Thursday, 29 September 2016
Community Services Programme
I thank the Minister of State for attending to address this issue. I also thank and acknowledge a couple of staff from St. Andrew's community centre in Rialto who are present for highlighting to me during the summer the problems facing the community service programme, CSP. The other staff are busy hosting a local economic event in the area today.
Community service projects are the bedrock of communities throughout Ireland. They are the link in the chain that serves to empower individuals to create a better society. They fill gaps in the provision of services that the Government does not provide. They educate, advocate, listen, guide and enable people to become leaders in their communities. As public representatives, we are merely the voice that is given to us from meeting projects daily, weekly and monthly.
There are more than 400 community service projects throughout the country providing child care, drug rehabilitation, youth projects, community development, training, education, etc. Without them, society would have been broken even further during the most recent recession.
Since January, the minimum wage increased from €8.65 to €9.15. Sinn Féin welcomed this but is committed to providing for a living wage. Community service projects also welcomed the increase in the minimum wage and view it as a means to allow their staff to live, not just to survive. The problem arises from the fact that Pobal's annual contribution towards employing a full-time staff member remained at €19,033, inclusive of employer's PRSI. This served to pay the employee the minimum wage of €8.65, with the balance covering the PRSI contribution exactly. It was communicated to projects through Pobal that its annual contribution would not increase to provide the extra money required for them to pay the increased minimum wage lawfully.
Community service projects are nothing without their employees. The employees are the recognisable, hard-working faces that ensure communities advance. Therefore, projects want to be able to pay them a fair wage and fulfil their responsibilities as good employers.This is easily solved. Whether there was an anomaly, oversight or distinct decision made at the time not to increase the contribution, it now needs to be rectified. The upcoming budget provides a space to do this and increase the annual contribution to community service projects in order that they can pay their staff adequately.
I thank the staff and volunteers in St. Andrew's community centre, Rialto, and the hundreds of other community service projects throughout the country who do amazing work for society day in, day out. I hope for a positive response.
I thank Senator Máire Devine for raising the issue of the community services programme, CSP. I welcome her friends and neighbours from St. Andrew's. I acknowledge the massive contribution made by many such organisations in their communities. I know of this from first-hand experience.
On the broader issue, the provision of local, social, economic and environmental services is the core aim of the CSP. A total of 404 service providers are supported under the CSP to provide such services through the application of a social enterprise model of delivery. For the purposes of the CSP, a social enterprise has been defined as "an enterprise that trades for a social/societal purpose, where at least part of its income is earned from its trading activity, is separate from government, and where the surplus is primarily reinvested in the social objective". The funding provided to the service providers under the CSP is expressed as a fixed annual co-funding contribution towards the cost of employing a manager or specified number of full-time equivalent staff. The CSP service providers are required to generate traded income from a variety of sources. To assist with sustainability, all CSP service providers should strive to be in circumstances in which at least 30% of annual turnover is from traded income and in which the CSP grant is not more than 50% of annual turnover.
The CSP grant contribution is provided on a co-funding basis and employers are expected to provide additional funds from their own resources to meet the full costs of employment. Support for an eligible person with a 39-hour working week is €19,033 per annum. The employer is expected to pay the local labour market rate for the position and to finance this from non-public grant revenue generated. An additional contribution of €32,000 per annum can also be made towards the engagement of a manager. We should focus on that figure also. The setting of wage rates is entirely a matter for the employer organisation in contract under the CSP.
Owing to the changes to the national minimum wage from January 2016, the issue of sustainability of some CSP service providers has come into focus. I accept that is the reason for the debate today. In response, the Department has established - this is important also - a CSP support fund for a fixed period, between 2016 and 2018, to assist service providers in enhancing their sustainability as social enterprises. Therefore, a CSP support fund has been established for the next two years. The support fund is allocating additional financial supports to existing providers under the CSP to enhance their sustainability as social enterprises. Allocations under the support fund are supplementary to the CSP contribution that service providers currently receive. Appraisals of CSP service providers are ongoing to establish the extra funding required and it is expected to be finalised in conjunction with the current 2016 recontracting process.
The response is positive but I would obviously need to take it in more. "Appraisal" can be a scary word when one is considering services, including community services. I hope it is not an appraisal to cut further or make the community service projects unsustainable. The Minister of State referred to an appraisal and report at the end of this quarter. Does he know exactly when the decision will be issued prior to Christmas? Will the arrangement apply retrospectively from January 2016 to provide specifically that employers can give the minimum wage to their employees?
I share the Senator's concerns when I see some of the phrases used but the bottom line is that I personally will be supporting what she is saying. I will go back to the senior Minister on this. I am filling in this morning for the senior Minister because I feel very strongly that many of the organisations do a fantastic job. I believe the decision will be issued before Christmas 2016 but I will have to confirm that for the Senator.
People need to know, and the Senator probably knows this, that in the region of 3,000 people are in supported employment under the programme in approximately 400 not-for-profit companies and co-operatives. Funding of €45 million has been provided for the programme in 2016. This will maintain the current level of activity. It is important to know that Pobal is contracted by the Department to take financial and contract management from the CSP.
On the minimum wage, employees should be paid a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. I strongly support that principle. In the long term, we need to move towards a living wage. Within organisations and companies, this needs to be addressed and a balance needs to be struck.
I will raise with the senior Minister the issues raised by the Senator today. I will then revert to her with a more detailed response, particularly on dates and timelines.