I thank the Chairman and committee members for their invitation to attend this meeting. I am accompanied by Mr. Jerry Murphy, our deputy chief executive who has been with the organisation since 2005, and Mr. Brian Lehane, our chief financial officer who joined Pobal in July 2018. I was appointed as chief executive of Pobal in August this year. I joined Pobal from St.Michael’s House where I was chief executive since 2015.
Pobal values the role of this committee and we are here to account for and apply the lessons of this process. Pobal is a not-for-profit, registered charity and a company limited by guarantee without share capital. Pobal’s board is appointed by the Government under the aegis of the Department of Rural and Community Development. Established in 1992, Pobal has developed in response to Government priorities over 27 years. On behalf of Government, our work supports valuable services in marginalised communities. Our core role is to deliver an effective programme and grant management service in order to create an inclusive society where Government and communities work together.
In 2018, Pobal managed 25 programmes, primarily for four Government Departments. The areas, groups and communities we support are outlined in the briefing document we submitted to the committee. In managing these programmes in 2018 Pobal disbursed €694.7 million, an increase in expenditure of €79.7 million over 2017. We supported 2,500 community groups and almost 32,000 individuals through the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme, SICAP. We channelled funding to 4,832 early learning and care services, supporting approximately 81,899 families with reduced fees through the community subvention programme. We also approved 19,000 participants for the seniors alert scheme.
In 2018 Pobal employed 442 staff in 2018, with 46% based outside Dublin. We operate our programmes efficiently. Our administration spend for 2018 was €29.94 million or 4.10% of budget. Pobal’s budget has evolved to deliver programmes of work in line with Government policy and requirements which make a difference to people’s lives. Funds disbursed moved from €257 million in 2011 to €695 million in 2018. This reflects changes in Irish society and the Government’s commitment to supporting civil society with these changes.
As CEO, my vision for Pobal is to deliver a value for money service for Government and to make a difference for people and communities. The landscape of Irish society has altered significantly, redefining who we are and how we live. Working with community and voluntary organisations, Pobal aims to build capacity locally and to support sustainable, resilient communities. In a world increasingly fraught with social challenges, the importance of a strong network of natural community supports is a critical component of individual and collective well-being. It enables us to meet the challenges of the future.
Pobal is committed to ensuring our processes deliver verifiable management of taxpayer’s money, while offering user friendly and effective support to all stakeholders. Our supports assist community organisations to meet their legislative, governance and financial management requirements. We also provide practical help such as helping hands workshops and managing better guides. Where possible we utilise information technology to reduce the administrative burden on community organisations. We have seen remarkable changes across the early learning and care and the school age childcare sector in Ireland in recent years, including the development of the First 5 strategy and the national childcare scheme, of which Pobal is scheme administrator.
We are proud of our work but we know we do not always get things right. We welcome the oversight of the Comptroller and Auditor General and this committee. This process is important in reminding us of our purpose and in identifying areas for improvement and learning. The committee is aware the Comptroller and Auditor General highlighted two issues in our 2018 annual financial statements. I accept that there is a need for improvement in our procurement processes, with non-compliance on a proportion of expenditure on goods and services in 2018. I take this matter extremely seriously, as does the organisation. A corrective action plan is in place with targets and timelines for completion.
The second note to the accounts relates to Chapter 16 of the 2018 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which examined the administration by Pobal of early learning and childcare funding programmes. Two of the recommendations in the chapter were directed to Pobal. However, we understand this chapter will be considered in greater detail at a future meeting of this committee.
Looking ahead, in 2020 the Department of Rural and Community Development will undertake a periodic critical review of Pobal under the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. This is the first such review under the 2016 code. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has also indicated it will undertake a major operational review of all its early years programmes and the operating model in the early learning and care sector. We look forward to both reviews and implementing any recommendations for change and improvement. The entire team at Pobal works hard to deliver for the communities from which we come and where we live. It is an important part of our organisational culture that we exist for families and communities who not only need the services and programmes we administer but who also, in real terms, pay for these services. I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear today and my colleagues and I are happy to take any questions members may have.