Seanad debates

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Adjournment Matters.

Departmental Agencies Funding

7:00 pm

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I am pleased he is here to deal with this issue of direct relevant to his portfolio. As the Minister will be aware, I raised the issue of a scheme to support national organisations in May 2013 in the hope that we could have a new scheme in place for January 2014. When I again raised the matter in December 2013 I was told the then scheme was to be extended by six months.

This scheme, in terms of the types of organisations involved and how it has evolved, concerns me. When I was involved with the Children's Rights Alliance the scheme was known as the federations and networks scheme. In terms of funding provided over the past three years, the mix and spectrum of organisations has been different. I have raised with the Minister the fact that for some of those organisations such as the Children's Rights Alliance in which, as I stated, I previously worked, State funding is the main source of funding. Other organisations such as the FAI, were contributing 10% of this funding to the salary of their CEOs, which deserves attention.

The real issue for me is the new scheme and the proposed €90,000 cap on funding, which means some of the recipient organisations will be hit by further cuts. Cuts of 12% across the board were announced at the beginning of last week, which is a hugely significantly cut. Many of the organisations who contacted my office were anxious to find out how they would be affected. The scheme was extended in December from January to June 2014. The organisations concerned have only found in mid-February that their funding is to be cut by 12%. Some of them have had to make drastic decisions regarding staff, projects, activities and so on and they still do not know exactly what will happen post-June. It is groundhog day. We have had this situation before. I have been raising this issue in the House since last May. The Minister in one of his responses told me about the evaluation of the scheme that had been undertaken and that this is about enhancing the capacity of the community and voluntary sector, good governance and raising the levels of the organisations but the organisations have been instead left reeling because they are not being given adequate funding. Funding for these organisations has since 2008 been cut by more than 50% across the board. These cuts have not been proportionate or related to the performance or activities of the organisations. Regardless of whether these organisations are doing good work and meeting every objective, or none of them, the same cut applies.

The manner in which this matter has been handled has been extremely unfair to organisations. The organisations about which I am speaking are organisations for whom this State funding is their primary funding and not a top-up fund. They are leveraging funding from philanthropic organisations based on the State funding but are finding this increasingly difficult because the funding from the State continually diminishes. We know that this is all happening against the backdrop of foundations such as Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation winding down their operations here. It is a perfect storm for organisations and this is severely damaging them. I look forward to hearing more about the cap that has been announced.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to have an opportunity to address the Seanad on the funding scheme to support national organisations. The current funding scheme was due to finish at the end of last year. In view of the importance which the Government and I attach to volunteering and the role of volunteerism in promoting societal well being, I am pleased that even in the context of the difficulties in the public finances l have been able to bring forward a new programme.

As rightly pointed out by the Senator, the funding scheme to support national organisations in the community and voluntary sector commenced in 2008 under the auspices of the then Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This scheme replaced and amalgamated schemes previously operating under the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity. It aims to provide multi-annual funding to national organisations towards core costs associated with the provision of services. I have extended the current scheme by six months to end June 2014. Some 64 organisations are funded under this scheme, with funding of some €3.5 million provided during 2013.

As a consequence of the reductions in my Department's Vote for 2014, it was necessary to reduce the funding of the various schemes operated by the Department. In doing so, l have aimed, in so far as is possible, to protect front line services. A new Scheme to Support National Organisations 2014-2016 will come into force in July and the total funding for 2014 for current and new schemes will be €3.1 million. During the summer and autumn of 2013, my Department carried out a review of the scheme. The terms of reference for the review included an examination of the extent to which the objectives, rationale and approach of the scheme remain valid and the making of recommendations regarding the future role and scope of the scheme. The review found that the scheme has fulfilled its main objective of providing multi-annual funding to national organisations towards core costs associated with the provision of services.

Funding of a range of national networks and organisations was seen to enhance the capacity of the community and voluntary sector in organising itself at a national level and in raising standards across the sector. The review also found that the scheme is in line with international best practice, including a partnership approach and providing core funding on a multi-annual basis. Therefore, the new scheme will continue in a broadly similar manner to the current one.

I am conscious of what Senator van Turnhout had to say. I can assure her that in the context of the review of this scheme I will be taking account of some of the issues raised by her. I am not satisfied that some of the existing organisations are best served by the type of support they are receiving or whether some of the organisations in receipt of support should be receiving that support from Departments other than the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

The review recommended that organisations be required to clearly demonstrate the need for the funding requested, how this need was identified, the added value of the work proposed, how the proposed activities will demonstrate value for money and how the organisation will collaborate, co-ordinate and engage in partnership work with other relevant agencies and organisations.

This information will improve the targeting of available resources.

The effective use of core funding in recipient organisations requires that robust governance and cost-control procedures are in place within those organisations, particularly at board level, and this will also form a key element of the assessment process. The new scheme was recently advertised for applications and the closing date is Wednesday, 19 February. The assessment of applications and notification of successful applicants will be completed in the second quarter of this year.

7:10 pm

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I really appreciate the Minister coming to the House. My concern is the cost for the State to replicate what it is paying these organisations that work with the State. In my experience with the Children's Rights Alliance, I can point to many Government documents and policies where the Children's Rights Alliance provided the form for the State to do it. I am only naming the organisation of which I have direct experience and could give other examples. I am happy to work with the Minister to identify how it can be done fairly. However, I am concerned that the cap to be introduced could be detrimental. I have heard the Minister's words that he is open to talk, and I will certainly come back and talk to him on it.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The Senator knows I applied a cap in 2013 whereby nobody got more than €90,000. I am anxious that the organisations that benefit from this scheme are treated fairly and meet the criteria. The schemes and organisations that should be funded by other Departments or agencies should be looked at and I am prepared to do that.