Dáil Éireann - Volume 581 - 09 March, 2004

Priority Questions. - Community Development.

  100. Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will guarantee realistic funding to partnership boards for the next five years; if he is committed to the partnership structure being retained; if his decision to step down the existing board of ADM has implications for the funding of partnerships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7742/04]

  102. Ms Harkin asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason he proposes to change the board of Area Development Management Limited and replace it with his own appointees. [7915/04]

  Éamon Ó Cuív:I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 102 together.

I have no specific plans to alter the partnership structure or approach fundamentally to local and community development. However, the number and complexity of structures now involved is both extensive and complex and these arrangements can be confusing and present difficulties for the communities they are designed to serve. This is the reason for the review of the local and community development delivery structures, which I undertook with my colleagues, the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I informed the House previously that, arising from the review, community and local development groups were asked to bring forward measures for improved alignment of structures in their respective areas by mid-year. This process will be co-ordinated by the local county and city development boards.

With regard to funding of partnership companies, Deputies will be aware that Area Development Management Limited, ADM, manages the local development social inclusion programme on behalf of my Department. ADM is appraising implementation plans for 2004-2006 and programmes of activities for 2004 from partnerships and community groups. Decisions on funding allocations for 2004 will be made by ADM in due course. Changes to the way in which the board of ADM is selected will not of themselves have implications for the funding of partnerships.

[1161] The Government appreciates the key role that ADM has had and continues to undertake in the delivery of successful local development services and programmes. The Government especially appreciates the work and commitment of board members, past and present, individually and collectively, in contributing to the many achievements of the company.

The Indecon report, which is available on my Department’s website, noted that ADM continues to perform well across key areas. However, the report also noted the context in which ADM operates has changed significantly since its inception — in particular, a shift from EU to Exchequer funding — and identified accountability issues arising from current structures. The report also proposed options to address these issues, among them that the Government would appoint the board, including the chairman

The Government accepted the broad thrust of the report and that ADM should be restructured to better reflect the context and priorities that now obtain. I wrote to the chairman of the board seeking his co-operation and that of the board in giving effect to the Government decision on this matter and I followed this up through a meeting with him and the chief executive. I recently received a reply confirming the board’s willingness to co-operate fully in the process of change arising from the Government decision. These changes will provide the company with an opportunity to enhance its key role in support and delivery of Government programmes to enable communities to tackle the problems of disadvantage.

  Mr. Crawford:I welcome the Minister’s clarification of the issue. Does he accept partnership has played a major role in issues such as adult education and transport for the elderly in areas such as my own of Latton but that the budgetary position is so unclear that long-term commitments cannot be made? For instance, the Minster launched the transport initiative last year but the Lattion partnership received the same budget for nine months in 2003 as it did for 12 months this year.

That is unworkable. It is being asked also to take responsibility for other areas. It finds it cannot plan on the education front.

  An Ceann Comhairle:A question please, Deputy.

  Mr. Crawford:At a recent meeting with the group it raised the issue of a financial commitment to a five year programme which would give it certainty and security.

The Minister indicated that he has written requesting the chairman and other board members of ADM to vacate their positions. Is that not indicative of a political decision on who should serve on the board of ADM?

[1162]   Éamon Ó Cuív:I have made it clear that it will be a political decision. As we have discussed and on most occasions agreed, we are elected to make decisions and manage Government expenditure.

  Mr. Crawford:Not to create quangos.

  Éamon Ó Cuív:ADM exists. Is the Deputy proposing its dissolution?

  Mr. Crawford:The Minister is proposing to change the board.

  Éamon Ó Cuív:I am proposing, with the agreement of the board of ADM, to nominate three people to the board. I am charged with responsibility for managing the expenditure of the Exchequer funds provided for my Department and I do not see anything strange in the Minister having an input into decisions on spending money provided by his Department.

