Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
The Covid crisis has shown us all clearly that the digital divide is as wide as every other divide in our society. If you are from a disadvantaged community then due to digital poverty your opportunities for education and work are limited. Will the Minister detail the provisions being implemented to deal with digital poverty in our communities?
In August 2019, my Department launched Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities, the strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland. This strategy was developed in consultation with the cross-sectoral group and a work plan to progress its implementation has been agreed.
Work in 2021 is ongoing in respect of a number of the objectives outlined in the strategy including: a training needs assessment to identify gaps and make recommendations on how best to build capacity in the sector; a draft values and principles document has been developed with a view to it being adopted by all who engage with the community and voluntary sector; funding has been provided to support work promoting appropriate standards in training of community development practitioners; and proposals for a civic forum or national consultative event in 2021 are being examined.
Objective 4 of the strategy commits to scope and develop a sustainable funding model to support the community and voluntary sector, recognising the importance of a multi-annual funding approach.
Some of my Department's programmes already operate on a multi-annual basis, including SICAP, as mentioned, the community services programme, CSP, and the scheme to support national organisations, SSNO.
However, I recognise that many community and voluntary organisations receive funding from the State on an annual basis. My Department recently commissioned Pobal to commence work on a scoping exercise for a centralised grantee database which could be a useful first step in increasing visibility across government on the funding provided by that sector.
I welcome the fact that there are moves in regard to multi-annual funding and the response from the Minister of State. It is critically important for community organisations to be able to plan, strategise and keep staff, which is one of the major issues in some projects that are running on year-to-year funding. It is very difficult to maintain the continuity of staff required.
Funding is important for the safety and security of projects. They are then able to consider other types of funding and know that they have three or five years of core funding and they can now use other funding to plan for training, which is another serious deficit in a lot of community organisations. I welcome the response and look forward to many more community projects being able to get multi-annual funding which will provide them with security.
I will provide more detail on the training side of things as the Deputy brought it up. We have prioritised training in this year's action plan, which comes under the community and voluntary sector five-year strategy. The cross-sectoral group has prioritised training. There are three aspects to that. First, the process is ongoing and there will be a report on the training needs of local communities and development committees by the end of June. The second aspect relates to voluntary board members of community and voluntary organisations. Third, later this year we will examine the training needs of smaller community organisations, many of which are dependent on volunteers. In terms of the training side of things, we are putting some resources into that this year and developments are ongoing.
I thank the Minister of State and appreciate his reply. As a voluntary member of many boards, and a current board member of the Dublin 15 community drug team, it is something that we have recognised in terms of our risk analysis of the project. In a review, we identified that training for volunteers and voluntary board members and staff and how we retain and maintain continuity is something that is important.
As I said, it is critical for the future of community development structures and how they operate that we provide the appropriate type of funding. We need to ensure that, unlike what happened between 2008 and 2011, the first people to be cut and affected by cuts are not those working in the community, voluntary and charity sectors.
I thank the Deputy. We are in the process of scoping out where multi-annual funding might begin to grow. As part of the process, we have to pin down exactly what we are funding and what Departments are funding organisations. We do not fund all community and voluntary organisations, of which a large number - 11,000 - are registered with the Charities Regulator.
To give the Deputy a little more information on that development in terms of the scoping exercise, the Department recently entered into an agreement with Pobal to conduct a scoping exercise on a proposal for a centralised grantee database of community and voluntary organisations which have a funding relationship with the State. The objective is that this would be a source of information more generally about the investment being made by the State across communities and will serve to reduce the administrative burden on funders and grantees by adopting a "file once" principle.
I must stress, however, that this is a preliminary scoping exercise and is exploring potential options at this very early stage. If the project is approved on foot of the scoping exercise, it will likely take a few years before the process would be completed and operational.
The one before that was the multi-annual funding of community projects. That is the question that was answered. We are moving onto Question No. 8 in the name of Deputy Claire Kerrane that you are taking.