Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seanad Debate - Opposition divided over “alignment”

Minister Phil Hogan (FG)
Minister Phil Hogan addressed the issue of “aligning” the local development sector with local government in the Seanad on November 9th.
 
The Local and Community Development Programme is, Hogan said, “a key social inclusion intervention” in tackling poverty and exclusion through partnership between the government and disadvantaged communities. 
He continued: “The programme is more relevant than ever, given the current economic crisis and the level of unemployment.”

He noted how it works to increase access to formal and informal educational activities, increases people’s work readiness and their employment prospects, and provides a solid foundation for employment creation. Also, international evidence suggested Ireland was “leading the way with regard to evaluating the impact of the programme.” The Programme received €63.5 million this year. Nonetheless, change is imminent.
 
“I am convinced,” he said, “that the time has come for local government to take a more proactive role with regard to the social inclusion and quality-of-life aspects of its responsibilities.” He expects to see local government “take a greater lead in the administration and delivery of community and local development interventions at a local level.”
 
He said that it was essential to harness the “strengths and experiences of both the local government and the local development sectors.” and to ensure that “the best elements of both are retained in any revised local governance arrangements.” Hogan praised local development companies, who he described as having “a proven track record when it comes to delivering services for their communities.”
 
At the same time he pointed out how “it is inherently inefficient and ineffective to have local governance arrangements that perpetuate the funding of multiple local development agencies from a significant number of Departments and State agencies for similar, complementary or overlapping objectives.”
 
He referred to the new steering group, which he has given a broad remit to, that was established to consider how services can be streamlined, and to draft a “roadmap for delivering simplified, cost-effective and efficient services” and for a closer “alignment”. “The sheer scale and complexity of the current structures is still daunting,“ he commented, saying he intended, as his predecessor did, to get rid of duplication and overlaps in administration.
 
He noted the non-for-profit sectors importance to the economy – that it employs 100,000 people, “equivalent to the numbers employed in agriculture.” He also praised the work of unpaid volunteers.

SEANAD REACTION

Senator Cait Keane (FG) a former student of community development, drew attention to the EU’s growing affection for local development as a concept, noting that new regulations – linked to CAP reforms – “reinforce the centrality of community-led local development.” She welcomed the proposals, as did Labhrás Ó Murchú (FF), who was appreciative of the fact that the Minister had kept the details to a tidy four pages.

Sinn Fein was only allowed one minute of speaking time and in his brief few words Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (SF) described the debate as a “back-slapping exercise.” He said: “The community and voluntary sector which I am in contact with is in crisis, because of the cutbacks in funding that have happened under the previous Administration and which are being followed through by this Administration.” He believed that services can be delivered more effectively by a standalone local community organisation rather than by local government.

Minister Hogan disagreed: "I do not believe it can be done efficiently because of the back office services and administrative burden it puts on the local community and also the fact that there is space and capacity in local government to deliver in a properly focused and aligned way.”

Senator Michael Mullins (FG) asked Minister Hogan whether people employed in local development companies “will become employees of the local authority?” 

The Minister replied the steering group would look at how best to realign the two. Later in the debate, Hogan indicated that CE schemes may move under local authority control. “We are in discussions with the trade union movement and with local government and the Department of Social Protection,” he said, “to roll out in 2012 an expansion of that programme through local government.”

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