Dáil Éireann - Volume 569 - 24 June, 2003
Mr. Deenihan Mr. Deenihan
Mr. Deenihan: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this matter to be raised on the Adjournment this evening. Partnership Tralee is one of the 38 area-based partnership companies delivering the local development social inclusion programme. The focus of this programme is to work with, and on behalf of, individuals and communities experiencing exclusion and disadvantage. Tralee and its hinterland form an unemployment black spot with 3,166 people on the live register at the Tralee employment exchange. This level of unemployment is causing serious social problems in the town and leading to exclusion and disadvantage.
As the partnership's budget was reduced from €870,000 to €770,000 for 2003, the management had to make sweeping cutbacks across the board to its many programmes. This cut of €100,000 has resulted in significant moneys allocated to Tralee LES being withdrawn and Partnership Tralee has withdrawn funding from a range of training programmes for long-term unemployed people. It  has also had to make programme cuts to its community development programme, and it had to delay the employment of an outreach worker to support one-parent families in two RAPID areas until late 2003, due to the shortfall in funding. A reduction of 50% in the community award fund will result in the partnership not being able to fund Christmas parties for the elderly or carry out other functions. A partnership education programme, together with the probation and welfare service, to help ex-prisoners reintegrate into mainstream education and training will not proceed this year.
The budget for capital grants also had to be cut resulting in no grants being available from June to December this year for business start-ups. Many clients will have to rely on loans to fund their business start-ups but it is increasingly difficult to get a loan if one is unemployed with the result that many enthusiastic individuals will be forced to abandon their projects. Together with the change in the back to work enterprise scheme, many clients coming to Partnership Tralee for help and advice feel that the odds are stacked against them when it comes to starting up a business. Partnership Tralee has also been forced to make programme cuts within its community-based youth initiatives, including initiatives for children, on parenting skills and early school leavers. Support for the training of child care workers for classroom assistants working with children with special needs has also been greatly reduced.
Partnership Tralee makes effective use of community employment programmes. However, these programmes have been cut by 18% to 20% in Tralee from December 2002 to December 2003. CE programmes are of considerable benefit to the individual participants and to the communities that receive the benefit from them, including many voluntary organisations. Further cuts in the CE programme which are now threatened would have a serious effect on the most marginalised and disadvantaged in the community. The social economy scheme, when first introduced, was designed to replace many of the jobs that were lost in CE programmes. This however has not been the case and only 33 jobs have been allocated to Tralee under the social economy scheme.
Will the Minister of State answer the following questions here this evening? He may not have them in his brief but he may be able to answer them. First, would he convey an invitation to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to meet with Partnership Tralee when he visits Kerry in the near future? Will he ask the Minister to allocate moneys from the receipts from dormant accounts to partnership companies to compensate them for their reduced budgets in 2003? Will he guarantee the future autonomy of partnership companies or will they be subsumed under a new body incorporating LEADER companies and other agencies?  Most important, will the Minister be in a position to advise partnership companies of their budget for 2004 in the near future? They need this urgently for further planning and to start preparing their programme for next year. Finally, Tralee did not benefit from the recent economic boom as did other large urban centres. There is a high level of unemployment and other disadvantage in the town. Partnership Tralee had been meeting this challenge with considerable success but after this cut in funding, it cannot carry out the programme it desires and deems to be necessary at this stage.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: I am raising this issue as the cut in funding for Partnership Tralee will have serious long-term detrimental effects on the town of Tralee. It will prevent the partnership from continuing with many of the valuable programmes in which it has been involved and will mean that no new developments will be possible. For example, this year the partnership will be unable to fund a training programme for the long-term unemployed. Last year, its local employment service trained 194 people in new technologies. Discontinuing this work makes a mockery of the Government's claim to prioritise Tralee as a centre of attraction for the type of industry that needs workers with those skills.
Another area where partnership is being forced to scale back its operations is the community development programme which established support groups for lone parent families. This will have a negative effect by increasing the marginalisation and isolation of a group that requires particular attention to overcome the barriers to development of resources.
A particularly successful aspect of the work of Partnership Tralee was its assistance to small businesses. Capital grants of up to €2,000 were available and formed a crucial role in getting many small enterprises off the ground. Now, due to the cutback, no grants will be available for the remainder of 2003. I fail to understand the logic of this, especially from a Government that makes much of its commitment to encouraging small businesses. It is yet another example of short-term savings that will be outweighed by the cost that will follow these and all other cuts being made across a range of social and other services. While the community sector has been told that the social economy programme will compensate for cuts in the community employment schemes, this is being contradicted by the fact that the social economy will deliver only 33 jobs in Tralee. We need to hear that the social economy is to be expanded and whether it will make up for the losses in the community employment scheme.
The Minister of State also needs to inform the partnership companies what will be their budget allocation for 2004 and whether he intends to change the programme's content. Will he at the same time give a commitment that the work being carried out by partnerships will be supported at present levels over the 2004-2006 period? While  I do not accept the contention that money cannot be found from ordinary budgets to cover what is necessary, would the Minister of State consider persuading the Minister for Finance to allow him to use some of the money recovered from dormant accounts?
