Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection
Minimising Unemployment: Discussion with Department of Social Protection
At our recent meeting on the Department of Social Protection's main policy goal of minimising unemployment, we considered measures to integrate those with disabilities into the workforce and entitlement to the self-employed. Today, we are considering that policy goal and initiatives in the Department to review community employment schemes. I welcome our guests from the Department of Social Protection to discuss the matter with us. When they conclude we will have a separate presentation from SIPTU. I welcome Mr. Oliver Egan, assistant secretary of the information services division; Ms Mary Donnelly, principal officer of the employment support division; Mr. T.J. Fleming, principal officer of the project office; and Mr. John Lee, assistant principal in the employment support division.
Members are reminded of a long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that Members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House, or any official by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I invite Mr. Egan to make his presentation.
Mr. Oliver Egan:
I am accompanied by Ms Mary Donnelly, who has responsibility for community employment and JI; Mr. T.J. Fleming who is the principal officer based in Tubbercurry with responsibility for RSS, Tús and CSP; and Mr. John Lee, who is assistant principal reporting to Ms Donnelly on community employment and is one of our accountants.
The committee has invited us here to discuss how unemployment can be minimised and the roles community employment and the other schemes can play in supporting people in getting back to work. Pathways to Work sets out to improve how the State engages with and supports the unemployed to get back into the workforce. It is being delivered alongside the measures in the Government’s action plan on jobs to help create new employment opportunities. The approach set out in Pathways to Work is designed to build on existing Government policies to ensure that as many new job opportunities as possible are filled by those on the live register. The challenge in Pathways to Work is to ensure that the creation of new jobs results in a reduction in unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment so that individuals do not become permanently disenfranchised within our society.
The Department of Social Protection is engaged with the delivery of income support payments, activation of those of working age and the control of fraud and abuse of the system. On activation, the aim of the Department is to engage with every unemployed individual to ensure that his or her first day out of work is also the first step on the pathway back to work. Future funding of employment programmes, particularly community employment, will reinforce the key objectives required by the Department as outlined earlier. This requires a more focused engagement with people on programmes such as CE and greater targeting of activation places and opportunities to further the progression of unemployed people into work.
Community employment is one of a number of employment schemes managed by the Department of Social Protection. Other smaller programmes that are similar in many respects to community employment are the rural social scheme, the community services programme, job initiative and Tús. Members of the committee have been furnished with a copy of the financial review of CE schemes. Therefore, I will not go into the background and the main features of CE in detail although I am very happy to take questions on the review. I will, however, point to a number of key areas that I feel are pertinent to the committee. In addition, I will make reference to the other schemes already mentioned.
Over the years CE has become a vital service to communities in remote rural areas and areas of urban disadvantage. It has developed into a somewhat unique programme that integrates employment interventions and training for the individual with community services. It is the largest labour market activation programme in Ireland. The 2012 budget for CE is approximately €340 million and the programme has 23,300 places, including approximately 1,400 supervisors. Some 1,136 CE schemes throughout the country provide a wide range of social services to local communities.
A key function of CE is supporting social inclusion and counteracting the drift into long-term unemployment. The programme is targeted in the main at people over 25 who are long-term unemployed and very distant from the labour market. Participants on CE are in receipt of specified social welfare payments for a minimum period of one year and include people on the live register, lone parents and people with a disability. Within these categories there are participants associated with long-term disadvantage such as ex-offenders, people with drug dependency and people from the Traveller community. CE is a broad and flexible programme that has been utilised to address many social challenges presenting at individual or societal level such as rehabilitative programmes and supporting communities in the provision of services.
Many new entrants to CE come from a background of educational disadvantage. Just over half of new entrants to CE have a qualification of no higher than junior certificate. Of these, one in five had only primary level education or no record of achievement. Males on the programme tend to have lower education attainment than females. In 2011, more than 37,000 components of learning were completed by CE participants and nearly 17,000 of these were accredited by FETAC under the national framework of qualifications as minor awards. Approximately one quarter of CE participants are between 25 and 35 years with more than half aged 45 or older. This programme is predominantly focused on older, low-skilled jobseekers and requires a different type of environment from other programmes - one that supports and understands the adult learner.
I have said CE has had two main objectives: to help the long-term unemployed gain employment and to support organisations in providing services to communities. This dual mandate can lead sponsors to be over-focused on the service provision sometimes to the detriment of the progression of the job seeker. The primary focus of the Department for the CE participant is to assist them in gaining the skills and work experience to enable them to enter paid employment. Of those who left CE in 2011, we estimate that 19% went into employment and a further 7% went onto further education. Given the current economic environment and taking into account the profile of participants, this can be considered a relatively positive outcome.
