Thursday, 26 November 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Seán Sherlock: Concerns have been expressed to me about a proposal to close a branch office of the Blackwater Avondhu Partnership in Mallow. Some members of the board are concerned about the proposal because the office in Mallow supervises the local development social inclusion programme, LDSIP, and rural transport programme. I attest to the good work done by the office which has been in operation since 1996. I also share the concerns communicated to me by board members about the closure of the office as it will create significant potential for a diminution of the service provided in the Mallow and north Cork region.
I am also concerned that proposals have been made by the Blackwater Avondhu Partnership to instigate a round of voluntary redundancies in advance of any announcement in the budget of a reduction of a ministerial budget line for such groups to provide services. I am further concerned about certain corporate governance issues which arise as a result of the decision to which I refer. At the most recent board meeting of the Blackwater Avondhu Partnership, it was communicated to members that no decision had been made on the closure of the Mallow office or on seeking a round of voluntary redundancies. Despite this, staff have been notified that the office will close and a voluntary redundancy package will be offered. They must give their decisions on the package by next Monday.
Has the Minister given a direction to the partnership that the office in Mallow should close? Has the board or chief executive officer communicated to the Department an intention to seek voluntary redundancies? Has the Department communicated with the partnership about the need to seek redundancies and close one of its operational centres, namely, the Mallow office?
I ask that the Department give the board of Blackwater Avondhu Partnership an undertaking that all rules and regulations pertaining to corporate governance procedures will be adhered to as regards the responsibilities of the board, as distinct from the chief executive officer. I also ask that the Department issue guidance to the board in this respect.
The individuals who communicated with me are board members. While some of them vehemently oppose the closure of the Mallow office, they accept the argument that if rationalisation is required services will be moved to another office in Fermoy. They seek to ensure that the process applied to staff members in the Mallow office is completely transparent, the wishes of board members are observed and no person or persons act in a unilateral fashion. The reason I saw fit to raise this issue is that concern has arisen about the actions of some individuals with regard to the continuation of services in Mallow. I share this concern.
While I accept that we live in constrained times and the amalgamation of two entities sometimes causes one entity to suffer, I am adamant that the LDSIP, a phenomenally successful programme, should continue within the amalgamated structure. The rural transport programme, which delivers excellent services, should also continue, as should the other services such as those at the Mallow office.
Deputy John Curran: The local development social inclusion programme is a series of measures designed to counter disadvantage and to promote equality and social and economic inclusion. The LDSIP forms part of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 but is still being carried out under the guidelines of the 2000-06 programme pending the transition to a new programme in 2010. The new programme, called the local and community development programme, will preserve elements of good practice from the existing CDP and LDSIP programmes and will be rolled out in 2010.
The LDSIP is implemented locally by 37 integrated local development companies and 16 urban partnerships. These are not-for-profit companies that target the areas of greatest need in the country to provide an area-based response to long-term unemployment and to promote social inclusion under three measures: services for the unemployed, community development and community-based youth initiatives. All implementing bodies are companies limited by guarantee, without share capital. Implementing bodies have flexibility to prepare local development plans that respond to local economic and social needs. Each of these bodies prepares a strategic plan setting out objectives, actions and targets across the three measures designed to address poverty and social inclusion in their areas. Actions funded by the LDSIP involve integrated responses to the multidimensional nature of social exclusion which are grouped into these three areas of activity. Since the beginning of 2009, the LDSIP has achieved full county coverage as a result of the completed cohesion process.
The Avondhu-Blackwater Partnership is a newly integrated company following the merger of Avondhu Development Group and Blackwater Resources. The 2009 allocation under the LDSIP programme for the company is €501,270. The area of operation stretches from Ballyclough in the west to Araglin in the east and Carrignavar in the south. The integrated company also includes the newly expanded area for the social inclusion programme of Blarney. The greater Blarney area has a population of more than 27,500 people. The total population of the area of operation for the new company is in excess of 70,000 people.
In 2009, the key areas of work for the local development social inclusion programme include supporting collaborative initiatives to promote access to employment and training, the design of innovative pre-employment training for especially vulnerable unemployed people, and the referral of clients to other supports and services under the services for the unemployed measure. The “equality for all” project in Mallow and the integration project in Fermoy will bring a strong focus to this work.
Under the community development measure, the emphasis is on projects supporting interculturalism, community training, facilitation of groups involved in social inclusion, actions to support volunteering in the community, and the further development of local networks such as the north Cork Traveller forum and the north Cork immigrant forum.