Those involved in local partnership groups are concerned that the autonomy of the groups will be threatened in the future if they are placed under direct control of local authorities, as has been proposed. The secret of their success is that they have been able to utilise fully the skills and energies of local communities and talented people within those communities. They should be left as they are and that includes guaranteeing them the necessary funding to continue. Partnership Tralee covers many areas outside Tralee such as Ardfert, Fenit, Abbeydorney, Brennerville, right out to parts of Ballymacelligot, all dependent on the support they have had from the partnership. It is an indictment of all concerned that a partnership such as Partnership Tralee now finds itself with a cut of €100,000, and this is not taking into account the work that it has done in Tralee and beyond. It will be a great loss if this cutback is maintained. I hope the Minister of State will answer the questions I have raised. I endorse everything Deputy Deenihan says about the effects of this cut and the long-term effect in areas in our communities that are most in need of the support of partnerships such as Partnership Tralee.
Mr. N. Ahern Mr. N. Ahern
Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): I am pleased to have the opportunity, on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, to respond to some of the questions raised by the Deputies. As they will appreciate, I can only respond to matters relevant to my Department. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is responsible for the community employment programme and social and economic programmes.
An amount of €44.6 million has been provided in the Vote of my Department for the local development programme this year. That figure represents a reduction of 6% in the local development subhead over the amount provided in the Estimates for last year. I stress to the Deputy that the reduction is 6%. Some of the much higher figures being bandied about are totally untrue. The overall reduction this year was 6%. In the previous two years, funding of €45.5 million and €47.6 million was provided to deliver the three sub-measures of the programme. The outturn of expenditure for the two years was €43.2 million in 2001 and €53.6 million last year. An additional €6 million was provided from savings in the Vote of my Department and allocated to the local development programme in December 2002 because it had overspent during the year.
Tralee Partnership was allocated an annual budget of €825,330 for each of the three years 2001-03. As a result of the reduction in 2003, its  revised budget for this year is €767,557, a 7% reduction. Deputies will be aware that ADM manages the local development social inclusion programme on behalf of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The programme is delivered on the ground by 38 partnerships, one of which is that which the Deputies spoke of, and 33 community groups.
Allocations from the budget available for the programme in 2003 were recently agreed by the board of ADM and notified to each partnership and community group. As the Deputy will appreciate, ADM must manage the programme from the budget available in my Department's Vote. Reductions in available funding for 2003 are being managed on a sliding scale, up to 7%, depending on the annual budget of the relevant partnership.
The issue was raised on numerous occasions recently in the House and at the recent departmental Estimates committee meeting, and I am aware that some area partnership companies and community groups had the expectation of a carry-over of previous years' under-spends into 2003. However, it is important to point out that the Department – like all other Departments – operates on an annual cash basis and not on an accrual basis. Perhaps the situation might have been different if the partnerships had secured funding from other EU sources. Therefore, my Department cannot facilitate a cumulative carry-over of under-spends. Any belief in the partnership that it might have been able to carry forward an under-spend was not well founded, and that was made clear to it. I can assure the Deputy that ADM is working closely with the area partnerships to minimise, as far as possible, the impact of the reductions in funding.
I can inform the Minister that the Deputies would like him to meet the partnership in Tralee. He has been dealing with ADM, which acts as the go-between, on the matter. I understand the Minister has met Planet, which is the organising group of all the partnerships. He has been dealing with the groups collectively and knows well the points being made.
There is no hope or prospect of getting any money from the dormant accounts. It does not work like that. The partnership will have to manage on the money allocated to it this year. The dormant accounts are dealt with by a separate statutory board. It is working on its disbursement plan, and some money will probably start to be spent on new projects – but not replacement ones – in early autumn. Some money from dormant accounts may well go to various good projects in disadvantaged areas – the same sorts of areas as the partnership would operate in – but none of that money will be provided to partnerships as replacement funding.
Regarding future autonomy, there is a move to bring about greater coherence among all the different schemes and programmes now under the same Department, namely the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, be  they partnerships, drugs task forces, community development programmes, Leader programmes and so on. We had a major conference last week at which they were all asked for their views to try, not to amalgamate them, but to get them working more coherently to identify the duplication and the gaps. Everyone in the business agrees that there are many of those groups around, which were originally funded by various EU programmes, leading to a great deal of overlap and the emergence of gaps. We could get better value from the money they are costing the taxpayer. We had a major conference last week, and there is a joint initiative between the Ministers, Deputies Ó Cuív, Cullen and  McDowell, on the child care committee. They are trying to improve the structures and perhaps bring all those different community groups together, not amalgamating them into the county development boards but having them work in a more co-ordinated way with more channelling and agreement on their aim to provide services for their communities. That work is ongoing. I do not think that anyone can give the Deputies a definite answer about partnership funding for 2004 until much later in the year, but I will convey the Deputies' views to the Minister.
The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 June 2003.
Dáil Éireann 569 Departmental Programmes.