The Department is conducting a policy review of the effectiveness of its full range of employment support programmes. The outcome of this review will help determine future policy with regard to the role and appropriate scale of many of these activation programmes. Ultimately, of course, decisions in this area are a matter for the Minister and the Government. The Department is committed to reforming community employment to ensure progression of the individual, support for the sponsor in the delivery of service and value for money for the State.
I will now deal with some of the other smaller programmes. The rural social scheme supplements the incomes of those engaged in small-scale farming or fishing and who are in receipt of or have an entitlement to social welfare payments. The scheme gives participants the opportunity to engage on a part-time basis in providing services of benefit to their local communities. There is no expectation of further progression and no training requirement other than that related to compliance issues and health and safety. Current participation is capped at 2,600 places with 130 supervisors and a budget of approximately €45.6 million.
The community services programme supports the provision of services by community organisations. Currently the programme supports approximately 2,800 employees directly and another 800 to 900 indirectly in 423 not-for-profit companies and small co-operatives. The community companies supported are required to generate a significant level of their resources from the delivery of services by charging fees or selling goods and services. Grant levels as a proportion of turnover in the companies vary from approximately 15% to 85%. The 2012 budget is €45.4 million.
The job initiative scheme was launched in 1996 and initially provided three years' full-time employment for people who, on entry to the scheme, were 35 years of age or over, unemployed for five years or more and in receipt of social welfare payments over that period. Further entry to the scheme was suspended in 2004 when those already on the programme were given the right to remain on the scheme indefinitely. Its main purpose was to assist long-term unemployed people to prepare for work opportunities. This was achieved by providing participants with work experience, training and development opportunities. The job initiative has 1,176 participants operating on a full-time basis with a budget of €27.1 million.
Tús, which is the most recent of these initiatives, aims to provide short term, quality work opportunities for those who are unemployed and to provide certain services of benefit to communities. The programme was announced in the budget in December 2010 and became operational in the middle of 2011. Participants are placed with local community organisations to provide resources to maintain and improve local amenities and facilities in rural and urban communities with inputs being funded either by Tús itself or through local community fund-raising or other income.
Communities, in turn, benefit from the talent of local people with a diverse repertoire of skills and abilities. More specialist tasks may require training and upskilling which is undertaken by the implementing body. Tús has 4,675 participants, of whom 243 are supervisors. The 2012 budget is €84 million. For the first time, all of these programmes come under the Department of Social Protection. Previously, they were spread across different agencies and Departments.
We have commenced a process of reforming the community employment scheme. We have identified where considerable savings can be secured and entered into detailed debates with the local sponsors and community groups. That engagement has been enriching. In 2013 we are hoping to improve the quality and effectiveness of the placement programmes. We are hoping to align the community employment, Tús, JI and RSS programmes more closely, improve value for money and ensure they secure the achievement of the objectives set out in Pathways to Work and that programmes are clearly activation focused or aiming at the provision of community support.
I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to make this presentation. My team and I will be happy to answer questions from members.
Mr. Oliver Egan:
The previous budget required a reduction in the materials and training provision under the community employment scheme from approximately €24 million to €11 million. This led to considerable pressure in the earlier part of the year. As an interim measure, in the spring we guaranteed that no scheme would close while the review was ongoing. Subsequently, our teams around the country engaged in a series of detailed meetings and reviews with various community groups. The result was that, ultimately, additional funding was provided and the materials and training budget for this year is now approximately €20.5 million. This has addressed the issues from our perspective. We have built in a review mechanism to allow sponsors who believed they had a difficulty in their funding position to make an appeal. To date, about 12 appeals have been made in total and no sponsors of whom we are aware have had to cease owing to financial pressures. That is not to say, however, that there is not a need for greater efficiency and to put greater pressures on individuals. There is obviously pressure, but we believe the funding issue has largely been dealt with to the satisfaction of sponsors.