Under the community-based youth initiative measure, the emphasis is on supporting a small number of local collaborations, including an innovative youth arts programme. A further key area of work in 2009 is capacity building in the greater Blarney area. The emphasis will be on developing the capacity of existing and newly emerging community groups and supporting the establishment of new networks.
Rationalisation of the operations, staffing, accommodation and so on of all the companies is at an advanced stage. It is a matter for the board of the Avondhu-Blackwater Partnership, as an independent limited company, to manage within the programme budget allocated to it and to deploy its staff and resources in the most effective way to achieve programme delivery. In advance of decisions in the 2010 budget, it is not feasible to anticipate levels of funding available for the new local and community development programme next year.
Decisions of the type to which Deputy Sherlock referred are quite properly a matter for the board of the company. The Deputy spoke about governance and I will ask officials in my Department to have a look at it. The key decisions to which the Deputy refers are rightly the decisions to be made by the board.
Deputy Joe Costello: There is great concern that community development projects are being savagely cut. Decisions being taken on the CDPs could undermine the provision of services. The 183 CDPs throughout the country are to be reduced by 35 before Christmas, while the remainder will be transferred from an independent management structure to the area partnerships. That is a radical intervention for people who have been working in these projects for many years and providing services that would not otherwise exist. They operate in disadvantaged areas and most of those employed are local people. They certainly provide an invaluable service to their communities.
The decision to reduce the number of CDPs and subsume the rest was taken without prior consultation with the projects or with the partnerships. This is hardly the way to do business if we are to ensure the cutbacks which take place are not seen to be insensitive and unwarranted. If any new systems are to be put in place, it would be more difficult to integrate them in the future.
I was glad to hear that a meeting took place yesterday at Croke Park between the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the CDPs and the area partnerships. I am not sure to what extent there was a meeting of minds and whether there was any agreement to move forward in a more democratic fashion. The essential services that have been provided could be eliminated altogether. There would obviously be job losses and this is a serious matter as well. The question as to whether the new structure will be adequate to meet the needs of both organisations is difficult to say. It certainly will not be adequate unless there is a degree of consultation taking place.
We should not introduce cutbacks that are so severe they destroy the entity itself. The only way to ensure such is not the case is to provide for a good level of consultation between the various bodies involved and to find out whether there is more than one solution to the problem. In my constituency we have two partnerships, one of which is in the inner city and one of which is Glasnevin and Cabra. I am not sure whether either of them is enamoured of the proposals. They do not have the structures or staff to take on the role of subsuming the additional projects. One of the projects in the inner city is due to get the chop. I am not sure which project it is or whether the decision has been made. These are matters that affect most Members in every part of the country and they affect rural areas as well as urban areas.
Deputy John Curran: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. My Department 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 Minster, Deputy Ó Cuív, 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. However, my 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 the community development programme, CDP, are my Department’s two main social inclusion-community development programmes. Both have a community development element and both are delivered through separate local delivery structures comprising over 230 separate companies. I have already indicated that my strong view is that a single focused programme with a single integrated delivery structure is now needed in order to maximise the impact of these two programmes which serve disadvantaged communities. The Centre for Effective Services has very recently presented a new programme outline to my Department which I have accepted.
The aim of the new programme is to tackle poverty and social exclusion through partnership and constructive engagement between Government and people in disadvantaged communities. This will be underpinned by four high-level goals which are: to promote awareness, knowledge and uptake of a wide range of statutory, voluntary and community services; to increase access to formal and informal educational, recreational and cultural development activities and resources; to increase people’s work readiness and employment prospects; and to promote engagement with policy, practice and decision making processes on matters affecting local communities. The new programme will preserve elements of good practice from the existing CDP-LDSIP programmes and will enhance monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Further work by the centre, on more detailed aspects of the programme, is ongoing in the light of consultations and feedback with various community sector groups.
An implementation strategy involving the stakeholders is under way in preparation for programme roll-out in 2010. This has been discussed with representatives from CDPs and partnership companies at an information session which was held yesterday, 25 November. My Department will continue to oversee the implementation of the new programme and will deal with operational issues as they arise in practical and sympathetic ways. My 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 CDPs and partnerships, my Department has initiated an evaluation of individual community development projects. Many of these projects span across two decades, with quite diverse activities. The objective of the review is to identify those projects that produce tangible, appropriate benefits for the communities they serve. Initial indications are that the vast majority of projects fall into this category and funding will be available, subject to budgetary constraints, through the new programme in 2010. For those projects that do not come into this category, continued funding from the Department will not be available. However, an appeals mechanism will be put in place. Again, I hope to have proposals from my Department in the near future.
I envisage 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 I hope to launch early next year. While I 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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