Dáil Éireann - Volume 584 - 27 April, 2004

Written Answers. - Community Employment Schemes.

  200. Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress made in mainstreaming the jobs of workers employed on FÁS schemes with caring organisations like the wheelchair association and centres for independent living; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11871/04]

  Mr. Fahey: In accordance with the Government’s decision in [311] 1999 to restructure community employment, CE, participation levels have gradually been reduced in line with a strategic shift in policy in favour of training and other more appropriate supports.

Year-end participation levels on CE for the past seven years are as follows:

Year

Year-end places

1997

39,039

1998

39,520

1999

36,579

2000

33,549

2001

30,809

2002

24,991

2003

19,848

The total funding allocation for employment schemes in 2004 has been fixed at €351 million, which will support up to 25,000 places across the three employment schemes, namely, CE, job initiative and social economy. FÁS is being given some flexibility in the management of this financial allocation to maximise progression to the labour market while at the same time facilitating the support of community services. This allocation, €351 million, is similar to the budgeted amount provided in 2003. Accordingly, there will be no reduction in the total level of provision for the three schemes or in the combined participation levels in 2004.

As provided for in the PPF, consideration has been given to the mainstreaming of certain essential services provided through CE. In this regard, approximately 4,500 CE places in schools have been mainstreamed over the past number of years. This involved the appropriate degree of funding being transferred to the Department of Education and Science for the provision of relevant services in schools. In addition, in the region of 2,300 places have peen provided on the social economy programme.

Detailed discussions took place during 2002 involving the Department of Health and Children, health boards, FÁS and sponsor groups including the Irish Wheelchair Association, with regard to the possible mainstreaming of health sector places. However, due to the amount of additional funding required by the Department of Health and Children to mainstream these positions, and having regard to other major demands on the health budget, it was not possible to proceed with mainstreaming.

However, all health service related community employment projects, including those providing services for persons with disabilities, are ring-fenced and protected from reductions. Other services ring-fenced from reductions include drugs task force activity and child-care service provision. Projects in RAPID areas are prioritised. Sponsor organisations, such as the Irish Wheelchair Association, have indicated that they have difficulty in replacing participants who [312] have completed their normal term of community employment due to the lack of suitable applicants coming forward for the programme. In this regard, FÁS has been requested to make every effort to identify community employment participants suitable for the positions in question. Should FÁS encounter difficulties in replacing CE participants with suitable persons, the matter can be considered in the context of the 20% flexibility in relation to extending community employment participation.

The future structure of the CE programme remains under review by a group of senior officials and FÁS. This group will report to Ministers on the outcome of their deliberations shortly.