Gabhaim buíochas le Mr. Egan agus a fhoireann as ucht teacht isteach inniu. Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil an plé seo á dhéanamh againn sula dtagann an tuairisc chun cinn. It is important that we have this discussion, I hope, before finalisation of the policy report and that we have some input or that the views expressed today will have a bearing on what will be presented. In a way, it is pity that it has taken this length of time, but it is important that we get the community employment scheme correct. There has been a debate for a long time about the role of community employment. It is good to see that there is an acknowledgement of its two roles - to help the long-term unemployed to gain employment and to support organisations in providing services for communities. Often the second role is forgotten. It appears that it is forgotten by some of the Department's staff who are dealing with community employment programmes and appear to be continuously harassing some of the programmes in my constituency with regard to progression and so forth. Perhaps Mr. Egan might remind staff who are dealing with community employment programmes which are struggling with issues I will outline shortly that one of the primary roles of the scheme in many cases is to support organisations providing services for communities.
I received replies to two parliamentary questions from the Minister yesterday. Perhaps Mr. Egan might elaborate on them. I asked that consideration be given to extending eligibility to people under 25 years of age. The reason is the huge growth in the level of youth unemployment in recent years. This group is not being captured by any similar scheme which can guarantee them additional employment and a work placement where they are not being exploited.
In the other question I asked that consideration be given to extending the availability of extensions. In the past the community employment scheme was available to a number of people for two and three years to ensure they could progress at the other end. Mr. Egan states in his presentation that last year 19% entered employment and that a further 7% went into further education. He has correctly pointed out, given the context, that this is very good. However, it also proves the need in many cases for an additional year. According to the reply I received yesterday, the extra year is restricted to 10%; therefore, it is not available to many people who need an extra year or even six months to complete a training course. I urge that greater consideration be given to this aspect. That is one of the key points to emerged from the discussions I have had with community employment groups in my constituency, in which there is a concentration of special programmes supporting child care facilities. The budget and the timeframe, particularly in the case of child care services, do not allow people to gain the proper qualification to move on to the private sector or elsewhere. There are two issues involved. First, the time is not available to many of them anymore and, second, the budget cut announced earlier this year and confirmed with a slight change in the recent report is still substantial in the case of training and materials. The alternative is Tús, for which there is no training budget. This means that those who wish to follow a specific path of training and working in that environment have no options.
I have a number of other questions, but I will leave it at that for now in order that other members can ask their questions.
Mr. Oliver Egan:
To put the matter in context, the labour market activation review is nearing completion. Perhaps I might give the Deputy a flavour of the issues we are discussing, bearing in mind that we have not yet reached firm conclusions. We hope the report will be finalised in the next number of weeks and that we can publish it thereafter.
The issues we are examining in the activation review include how to make the range of programmes for which my colleagues and I have responsibility more effective in the context of labour market progression. We are extremely conscious of doing this in a way that protects the services provided for community groups and the vital services provided. It can be a difficult balancing act to get the mixture right and it is taking us a little time to work through it. The way we see the community employment scheme working as we move forward is that an individual learning plan, about which my colleague, Ms Donnelly will talk, will be carried out with each individual when they join. It will identify those people who can work through the programme and move on with one year's experience and the individuals who might need a longer term progression which we would allow to happen within the parameters of our budget line. We are conscious of the need to cater for both sides in that regard. As the Deputy said, there is a 10% figure. That procedure has been in place for a number of years. We would like to improve on it to make it more focused on the individual and help him or her to secure progression. We are conscious of the need for continuity of service, particularly in the health care area and programmes dealing with disability, drugs and so forth, and to balance the progression of an individual against the need of the community group to continue the service. Ms Donnelly will talk about this aspect in greater detail.
We are carrying out a detailed review of child care.
We are doing a detailed review. We are preparing a paper with our Civil Service colleagues on the provision of child care and how it can be dealt with in a way that addresses the needs of the child care groups and give them the opportunity of progression. My colleague Ms Mary Donnelly, will develop these points.
Ms Mary Donnelly:
The Deputy tabled a question on those under 25 years and received a response. There is a balance to be struck in the allocation of community employment places. We have a large cohort of long-term unemployed people. Community employment schemes were designed to meet the needs of the long-term unemployed. Other programmes were designed to cater for people under 25 years. The Department of Education and Skills has a wide range of programmes. For example, Youthreach was designed for disadvantaged young people who missed out on education.
When consideration was given to extending community employment schemes we focused on learning. People on the scheme would undertake significant pieces of learning and get the opportunity to complete that learning while they are on the programme. If they have completed their time on the scheme, it is important the sponsor examines whether they can continue their education through evening programmes or programmes devised by the Department of Education and Skills and provided through the VEC. That is an option. We are most anxious that people will be able to complete their qualifications. The one year or three years is available for people who need considerably longer to complete their course. The three year programme can be extended to four years in certain instances. If the participants are engaged fully, for example if they were referred through employment services where they have identified their needs in an accurate way and that matches the needs of the individual, they already would have a portfolio of learning that needs to be completed. That needs to be taken up by the scheme sponsor and by the community employment supervisor and implemented.
