Wednesday, 26 May 2004
I have raised the issue of the necessity for decentralisation projects for Newcastle West in the other House on many occasions and I do not intend to elaborate the reasons I believe such projects are required. The Minister announced in the previous budget that Newcastle West, as well as many other locations, would benefit from a decentralisation project. The Department of Finance was considered for Newcastle West, Kilrush and Listowel and I understand 60 jobs were envisaged for each location.
The area has a tradition which would benefit the Collector General's office because a triangle embracing Ennis, Limerick and Nenagh have already successfully benefited from decentralisation in the past. I assume it would be natural to extend the process further to the three locations and, as such, we welcome the announcement.
The announcement was, however, made in the previous budget. I am aware that officials, presumably from the Office of Public Works, recently visited Newcastle West to view the facilities available in the area and I have no doubt they will have been extremely pleased because massive housing expansion means that the area has all the required goods and services, particularly access to a national primary route which has considerably improved. The town, therefore, has many natural advantages for people who want to relocate.
The question I have been asked at local level with regard to decentralisation, an issue which has been bobbing around for many years, is when it is likely to happen. I hope the Minister of State will give the House an indication of its timing, rather than a general thesis on the whole decentralisation process. When is decentralisation to Newcastle West likely to take place?
Is the Department of Finance satisfied that sufficient staff are willing to move to the area? I have no doubt that when it researches the matter, it will find that this is the case. Recently, when I made inquiries on behalf of a person working in the Department in Dublin who was anxious for a transfer, I found she was well down the list of people who wanted to transfer. This indicates that enthusiasm to move is strong at certain levels. Will the Minister of State indicate when decentralisation to Newcastle West is likely to occur? As Kilrush and Listowel were part of the same group of towns, the answer will also apply to these locations.
In his budget speech of 3 December 2003, the Minister for Finance announced the Government's decision to relocate more than 10,000 civil and public service jobs to 53 centres. Included in that announcement was the decentralisation of 50 posts in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners to Newcastle West. The inclusion of Newcastle West along with Kilrush and Listowel will complement the already very strong Revenue presence in the mid-west region and will further the cluster which has worked so successfully and is now being emulated by other decentralised Departments in different parts of the country.
Fifty posts are being decentralised to each of the three towns and these will add to more than 900 posts decentralised between 1992 and 1996, 550 in Limerick, 200 in Nenagh and 150 in Ennis. The clustering of the newly decentralised Revenue posts provides opportunities for the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, civil and public servants and local communities.
I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they propose to take the opportunity provided by decentralisation to consolidate and relocate further functions within the mid-west region. For example, it is planned that all the Collector General's debt management functions currently in Dublin, apart from a small number of staff retained for insolvency work, will be decentralised to the region. This will cluster the debt management expertise of the Collector General's office in its headquarters in Limerick and its offices in the towns of Nenagh, Kilrush, Listowel and Newcastle West.
The relocation of 150 posts to three proximate towns, close to the existing presence of more than 900 Revenue staff, will be of immense benefit to the civil and public servants concerned. The units are large enough to provide opportunities for career development in each of the new locations, while the proximity of the new and existing Revenue locations will increase opportunities for regional promotion, training and development and mobility.
With reduced commuting times and, consequently, more time to spend with families and friends, staff can also look forward to an improved quality of life. The local communities will also benefit economically and socially and the moves will help to redress the regional imbalance in public sector jobs. The towns and their surrounding areas will benefit economically from the spending power of these new jobs and the participation of the new staff and their families in community life. The latter will range from additional pupils in schools to participation in local community sports clubs, cultural and community groups and other activities.
As Senators will be aware, the Revenue Commissioners have previously decentralised very successfully, notwithstanding the many concerns expressed at that time about the risks involved. The previous decentralisation involved the relocation of most of the tax collection and debt management division of the Revenue Commissioners. The moves took place smoothly with no disruption to service or Exchequer receipts.
The Revenue Commissioners are preparing their own decentralisation implementation plan, including the move to Newcastle West, for submission to the decentralisation implementation group. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they are encouraged by the level of interest expressed in decentralisation from Revenue staff in general, and in Newcastle West in particular. It is hoped that this level of interest will be reflected in the outcome of the central applications facility, launched on 12 May 2004. An analysis of the initial applications will be available to the Government's decentralisation implementation group in July and the outcome of the central applications facility will inform the decision on the decentralisation of Revenue posts to Newcastle West.
The Office of Public Works received a number of proposals for property in Newcastle West in response to an advertisement. These proposals are being evaluated and a decision will be made shortly on the most suitable site. The OPW does not envisage difficulties in obtaining suitable property in Newcastle West.
I have every confidence that the Revenue Commissioners commitment to the current decentralisation programme will lead to a smooth relocation and successful outcome, again, on this occasion. The decentralisation of 50 Revenue posts to Newcastle West will happen and will bring benefits to all concerned, not least the community of Newcastle West.