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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 21 Nov 1995

Vol. 458 No. 5

Written Answers. - NOW Programme.

Tom Kitt


44 Mr. T. Kitt asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment if he has satisfied himself with the operation of the NOW programme. [17258/95]

The NOW programme has been operational in two phases. The first phase, from 1992 to 1994, involved thirty three pilot projects working with partners in other member states of the European Union. These projects piloted innovative approaches with the objective of improving the vocational prospects of women on the labour market. They encompassed areas such as training, community and enterprise development and childcare provision. Project promoters received 65 per cent of eligible costs from the European Social Fund. The NOW programme was considered, through independent evaluation, to have been highly successful and benefited a wide range of community and voluntary groups throughout the country. It has been renewed by the European Commission and will operate again in the period to the end of 1999, with an EU budget provision of approximately £14 million.

A national information campaign was undertaken by my Department to publicise the NOW programme at the start of this year. As a result, over 200 applications were received. Thirty seven of these were provisionally approved through an independent selection procedure. They have been given grants to develop particular aspects of the projects and to formalise the transnational partnership arrangements which apply. Final approval for the projects to operate in 1996 and 1997 will be notified shortly. In this new phase projects will receive 75 per cent of eligible costs from the European Social Fund. Half of the total budget allocation has been assigned to the 1996-1997 period. New applications will be sought in 1997 for projects which will operate in the period 1998-1999.
I am particularly anxious that the positive lessons learned through the operation of pilot projects under the NOW programme should inform national policy and provision. My Department and the European Commission will be paying particular attention to that aspect. A representative monitoring committee has been established to oversee the implementation of the programme and this will ensure that the successful outcomes are main-streamed to the greatest possible extent.
I am also aware that particular difficulties have been experienced because of delays in payments from Brussels. The final 20 per cent payment owing on the last NOW programme has been outstanding for far too long and, as a consequence, individual project promoters have had to arrange interim borrowing and pay interest charges arising. My Department is actively pursuing this issue with the European Commission. I have taken steps to ensure that this will not arise in the future, when payments will be made by reference to annual expenditure returns, rather than through achieving expenditure targets over a multi-annual period as applied in the past.