I note the point made by the Deputy on the reduction in the training grant and the importance of this training for people on schemes. We are mindful of that and the Minister has increased the allocation announced in the budget in 2012 by €1.3 million. We know that further provision is necessary and we have entered into detailed discussions with the Department of Education and Skills, in particular with the VECs on how they can provide those training and educational services to participants on community employment at no cost to the individual scheme or to the programme. We have advanced discussions with the VEC in the Dublin region. We are very aware that the VEC is very active in the Deputy's area in providing training and education. The City of Dublin VEC has agreed to provide a range of programmes that are very much tailored to the needs of people on community employment, in particular literacy, numeracy, communications and child care. We are looking to establish the primary needs of schemes in the Dublin area with a view to matching that up with what the VEC can provide. That will be supplemented by the budget that each project has for training.
On the question of child care, we have entered into detailed discussions with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Community employment is a very important support for the provision of child care services in communities. The very clear message we are getting from the Departments of Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs is that when participants come in to take up a place on a community employment scheme it is very important that they enter into a whole programme of learning and than when they leave they have a qualification in child care that is now regarded by the sector at Fetac level 5. It is very important that they have a given provision to undertake that learning while on the programme. We are looking at the child care stream to see how we can make a streamlined experience for the learner on community employment so that they come in, they already have a career plan and are very clear they want to have a profession in child care. They work in a quality child care project, they get the mentoring and support from the community employment supervisor in their learning and they attend the VEC for their child care programme or some other provider. That can be funded by the Department of Social Protection under the budget that is available or it can be funded and supported by the VEC. We are very adamant that this is a very important development in terms of community employment. I have had discussions with some community employment child care schemes and the county child care committees as well as officials in the Department.
Since the committees were reconfigured I am a member of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and am no longer a member of this committee. I wished to be present for this vitally important debate and contribute some ideas.
The community employment scheme has been one of the most significant interventions in social policy in the past 30 to 40 years. It has been able to balance individual advancement with the provision of community services, which is extraordinary. That intervention has been severely weakened in recent times. We go down that road at our peril. We lose out on both aspects. We lose in terms of the delivery of community services and the advancement of the individual. We must pull back from that. We must recognise the value and the values of community employment in its fullness. In that regard, I think the Department has listened too intently to the ESRI, a body which is no fan of community employment schemes. In letters to the Minister I have been urging her to look at the work of two young academics from UCD, who have come to different conclusions about how the balances can be adhered to without damaging either community services or individual advancement. The ESRI is quite hostile to community employment in its twin objectives. That advice, so-called, should be cast aside. I cannot understand that the thorough work done by the two UCD academics has not been taken on board completely. We must take stock of developments before we go too far and do irretrievable damage to communities that have no other way of keeping community halls open, services in schools - - - - -
- - - - - and a whole range of services as well as the individual advancement of the participant. We are in a position to stake stock and we should do that before the scheme is irretrievably damaged.
I welcome the campaign by SIPTU on community employment schemes. In its vision, community employment is a social policy intervention, which it wanted restored. That was its role and it can be again. We must not cross this mark of diminishing it and taking away some of its dynamic qualities.
I had a number of meeting with the Minister and the chief executive officer of the City of Dublin VEC. I have been putting forward the idea that for many people taking up a place on a community employment schemes might be their only chance to experience education and training. I was not always happy about some of the private providers. It is very important that the VEC, which has a tradition of more than 100 years in the city of providing education and training, plays a role in community employment. It is a credible body that can stand over training and education and will give a profile to the community employment schemes that offer reassurance of their quality.
Everyone knows about the VEC. Its schools are in every community. People know it has credibility. I welcome that. I have had a number of meetings with the Minister and the chief executive of the City of Dublin VEC about the importance of bringing the VEC into the centre of community employment. I will conclude by emphasising that we must halt the drift towards the weakening of this provision. Individuals and communities will suffer if we do not. Neither of them deserves to suffer.
