Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Question 83: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress reports he has received from FÁS in relation to its decentralisation to Birr, County Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23534/07]
Question 97: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress to date on the decentralisation of FÁS to Birr, County Offaly; the number currently working in the leased offices in Birr; the duration of the lease; when an application for planning permission for the purchased site will be lodged; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23533/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 97 together.
Under the Government's decentralisation programme, FÁS is due to transfer its head office including some 383 posts to Birr, County Offaly, by 2009.
FÁS currently has 20 staff members based in Birr who are working out of offices located within the Birr Technology Centre. It is anticipated that 40 staff will be located in Birr by the end of the year. The offices in the technology centre have been rented on a five year lease from May this year.
Following the completion of all legal formalities earlier this month FÁS has now completed the purchase of a site in Birr, County Offaly in connection with the decentralisation of its headquarters. An application for planning permission is currently being prepared and will be submitted in due course.
I am glad we finally got some clarity in respect of the number of posts promised. Is the Minister certain 383 people will transfer by 2009? Prior to the general election, we were given to understand that only 200 people would transfer. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position.
On the planning application, will the Minister confirm when it will be lodged? I checked with Birr Town Council today and was informed it has no application on file. What is the cost of renting the technology centre? I appreciate the Minister may not know this off the top of his head. I do not believe the centre can accommodate more than the 40 staff already located there. However, in the intervening period, prior to the headquarters being ready, will staff be moved to any other premises within the town?
A further 67 staff, in addition to the 40 staff expected to be in place by the end of the year, have expressed an interest of re-locating to Birr. This is made up of 23 existing staff and 44 new entrants recruited on the basis of relocation.
On the planning application, I do not know the timeframe within which it will be lodged though it is due to happen in due course. FÁS is currently preparing the design and so on before submitting the planning application. Obviously, this will take some time to complete. I do not know the cost involved but I am sure that information can be secured from FÁS.
The Minister is obviously aware of the opposition of a large number of FÁS employees to relocating to Birr. This has had a negative impact, from a publicity perspective, on the area. Is the Minister confident that the required number of staff will relocate and how does he propose to persuade them to do so?
FÁS is a large organisation. It is clear that we have had difficulties in respect of the decentralisation of agencies which has not gone as smoothly as the relocation of departmental civil servants. For example, the centre in Carlow is now open and some 200 staff will shortly relocate there. This relocation and the relocation of the Health and Safety Authority, which is temporarily located in Kilkenny city, has gone reasonably well. I am confident we can get a substantial number of people to transfer though I am not sure if 393 people will transfer by 2009. I have had ongoing engagement with FÁS in this regard.
I was somewhat taken aback when SIPTU announced its categoric, unilateral opposition to decentralisation. I believe it should review its position. We are interested in engaging with the organisation on this. The opening of the new facility in Carlow has made an enormous difference to the staff there, many of whom had been commuting daily to and from Dublin for five years. The advantages, for them and their families, of being located ten minutes from their work cannot be quantified. People should take a more rounded view of decentralisation. Of course, people want particular issues to be addressed but there are benefits not alone for the locality involved but for the workers concerned. The new approaches that come with decentralisation in terms of delivery of service are also of enormous benefit. One of the best examples in this regard is the decentralisation of part of the Department of Education and Science to Tullamore which, some would say, has been the main contributing factor in respect of the new approach to school building.