It was critical that the CE review got more opportunities for people to have an option, which could be education, training, CE or JobBridge.  So many people now wanted an opportunity.  There were men in their 20s to their 50s who were coming into long-term unemployment and she wanted to create opportunities for them. 

 

 

75% cut in drugs projects

Staying with community projects, in a topical debate in the Dail, Sean Crowe (SF, Dublin SW) spoke of 75% cuts in community-based projects against drugs in his constituency (Dail Eireann, Debates, 26th January 2012, 74-6; see also 31st January, 497-8).  They dealt with anti social behaviour and involved organizations such as Vincent de Paul, Travellers, RAPID, the Dodder Valley Partnership, drugs task forces and the HSE, with the minister of state talking about removing such a service in March ‘which is absolutely crazy’.  Eamonn Moloney (Lab, Dublin SW) likewise spoke of projects in Fettercairn and Killinarden in traditional working class estates and ‘we could be here till midnight listing all the work they had done in the past 20 years’.  

 

Responding, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government Jan O’Sullivan told them that difficult decisions had to be taken which resulted in a reduction in funding for drugs projects from €400,000 to €100,000, a reduction of 75%.  ‘This is the figure I am faced with and because of this significant reduction in the sub-head, it is not possible for my department to continue funding the projects’.  As soon as this was known, her department had contacted both Dublin City and Dublin South Councils so that informed decisions could be made.

 

A consultation process was now under way to identify alternative funding mechanisms.  €47,500 and €52,500 would be provided to each council respectively for the first quarter of 2012, which would be the final contribution.  Overall, there was €260m for all drugs programmes in 2011 and minister of state Roisin Shortall was reviewing  how current funding structures could be improved or streamlined.  She said that she knew that this sounded stark and she would examine the issue again: ‘all I can say is that I have inherited a budget that was cut 75%’.  Much work was going on in her department in aligning the work of the local authorities, community organizations and others.  Sean Crowe told her that it would be ‘like a pack of cards’ if the funding were lost.  Preventing two or three children from going into the justice system would save a fortune for the state.