I welcome the officials. I am sorry for being late. I am rushing to the Seanad. I would like to endorse much of what Deputy Conaghan has just said. I am hugely impressed with the very broad range of work that is being carried out under community employment schemes throughout the country. I am from Galway. A recent event in the Shantalla area of the city brought all of the community employment schemes in the locality together. I thought that was very wise on their part. One would be hugely embarrassed if one could not give them all time. The work they are doing is incredible. Everything is community-based, which needs to be a cornerstone of our efforts to keep our communities and our society together. Work is taking place in areas like mental health, child care and social work. There is a huge range of heritage work going on. I was impressed by the commitment of the group. Some of those who would never have bought into learning if it had not been a requirement of the scheme are now doing so. I was also impressed by the professionalism of the co-ordinator of the scheme, who is inculcating planning and teamwork among those involved.
There should be no cutbacks in community employment schemes. I will make that point to the Minister when the Seanad debates social welfare on Thursday. Any cuts in this area would represent a very poor economy. It would represent a huge level of stupidity at this time, when we want people to engage with their communities. Not only are those involved doing good work in the mental health area, but they are also improving their own mental health, which can be at risk at times of unemployment. I agree with Deputy Conaghan that the ESRI would do well to do qualitative work-----
I will move my bag further away just in case. I would like to ask two questions about these schemes, which are minimising unemployment. One of the officials said that the training grant has been increased by €1.3 million since last year's budget. Is that correct? What feedback has the Department received from the groups on that? How do they find it? When it was broken down across the groups, did they find it adequate? What options do individuals have when they come off these schemes after three years? It has been pointed out that they might have an option of a fourth year in some cases. People have to come to see me to tell me they suddenly needed anti-depressants because they had withdrawal symptoms when their schemes ran out. I would like to hear what the officials have to say about that. At the end of the day, this represents good financial value, based on the outputs and the added value to communities. How would it make sense to cut it back? I would appreciate the thoughts of the officials.
Mr. Oliver Egan:
I have taken note of the points that have been made. I will first deal with the point that was made about the level of the grant on the training side. As I mentioned earlier, the original cutback would have been from €24 million to €11 million. The funding for materials and training increased to €20.5 million. That came from a combination of national training fund moneys and Department of Social Protection resources. Training is adequately funded this year. We know that an under-spend will probably occur this year. One of the unfortunate side effects of the debate that took place earlier this year was that training was deferred because there was a feeling that there would be insufficient funds. When funds are made available later in the year, it is harder for sponsors and individuals to organise the provision of training. We will certainly have adequate funding this year. We will face a challenge in the future to build strategic relationships with the VECs, to link into SOLAS, to get the necessary training provided within the totality of the envelope available to the Exchequer and to ensure we are getting the best value for money. That is what we are focused on. Ms Donnelly mentioned the ongoing discussions with the VECs on the establishment of proper memorandums of understanding at local level.
Mr. Oliver Egan:
No. It is within the budget envelope for this year. We have eased our own rules on that to try to help as much as we can. We will do as much as we can to ensure funding is spent in the right way this year within the ILP and within recognised progression. The key point is that funding for the rest of this year is not a challenge for us. We have an adequate fund for training. We will encourage the sponsors. We have met some of the groups already to say there is funding available. In the future, we will have to ensure we arrange the funding in a clearer way. The relationships with the educational bodies will have to be clear. We will all have to understand what we are doing. We are confident we can do that. The VEC systems of further training and development will need to have clear routes of progression. That is what Ms Donnelly and her colleagues have been working on. The Department of Social Protection is working on the activation agenda generally to ensure progression opportunities exist when people avail of the services of Pathways to Work.
Mr. Egan mentioned that many of these people would be classified as long-term unemployed. Does he consider that these people, having been part of a community-supported system, would have achieved enough learning outcomes to upskill and ready themselves for a new market? Does he agree that it might be necessary for continued forms of community support schemes to have a role throughout the lives of individuals who might be quite advanced in age?
Mr. Oliver Egan:
Some 23,300 people are participating in the scheme. It is a very broad church. We have been set a target under Pathways to Work of ensuring a certain number of those places are one-year activation programmes. That will allow us to continue to secure as many activation places as possible. We are all probably aware that one of the problems with the scheme was that people tended to stay on them for a long number of years, which meant that other people did not have opportunities to avail of it. We have to balance that with securing progression opportunities for people who have longer-term needs. We are very aware of Deputy Conaghan's point about the need to support community groups and individuals as part of the activation agenda. We are trying to balance that within the totality of the programmes we have. As a group, the task we face involves bringing together the best of the community employment scheme, Tús, the rural social scheme and the job initiative scheme in a new way that helps people to make progress. That is the type of thing we are looking at within the labour market activation review.