Deputy Crawford asked whether ADM will receive a guaranteed allocation for a five year period. In my reply I referred to the three year plan from 2004 to 2006 which coincides with the second part of the national development plan. As the Deputy will be aware, this House decides on the Estimates each year and, therefore, there may be adjustments from year to year but, subject to that, a three year programme will be agreed.

The Deputy referred to adult education and rural transport, but neither are funded primarily by my Department. Rural transport is funded by the Department of Transport and it uses ADM and the partnerships as a vehicle for delivering its work. I understand that the same amount of money is available this year as was available last year. Similarly, the Department of Education and Science has responsibility for educational funding, including adult education.

  Ms Harkin:The Minister referred a moment ago to those who are elected to make decisions. Is the Minister trying to reverse the major advances in participative democracy, whereby local people contribute and influence local plans and whereby independent boards, free from political interference, distribute the funding?

Is the Minister kowtowing to the wishes of local councillors and others who simply want to be the first with the news of the grant and so on, to have the letter the day before the announcement and perpetuate a system of client list politics? Does the Minister want to bring us back to the 1950s and 1960s where members of any voluntary, community or self-help group had to knock on the door of the local politician with their hand outstretched and saying, “Please, sir, can I have some funding”?

Does the Minister accept that ADM was established by the European Union because it recognised that an independent body free from political influence was required to distribute the money? The Minister quoted from the letter sent to some of the chief executives, a copy of which [1163] I have, referring to the major changes that have taken place, but does he accept that the major change is the shift from EU to Exchequer funding, and that is the reason for the changes he proposes to implement?

  Éamon Ó Cuív:Certainly — there is no question. Indecon pointed out in its report that the structures in ADM were set up because of EU regulations. It is incorrect to say that the EU set up ADM but it is true that the EU, as co-funding body, insisted on rules for spending money which are no longer relevant as the body is now 100% State-funded. The role of ADM has changed somewhat as a result and, in the light of that, Indecon, an independent body, recommended that we change the structure of ADM. I am not proposing to nominate people directly on to the partnerships or any other such changes. The partnerships will continue as before.

ADM is an intermediate body which provides many services for the State. Partnerships and service to partnerships is just one. It also delivers and manages the child care programme, the rural transport programme and the taxi hardship fund. This body is able to deliver on a number of State services and I expect that role to grow in future because, as explained previously, the Government has decided that, rather than establishing new bodies to perform new functions, existing bodies should be used. ADM is one of the multifunctional bodies that can take on different roles as the State decides and, in that case, it is not strange that the Minister nominates the board.

I have always acted properly and in accordance with the legislation. The Deputy would want to read the legislation before jumping to conclusions as to whether I acted properly. I am happy that, in every case, I have acted properly in regard to the boards that answer to me.

  Mr. Crawford:I do not suggest for a moment that the Minister does not act properly, but Ministers may change and one never knows who will be in office. Has the outgoing board failed to deliver or are there other reasons for the structural changes in ADM?

  Ms Harkin:The Minister referred to EU rules on funding. Does he accept that those rules were good and we should keep them because no organisation is 100% perfect? According to the Minister’s blurb, ADM has performed efficiently and would he not accept, therefore, that we should keep the organisation we have?

  Éamon Ó Cuív:I am happy with ADM, but everything can change and improve and circumstances change. The role and circumstances of ADM are shifting quite rapidly. Where jobs need to be done for the State in future, they will be done by ADM. That is different from the original role which was purely [1164] to deal with co-funded schemes. It was suggested by independent consultants that, given the changed role, the structures would change. That is reasonable.

Most politicians find it frustrating that they are saddled with the blame when things go wrong, even if they do not have control or the power to nominate members to boards. We are saddled with the blame if decisions do not go the way the people want them to go. I am a great believer that those elected who serve in Government have a responsibility for departmental expenditure. To put such a distance between the Government and the body responsible for spending money that the Government loses control is to detach the people from their money. I do not think it is right to detach the taxpayers’ from their money.