Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Voluntary Sector Funding
I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. I am delighted that he is taking this matter. I also welcome to the Visitors Gallery Ms Mary O'Connor from CARI and Mr. Des McKiernan from Aspire. I will start by making a declaration of interest. I am a former chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, but it is not on its behalf that I am raising this matter, about which other organisations have contacted me.
As it stands, the current scheme to support national organisations which provides 30 months of core funding for 64 national community and voluntary organisations and some others is due to expire on 31 December this year. There is not a single name on the list of organisations in receipt of funding which will be unfamiliar to Members. I have often heard Members commend many of the groups which benefit from the scheme such as the Simon Communities of Ireland, the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Barnardos, the Carmicheal Centre and The Wheel. It is evident from this handful of names that the range of services they provide and the issues on which they provide advocacy services are diverse, but the outstanding contribution they make to the lives of those they represent, thanks, in part, to the funding they derive from the scheme, is not.
During my time as chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance and president of the National Youth Council of Ireland, I have seen this money put to good use. I know how crucial it is to such organisations that they have clarity on the future of this essential funding. By denying them this clarity, we are not only placing vital services in danger, but we are also risking the very survival of some federations and networks which play a vital national co-ordinating role. I understand that, to date, there has been no official communication from the Department on the future of the scheme. Understandably, this is causing significant concern among the recipient organisations.
The 2011 iteration of the scheme talked about multi-annual funding for such national organisations towards the core costs associated with the provision of services. Originally, the scheme was designed for federations and network programmes, but several schemes were folded into the 2011 scheme. I have some concerns about the principles behind the 2011 scheme because they lack a clear aim and purpose of what they are about. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to look at the scheme.
I also have concerns that some organisations receive significant funds from other arms of the State. In each iteration of the scheme these organisations seemed to be added on and I believe the scheme has lost its way. For example, I was surprised to see the Football Association of Ireland had received €45,000 under the scheme. According to the 2011 annual review of the FAI, it had received €3.4 million in grants from the Irish Sports Council and had €5.7 million in sponsorship revenue. Its chief executive earns €400,000; therefore, this scheme is paying a small percentage of the chief executive's salary. To an organisation of this size, operating at a surplus, the €45,000 per annum it receives under the current scheme is a paltry amount, yet to many other organisations in receipt of money under the scheme, it is absolutely transformative.
Will the Minister clarify his plans for the future of the 2014-16 scheme to support national organisations? Will he outline if, or when, a new scheme will be announced? What consultation process will take place with current and potential recipients? Will the Minister clarify the purpose of the scheme because there is a need for a scheme to support national federations and networks of charitable voluntary organisations which play a critical role in co-ordination? Funding does not come from other arms of the State. As in previous years, will the Minister put in place interim funds if he does not have a new successive scheme to put in place? How does he see the transition to the new scheme taking place?
I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Seanad on the funding scheme to support national organisations and thank the Senator for raising the issue. It was interesting to hear her speak about groups which need money seven months in advance of any decision being made and in advance of the budget and ask me to clarify issues which have not even been considered in the context of any review to be carried out.
I inherited from my predecessor a three-year programme and the Senator has explained some of the problems with it. This scheme amalgamated and replaced schemes previously operating under the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity. The scheme's objective was to provide multi-annual funding to national organisations towards core costs associated with the provision of services. The scheme will end at the end of the year.
A review at the time made a series of recommendations for a future funding scheme including recommendations relating to: core funding; a focus on disadvantage and coalface services; the impact of the funding on the ground; an emphasis on adding value and avoiding duplication; and a focus on governance and cost controls. These recommendations were reflected in the current funding scheme which commenced on 1 July 2011.
Under the current scheme, 64 organisations are supported and some €3.588 million is allocated to the scheme this year. My Department will be carrying out a review of the scheme over the coming months. The terms of reference for the review will include an examination of the extent to which the objectives, rationale and approach of the scheme remain valid and will entail making recommendations regarding its future role and scope. The review of the scheme will be based on an examination of relevant documentation and consultation within the sector. It will take into account a number of policy considerations in formulating recommendations for the future. The policy considerations include economic conditions, principles contained within the White Paper and the role of the community and voluntary sector. I expect to receive the review by the autumn and on the basis of its findings, I will consider the options available to me.
Obviously the unique part of the scheme is its multi-annual funding. There will be an application process. While seven months is a long time, most organisations have statutory responsibility with regard to staff employment and would need to give staff notice. As an application process will take some months, seven months is a short time. I am happy to help in any way. I believe the scheme has lost its way and is a mixed bag considering the organisations. I have serious concerns about organisations such as the FAI receiving from this scheme which originally was to fund national organisations.