Deputy Conaghan spoke about the value of the community employment scheme from a much broader perspective than that looked at in the ESRI study, which covered a narrow period of years. The ESRI does not seem to have considered the scheme in the context of its original intention. It seems to have a very narrow focus. Does Mr. Egan have any comments on that?
Mr. Oliver Egan:
Various studies have been done by the ESRI, the OECD and the IMF. They have largely focused on the effectiveness of the scheme from the perspective of labour market activation. The scheme was originally designed as a labour market activation measure. Although we have achieved success on those broad measures, as I mentioned earlier, we would have striven for a better level of success. Over the last year, we have formally recognised that it is much more complex than that. It is both an activation mechanism and a community support mechanism. We are trying to balance that within the review that is taking place at the moment. We are trying to find the right mix in terms of activation and community support. We are aware of the dual function that this scheme fulfils.
I welcome the delegation and acknowledge the important role community employment has played in enhancing the environment. I come from a county which has won three national awards in the Tidy Towns competition, none of which would have been achieved without the input of community employment schemes. This year, Abbeyshrule won a national and European award. We will have a civic reception for participants in the local community employment scheme, many of them volunteers, who helped bring the village to where it is today. The reduction last year in the value of the materials grant for community employment caused a major outcry. Any further cuts would have a devastating effect on community employment schemes. I plead with the officials to ensure no further cuts are included in the upcoming budget.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the sponsors of community employment schemes are volunteers who do not receive any rewards, financial or otherwise, except the support of their respective communities. They give their time to establish and manage community employment schemes that provide major benefits to local communities. For example, community employment has helped rejuvenate the tourism industry through improvements to heritage sites and so forth. The rural social scheme also delivers major social benefits. Small farmers, in particular, many of whom are isolated in their communities, are brought together and linked in to their local community.
Community employment schemes and State and semi-State bodies, such as Waterways Ireland and the Office of Public Works, should link up and co-operate more. Waterways Ireland has done extensive work on re-opening the Royal Canal from Dublin to the River Shannon. I am fond of walking different stretches of the canal from time to time and I have noted significant deficits along the route, for example, areas where walkers must traverse soft bogland. Under an arterial drainage scheme carried out in the mid-1960s, a large amount of spoil was taken from the River Inney and left on the river bank. This continues to damage farmland and farmers have indicated to me that they would welcome its removal to be placed along soft areas of the canal towpaths. Such an initiative should be considered under the rural social scheme. It is only one of many examples of work that could be done under the scheme.
Community employment schemes did not play a role in the re-opening of the canal which proved to be a major community asset. Much more needs to be done to conserve heritage sites along the banks of the Royal Canal. This issue should be examined to ensure heritage is placed on the map. Local knowledge about townlands and folklore has been passed down through the generations and should be utilised. The folklore of local areas could be collected as part of a tourism project. I refer not only to the canals but several other areas where work of this nature could be done.
As I noted, any further cuts in the value of material grants would have a devastating effect. We must remember that the sponsors are volunteers who work full-time elsewhere. They have come together to establish a scheme and the only benefit they receive is a sense of pride in their community.
Mr. Egan indicated the Department is examining the possibility of aligning the Tús and other schemes with community employment. Community employment schemes have been operating for a long time. I participated in a social employment scheme in the early 1990s when I was around 25 years at the time. Restrictions did not apply at that stage. Unlike the JobBridge scheme, community employment schemes have access to extensive experience and an established structure. I do not know what is the position in respect of the Tús scheme. If the Department moves towards aligning the various schemes, will it avail of the extensive experience acquired by supervisors on the community employment schemes who have moved into areas such as FETAC awards?
Mr. Oliver Egan:
We meet regularly with supervisors, ICTU representatives and other representative groups. We regard the supervisors and sponsors as partners in this process and work with them. In short, we value their experience. One of the benefits last year brought was a re-energising of the engagement between our staff at local level and supervisors. Much good can come of this and we expect to work with and engage supervisors in any future discussions.
Mr. Oliver Egan:
Mr. Fleming will respond to some of the points raised regarding the Tús and rural social schemes. We are conscious that the schemes are separate and supervisors on both schemes have differing roles and remuneration packages and must meet different requirements.
