Thursday, January 12, 2012

Note on changes to Materials & Training Grants re CE Schemes

Community Employment schemes provide a very important and valued contribution to social employment, training and progression for unemployed people. Furthermore, many Community Employment schemes provide vital community services right across the country.

There are currently 1,143 CE schemes in operation nationally with 23,300 participants. The overall estimated budget stands at €315,194 million for 2012.

The Department of Social Protection has recently taken over full responsibility for Community Employment schemes as the previous FAS Employment Services division joined the Department of Social Protection with effect from 1 January.

CE schemes play an important role in our communities, in particular by providing services which have an intrinsic social value like helping the disabled to live independently or delivering meals on wheels to our older citizens.  This point sometimes gets lost in a purely economic analysis of CE schemes, which views them as not delivering sufficient progression into the labour market.

While it is true that many CE schemes do need to improve the manner in which they provide labour activation services, there will always be a role for schemes that are primarily directed towards the provision of crucial social services, often for disadvantaged communities who are in dire need of services like childcare, elderly care and drug treatment programmes.

The Minister for Social Protection has stated that she is determined to ensure that the contribution of such schemes is recognised in any future decisions on the future operation, funding and role of community employment.

As this area has only recently come under the Department of Social Protection, Minister Burton has asked for an initial review of the financial resources of all schemes to be completed in March 2012. Standard templates have been developed and issued to the employment officers involved. The review will be carried out between local CE sponsors and the Departmental employment officer responsible for the scheme under local management.

The discussion that will be undertaken with schemes will be conducted in an enabling manner and all support possible will be provided to help the schemes to remain viable.  Employment officers are currently making initial contact with schemes. In addition to these local discussions, discussion and consultation with the main representative bodies and stakeholders involved in schemes will take place over the coming weeks in relation to funding.

Separately the former FÁS Research unit has been asked to complete a strategic value for money review of a number of schemes administered by the Department. Community Employment will be reviewed as part of this exercise. This outcome of this review will guide future policy development and is expected to be completed by the end of March.

Minister Burton has announced that she will engage in a stakeholder consultation event in order to better understand the role that Community Employment schemes play across the entire country and to obtain the views and feedback of scheme sponsors, supervisors and participants.

The outcome of these reviews will inform the overall approach to be taken by the Department of Social Protection in relation to how to secure the best outcomes for the schemes and for their participants taking account both of the large amount of money we spend on CE schemes and the valuable contribution that many of them make to their communities.

The purpose of the review by the former FÁS Research unit is to examine the income and funding of sponsoring organisations in terms of their ability to continue deliver the programme.  It is also being carried out in the context that there are community and voluntary sponsoring organisations that receive funding from a multiplicity of state agencies. Alternative sources of support will be examined, particularly with reference to funding from other state agencies to avoid duplication.

The review will also seek to establish if income is generated by scheme activity and the potential for utilisation of these funds to cover project costs.

This is a listening government and the Government has been listening carefully to the concerns raised by the community and voluntary sector about the impact that changes to the training and material grant could have on Community Employment Schemes pending the outcome of the review. Following on from changes to the training and materials grant for Community Employment schemes announced in Budget 2012 Minister Burton made a commitment that no Community Employment Scheme would close pending the completion of this review.

The Government has been clear that in the event that the changes in the training and material grant announced in the Budget create financial difficulties for schemes, the Department of Social Protection will continue to provide funding for those schemes and funding has been made available in this context.

Community employment participants can continue to avail of education and training programmes that are available to them free of charge from existing State funded providers. This facility will also form part of the arrangements that will be developed as part of the establishment of SOLAS.

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