Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Question 41: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the main findings of the recently published independent evaluation of the RAPID programme commissioned by POBAL; if he will state what the report cited as the main strengths and weaknesses of the RAPID programme; the action he intends to take following the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22926/06]
The RAPID programme aims to ensure that priority attention is given to tackling the spatial concentration of poverty and social exclusion within the 45 designated RAPID areas. My Department, with the support of Pobal, has overall responsibility for the co-ordination of the RAPID programme. It is a matter for each Department to respond to the recommendations contained in this report in respect of its specific areas of responsibility.
As already indicated to the House, following discussions with my Department Pobal commissioned a formal evaluation of the programme, the final report of which was launched on 1 June last. The report indicates that the experience of the RAPID programme has been very positive in many areas and the programme has made substantial progress in identifying the needs of disadvantaged communities and in implementing important local projects in response to those needs.
The main strengths of the programme are stated to be the facilitation of a significant number of local development projects addressing the most pressing needs of the local community. In the opinion of local stakeholders, these projects would not have progressed without the establishment of the RAPID programme. Another key strength noted was the establishment of structures that have provided a mechanism for disadvantaged communities to identify needs and influence policy. These structures allowed for the development of effective working partnerships between the key players, the levering of greater national and local government investment in RAPID areas and the development of innovative practice with regard to projects, community participation and engagement.
In terms of programme weaknesses, the evaluators identified a general weakness with regard to strategic planning in some areas that has resulted in an ad hoc and reactive approach to bringing forward projects. Another weakness identified was the variation in the level of interaction with the local implementation of the programme by representatives of key State agencies as a result of other work pressures and individual commitment to the programme. The difficulty in securing funding for particular types of projects, for example, in regard to education, training and employment, was mentioned as another weakness in the evaluation report.
I have given a commitment to consider the evaluators' findings and recommendations and intend to work with the various stakeholders at national and local level to address the findings in the report.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he consider it a damning indictment of his role as co-ordinator of the implementation of the RAPID programme that the consultants' evaluation found there was limited implementation of the programme in a number of areas, most of which constitute the most disadvantaged areas? Is that not the kernel of the programme? This failure must be a damning indictment of the Minister's stewardship.
I do not agree with the Deputy. There are 45 RAPID areas. As the report notes, the way the programme operates on the ground has been uneven. We have been addressing the issues on a continual basis. Community development, of which I have long experience, is a slow process. Mistakes were made in the past. When a community was not interactive and found it hard to self-motivate, it needed to be recognised that it would take time to get the best results in that community.
I did not design the RAPID areas. I accept there are issues to be considered. As I stated at the recent RAPID conference, I have noticed that the smaller, strand 2 areas, where there is more of what I would call the village effect identification issue, have had more success and more interaction.
One issue which I will consider is the size of RAPID areas. For example, there are a number of RAPID areas in Tallaght but only one in Clondalkin. If one operates the area implementation team, AIT, over an area in which there is no natural interaction because the sheer numbers mitigate against that, it is fair to suggest that it will be harder to achieve close identification. Smaller communities always have more identification.
I pointed out time and again one of the challenges faced in urban Ireland — I spoke about this in the presence of the Deputy's party leader last night. If I attend a meeting in a village in rural Ireland, like Ballycroy, to launch a community plan, 300 of the 600 souls who live in the parish will attend. If I go to a similar meeting in Tallaght, which has a population of 85,000, 150 might attend. One is obviously interacting with fewer people.
There are challenges. However, instead of walking away from the challenges, we asked this group to compile a hard-hitting, independent report. It set out many positives. However, we are not shirking the issues. We asked the group to identify the weaknesses, which we are now addressing.
I take the Minister's point but it is a generalised one. The criticism in my question referred to the lack of progress in the most disadvantaged areas, which is the kernel of the problem. There is also the issue of the programme having no set budget. I find it difficult to differentiate between where new funding was spent, where funding came from within the NDP and what may or may not have been front-loaded. These are the issues which arise.
The Minister referred to the criticism of the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and FÁS in the context of accessing training, education and employment. What is the Minister's view of the recommendation that an incentive should be offered to employers by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to encourage employers to recruit employees from RAPID areas?