To correct an earlier remark I made, I inadvertently stated that last year's budget was €24.5 million when it was €29.4 million. The budget this year is €20.4 million. Mr. Fleming will comment on some of the issues raised regarding the rural social scheme and Tús, after which we will return to the supervisory issue. While the programmes are similar, they also differ in some respects.
Mr. T. J. Fleming:
Deputy Bannon referred to the possibility of the rural social scheme co-ordinating work on the canals with Waterways Ireland and the Office of Public Works. There is nothing preventing this type of work from being undertaken. The manner in which this could be done is largely related to the current commitments by the company which manages the resources scheme in County Longford or along the Royal Canal. We had discussions recently with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on issues such as concentrating on rural recreation, supporting the development of upland walkways and trails and using the resources available under Tús or the rural social scheme to support plans in that area. Ideally, the Department would like such plans to be developed locally under the auspices of the agencies with responsibility for this matter. The Department could then bring the labour content to any such plans. While it is not the Department's responsibility to set out plans in respect of heritage sites or issues such as the restoration of the canal network, we would be open to encouraging such initiatives. Our rules clearly set out that in developing work plans the local development companies should consult State agencies operating in the relevant area to identify priorities in terms of areas where they wish development to take place. At the same time, however, we must avoid displacement of the permanent staff of the Office of Public Works or Waterways Ireland. The schemes must work in a complementary fashion.
Do representatives of the bodies to which I referred meet? Perhaps they could arrive at a common agreement on areas that would not affect current employees. They should examine new areas in which they could operate or develop.
Mr. T. J. Fleming:
It is open to the bodies in question to do that. The Department does not have any particular difficulty in working in a partnership of that nature or encouraging the local development companies, which are local managers of the schemes, to work within that type of a plan.
In terms of working within a fixed budget, the workforce in the rural resource scheme is limited to 2,600 nationally. I can check the number in Longford.
Mr. T. J. Fleming:
CE schemes are structured separately and the local community sponsor them and as Mr. Oliver Egan mentioned, there are roughly 400 of those schemes. Perhaps he would correct me if my interpretation of how CE works is work, but effectively the contribution is to the community organisation to employ the supervisor who manages the work of the organisation, the progression and the individual learning plans of the participant. The supervisors of the rural social scheme - there are fewer of them as it is a smaller scheme - are employees of the local development companies. Their role is to deliver a range of work over numerous community bodies. It is not just a single body. Whether employed by the sponsoring local development company in the country the work is delivered across a range of community bodies, it is not necessarily dedicated to a particular community body in that the work of a participant on the RSS can extend across a range of bodies and a range of work during the course of a year. It also takes into account their farming activities. For example, they may work longer hours in winter time on the rural social scheme and shorter hours during the summer. I am not sure whether they had a shorter time on the farm this summer but generally it suits the social aspect of the smaller farmer.
I thank the Chair and apologise for being late; I was attending the launch of our campaign on the children's referendum. I will not go over the community employment scheme as I know my colleagues have stressed its importance and value to local communities and particularly the value of the rural social scheme to rural communities. However, I wish to highlight its value to people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities who never left the home until they started on a community employment scheme. One cannot put a monetary value on it because it has enhanced their lives, it means they are getting out and meeting people. The supervisors on the community employment and rural social schemes are understanding of their needs and give them the work they are capable of doing. That is invaluable. I know the representatives will say the Employ Ability Service is in place for people with disabilities for employers but many of these people could not hold down a day job. The community employment schemes are invaluable to them. I ask the representatives to take into consideration those with intellectual disabilities and seek to have the duration of the scheme extended. A participant may get one year, three years and, sometimes, six years. Perhaps that aspect could be taken on board when making decisions.
I wish to raise the issue of the status of the social economy and the lack of any strategic thinking about how dynamic a good social economy could be. We have had people over here from Scotland speaking about the social economy there and the huge contribution it was making to employment and personal development in that country. I do not want a direct answer but I would like some strategic thinking across three or four Departments about the potential of the social economy and to see the CE projects as a foundation stone upon which to build a much more dynamic social economy. Ireland is way behind in that respect. Perhaps that is an issue to which we could return in the future and to see how, compared to other countries, we can get our social economy on a much more secure footing, to enable it deliver the opportunities that are sorely required.
There are a number of issues I want to raise but I will try to be brief. It is a huge area and it is important that we get it right and do not further exacerbate the problems. How are we to going to address the issue of recruitment for many child care schemes, particularly those catering for people with a disability? A figure I was given by Citywide indicated an 84% drop in applications since the budgetary change which did away with the secondary benefits which applied to that category. Given that the numbers applying are limited the existence of some the child care facilities are threatened. That is a major challenge.
