Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

7:00 pm

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)

I thank the Senators for raising the matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline to the House the Department's position regarding the allocation of funding to St. Phelim's national school, Bailieborough, County Cavan. The management authorities of the school applied and were approved for funding under the 2007 permanent accommodation scheme to provide additional accommodation at the school. A grant of €180,000 was originally sanctioned to enable the school to extend the existing school building. A further €26,617 was approved on appeal by the school.

The Department moved towards a model of devolved funding, responsibility and authority, as appropriate for smaller building projects-refurbishments, directly to school management authorities in 2003 with the introduction on a pilot basis of the devolved small schools and permanent accommodation schemes. Due to the positive feedback from schools, the schemes were extended to include additional schools in subsequent years. The permanent accommodation scheme allows boards of management to address their accommodation and building priorities with a guaranteed amount of funding and gives boards of management control of the building project. The intention of the scheme is to provide funding to schools to enable them to undertake wanted building projects. The scheme is not intended to leave schools with significant fundraising needs but for the school to tailor the scope of capital works commissioned to the available funding. A central tenet of the scheme is that the schools granted discretion and funding must equally accept responsibility for prioritisation, adherence to statutory regulations, control of costs and ensure value for money. The decision on whether to continue participation in the scheme or to drop out if the scope of build is more than the funding envelope permits is a matter for each school authority.

The authorities of St. Phelim's national school accepted the grant offer and returned a form of undertaking agreeing to comply with the requirements of the scheme. The school authorities submitted an appeal for significant additional funding, which was considered by the Department. However, in line with the original intention of the scheme, it was considered that the school should be encouraged to complete the project within the funding envelope provided. In the current economic climate and with considerable demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to entertain such significant increases in the amounts grant aided to schools. It is the responsibility of the school authorities to manage the resources allocated to them to ensure maximum value for money and to control costs. The board of management should take the necessary steps to ensure the scope of the works undertaken matches the funding allowed.

I regret that the response is not more favourable on this occasion, but I am sure Senators will agree it is important that we ensure that grant aid is managed prudently. As the Senators may be aware, a total of €586 million will be spent under the Department's school building programme this year alone. It is important to ensure that costs are kept under control in the construction of school buildings and that those responsible ensure value for money is achieved for the taxpayer. In that way, we can ensure completion of the maximum number of projects from within the funds available for the school building programme under the current national development plan.

I again thank the Senators for giving me the opportunity to outline the current position to the House.


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