Thursday, 8 October 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Simon Coveney: I spoke to the Minister with specific responsibility for this area yesterday evening and he explained that he would not be able to be here this evening. I understand I will have an opportunity to meet him next week to discuss the matter. I wish to put a number of issues on the record. I look forward to the official response from the Minister in writing.
I am very concerned at the current plans to essentially dismantle the community development project infrastructure across the country and to amalgamate those projects into regional and local partnership schemes. A number of years ago there was an independent assessment of the CDP, community development project, structure. It was highly complimentary in terms of value for money because the vast majority of people linked with community development projects are volunteers.
For anyone who is not familiar with the structure, essentially, an administrator and a project co-ordinator are put in place in the heart of a community to work with local voluntary groups in the areas of youth work, adult education, re-training, development skills for interviews or CV preparation, and care of the elderly. It is the job of the co-ordinator and administrator to assist voluntary groups to develop their capacity and skill base locally.
In my constituency there are two CDPs, one in Ballyphehane-Togher and the other in Mahon. The one I am most familiar with is in Mahon. There are eight CDPs in Cork. What the Minister seems to be proposing, which is bizarre, is to amalgamate all eight of those CDPs into one partnership model. The partnership offices are on the north side of Cork city in Blackpool. It would be one thing if that solution were the result of an evaluation process but we are in the middle of an evaluation process of CDPs, yet the Minister has announced what will be the new structure. That does not make sense to me.
I do not think anyone would have a problem with an assessment of CDPs, of which there are 180 across the country, in terms of delivering value for money in communities. Some of the 180 projects probably need to go. New areas have probably developed in the past five to ten years that need new CDP structures put in place. Nobody has a problem with the Minister seeking value for money and requiring a cut in expenditure and costs, but what I do have a problem with is the Minister prescribing a new structure before the evaluation process is complete as, in essence, he is giving a signal to the people carrying out the evaluation as to what he wants them to determine at the end of that process.
One cannot get the same value from local community structures if one amalgamates them into a regional management entity because one takes away locally based decision making power, the capacity to make decisions quickly, the taking into account of local concerns and responding to local concerns. The cost to the Department of the two employees in the community development project in Mahon is, I understand, approximately €130,000 per annum. However, through their fundraising efforts with other local voluntary groups, these individuals generate more than €250,000 from other sources, including Departments. They are a catalyst for successful, efficient and improved voluntary services in the Mahon community. We need these types of services more than ever for obvious reasons. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider his approach towards community development projects to ensure that we can keep what has been a great success in empowering local communities from a structural point of view.
Deputy John Moloney: I apologise again for the Minister’s absence. The Deputy will recall that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was established against a background of concern at the multiplicity of structures and agencies through which local and community development schemes and programmes are delivered. The Department inherited many local and community programmes that were established and operated under different Departments. There was an inherent danger of fragmentation of services and diffusion of resources. The cohesion process initiated by the Minister to address these concerns resulted in a dramatic reduction and simplification of local delivery structures for a range of rural development and community development programmes.
The Department still has a wide agenda of reform to advance. The next phase, now under way, concerns improving and joining up the outputs from programmes, as well as further consolidating structures. The local development social inclusion programme, LDSIP, and community development programme, CDP, are the Department’s two main social inclusion-community development programmes. Both have a community development element and are delivered through separate local delivery structures.
The Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, has indicated that his strong view is that a single focused programme with a single integrated delivery structure is needed to maximise the impact of these two programmes which serve disadvantaged communities. The Centre for Effective Services is preparing proposals for the Minister in this regard, which will draw on good international practice and independent advice. The Minister hopes to receive these proposals in the near future with a view to rolling out a new programme early next year.
The Minister’s overall aim is to ensure that, from 2010, disadvantaged communities will benefit from a more focused programme with clear objectives and simplified and streamlined delivery structures, leading to significant administrative savings and impact efficiencies. In advance of proceeding to establish a single programme across community development projects and partnerships, the Department has initiated an evaluation of individual CDPs. Many of these projects span two decades, with diverse activities. The Minister hopes to have proposals from his Department in the near future.
The Minister envisages that the main elements of the new integrated programme will comprise a small number of unambiguous goals to be achieved through clearly articulated outcomes for disadvantaged communities. Continuous evaluation and measurable targets will also be key features of the new programme, which the Minister hopes to launch for early 2010. While he cannot be specific at this stage about the impact on specific bodies in particular areas, disadvantaged communities will benefit from a more focused programme with clear objectives and simplified and streamlined delivery structures.
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