Mr. Egan mentioned the effects of training and materials grant on schemes. In many cases we are getting services on the cheap that should be provided by the State but that is a policy decision. It works out at approximately €1,000 per person. The cost of a FETAC level 5 course in child care is approximately €700. That means the budget is virtually gone for the participant and one is left with only €300 for a year or a year and a half. Has consideration been given to increasing the numbers? I realise that at the end of the day, the decision rests with the Minister. There are 180,000 long-term unemployed people, many of whom are five or six years unemployed by the time they reach 25 years of age but there are only 23,000 places. In a comment or a contribution it was indicated that there is a concentration on throughput rather than results, that there is a need to get as many people on to community employment as possible. That is fine but if there are not results the only way is to hold them until the progression is guaranteed and to get more people on the scheme, which means increasing the numbers rather than a faster throughput. I wish we had more time to debate the issue.
I welcome the financial review which has much to do with the management. For those of us who were on CE sponsor groups in the past, there are major questions in respect of the pressures on CE to get sponsors because of the additional liabilities, given that some are incorporated. Has there been any movement since the review, in respect of pooling of insurance costs across the board and contractors of IT suppliers and stationery being allowed to purchase for five, six or more schemes? Last week we had a discussion on schools where a similar issue arose.
Audits were mentioned and they are a significant cost. Most of these schemes do not bring in money as most of the money goes on training and materials. Therefore, a cost of €1,000 for audit is substantial and can be the difference between survival or not surviving.
Thank you. I now invite Mr. Egan to make his concluding remarks and to respond to the questions. Deputy Conaghan asked about the social economy, Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked about numbers and the pooling of purchases and child care provisions and Senator Moloney raised the issue of disability.
Mr. Oliver Egan:
I will be as quick as I can and hopefully I will cover all the points. On disability, approximately 14.3% of the participants would be classified as having a disability, quite a significant cadre. This changes around a little, but generally stays at that level. We have complex restructuring to do on this because we are very aware of the multiplicity of outcomes from this programme and the various levels for whom it tries to provide. We are trying to be as nuanced as we can be. That is one of the reasons for the delay in the completion of the labour market activation review as we are trying to get the weightings of the various factors correct.
With regard to the numbers on the scheme, currently there are 22,726 people on it, including supervisors. I mention this because in the context of the point made by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, we are conscious of a change in the constitution of those numbers. The numbers represented by single parents would be down at 14.4%, whereas it was higher a few months ago at 20%. The numbers are still coming through in overall terms, but the mix is changing significantly. We are conscious of that and of the difference that makes in terms of the scheme.
With regard to the social economy, Mr. Fleming works with me on the community services programme, CSP, and we think some elements of CE should be looked at within CSP. We are conscious of the potential power within that with regard to the social economy. We are looking at this to see what we can do within the schemes to point them in the right direction and to help community enterprise generally. Mr. Fleming is part of the team as we work towards that. We can give further detail on this if required.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned savings. We stated in our report that we think we can save approximately €3.5 million in a full year. This will be achieved through obtaining better value on insurance, which we have been getting, looking at the audit requirements and seeking better value there, and looking at pooling expenditure in a more efficient way. We have achieved considerable savings this year already and believe the potential is there for more next year. Again, this must be nuanced and we are conscious of the need to make the rules easier to follow. We have relaxed the necessity around different bank accounts this year to try to help sponsors in that regard. We hope, in our ongoing discussions with sponsors and supervisors, to take on board further ideas on how to improve the situation.
Without getting into policy areas which have yet to be decided, next year we hope to get greater alignment between the various community schemes the team here represents, secure better outcomes for individual learners and, at the same time, maintain and, where possible, improve services to community groups. This is a hard ask within a pot of money which is less than it was a number of years ago and if we are do it we must ensure we work very closely with our colleagues in the Department of Education and Skills and elsewhere to get the best value we can on training, education and preventions. We must also analyse what we are doing critically and objectively to see whether we can do it better, while taking on board the views of those with home we deal.
I hope I have dealt with all the points raised. We are available afterwards if anybody wants to contact us and would welcome that. Department of Social Protection colleagues in the individual regions are also available. We would be pleased to hear from members afterwards, either by e-mail, phone call or direct contact and will take on board any concerns they may have.