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Review of Community Employment

Tommy Broughan (ind, Dublin NE) raised the future of Community Employment (CE) and the 66% cut in the budget for training and materials (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th December 2011, 81-4).  People on CE were terrified, he said, that their schemes would end.  His constituency had a considerable number of schemes, such as those run by the Northside Centre for the Unemployed and if the cut of €1,000 per worker for training and materials went ahead, they would lose €120,000 between them.  This money had been used for progression-based training courses and its loss would be disastrous.  Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) spoke of the consternation caused by the announcement.  He spoke of the value of CE and ridiculed the minister’s letter that groups that experienced difficulty should approach the department: the cut should not have been made in the first place.  Barry Cowen (FF, Laois Offaly) spoke of the damage of the €41.5m cut to creches, community and family resource centres, elderly and disabled supports, sports, social and cultural clubs and Tidy Towns.  Why did the minister not engage with the sector about this?


Responding for the government, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, told them that she had directed a review of CE schemes immediately, granted that they were adjoined to her department from 1st January 2012.  The purpose was to establish the viability of each scheme in the context of its community and social value and the value to the participant in helping him or her back to work.  It would be odd if such a review were not carried out, but no scheme would close pending the outcome.  Her department had to save €475m and she had to examine all aspects of spending.  She planned to reduce the CE budget of €360m by €27.5m, or 7.5%, but her department would spend €960m altogether on schemes in 2012, up from €882m in 2011, which was actually a very significant increase.


While CE provided an excellent service for the community, it did not have high progression rates into further education, training or a job: ‘may schemes do, some schemes do not.  That is a fact’. We need to ensure that people who go on CE schemes have a better chance at the end of the process of returning to work.  Two reviews of CE had been carried out, one by Forfas, one by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).   They found that for many CE participants, there was only a 1% to 3% chance of getting a job, which was very worrying.  


Tommy Broughan disputed this, saying that there was a ‘fair amount’ of progression.  Some of the courses cost from €500 to €800, but that will be gone.  Why go ahead with the cuts without carrying out the review first?  Likewise, Aengus O Snodaigh described it as illogical.  These schemes had been over-evaluated and most will show a degree of progression.  In Liberties Recycling, last year every participant reached FETAC level.  Barry Cowen described the review as a smokescreen, for the minister lacked the authority to rescind the cut.  She countered by saying that she had much experience of CE and recognized what had been said about its value, but if we were honest, we would have to say that not every scheme had the same positive outcomes.


Earlier, the minister told Michelle Mulherin (FG, Mayo) and Kevin Humphreys (Lab, Dublin SE) that the number of persons engaged in community employment at the end of 2011 was, including supervisors,  23,846.  She provided a table of all the places by county and Dublin postal district (Dail Eireann, Debates, 13th December 2011, 653 – 655).  She hoped to maintain the same level in 2012.  These places were provided by 1,100 voluntary and community organizations.