Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Financial Resolutions 2021 - Financial Resolution No. 2: General (Resumed)
Niall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
I am delighted to take up where my colleague left off and comment on the budget for our Department. By any yardstick, since its inception, this new Department has hit the ground running and made an impact. It has mattered most to students, who are the most important stakeholders that we strive to serve within this new Department. The total spend of €374 million is a significant investment in people's lives and livelihoods to help us work our way out of the pandemic and deliver better labour market skills and upskilling right across the sectors, which is our core function.
I refer to the remarks of the Minister regarding improvements in SUSI that have been announced. These changes, the first for ten years, will significantly help people in my part of Limerick, for example, where there are now two universities, namely, Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest and the University of Limerick. Many people in my constituency of Limerick County will benefit significantly from the change in the non-adjacent rate, with the applicable distance being reduced from 45 km back to 30 km, as well as, the increase in the income threshold and the increase of €200in the maintenance grant.
I refer to the area of skills and apprenticeships. We have a €34 million package to support and develop apprenticeships. That includes a €17 million spend to address the backlog in apprenticeships, an issue that we have raised and discussed in the House on many occasions. Significant funding has been made available to address that. We will introduce a new employer grant for apprentices to drive increased employer participation in apprenticeships, as outlined in the apprenticeship action plan. We are establishing the new national apprenticeship office, which will lead the reforms envisioned in that plan. The director of that office will be appointed shortly. As Members will be aware, we have 62 formal apprenticeships up and running, 18 in development and a further 19 at the exploratory stage. These are all new and exciting areas.
In the areas of reskilling and upskilling, we have a package of €78 million. Of that, €22 million is for a green skills action programme supported by the EU national recovery and response programme to build the workforce requirement for the shift to a zero-carbon economy, to support those most negatively impacted by the effects of the pandemic, and to develop new skills through the skills to compete initiative. We have continued investment in supporting businesses through Skillnet Ireland and the ETB skills to advance programme. We will also maintain the higher education springboard+ programme.
I wish to flag that we have €9 million for the delivery of key strategic priorities in the further education and training areas. As the Minister alluded to, we are abolishing the €200 PLC levy, which will benefit more than 10,000 learners. We will be implementing the new ten-year adult literacy for life strategy, which includes the establishment of a programme office, recruitment of literacy co-ordinators in every ETB and a new collaboration and innovation fund. We are also establishing and progressing the Irish Prison Service and SOLAS building bridges programme to support improved pathways and outcomes for learners and prisoners.