Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Area-Based Partnerships.

Bertie Ahern


4 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach whether he has satisfied himself with the impact made on long-term unemployment by the area-based partnerships. [16787/95]

Area-based partnerships were established under the pilot area-based initiative to tackle long-term unemployment introduced under theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress. The pilot initiative was very satisfactory and an area-based approach to tackling disadvantage is now a formal part of the Community Support Framework for Ireland through the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development, reflecting the provisions of the National Development Plan.

Thirty-five designated areas will operate under the Operational Programme and partnership structures have now been established in most of these. The potential for success of the partnership under the operational programme can be gauged from the experiences of the 12 pilot partnerships. The evaluation of the pilot partnerships and other groups which has just been completed indicates that the achievements, in terms of the number of enterprises supported and people receiving education and training has far exceeded expectations. One thousand eight-hundred enterprises were assisted, 1,600 people received training or education in enterprise related skills; and over 7,000 people, most of whom were unemployed or long-term unemployed received training or education relevant to enterprise creation and business or to help their chances of employment.

Partnerships may support a range of actions which include enterprise creation benefiting the unemployed, education and training and services for the unemployed. The actions are specifically geared to improving the potential of the unemployed and especially the long-term unemployed and socially excluded communities to gain employment in the economy generally but particularly in their own areas, to providing a structured programme of advice and support in career planning for those who are long-term unemployed, and to creating specific, training, education and work experience opportunities for the long-term unemployed which will promote their integration into the labour market. I am satisfied with the impact made on long-term unemployment by the area based partnerships and with their potential to continue doing so.

The partnership process has had a marked influence on policy relating to the provision of services to the long-term unemployed. For example, community employment is based very much on a programme piloted in the partnership areas. Similarly, the local employment service is being developed by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment on the basis of the experiences of the partnerships' initial contact programme. The local employment service is being developed within the framework of the companies. The partnership model is a highly effective way of channelling the expertise, resources and goodwill of the social partners, the statutory agencies and local communities in the interests of the unemployed.

When I was a Minister I did not use the word "satisfied" in reply to parliamentary questions as one could not be satisfied with the long-term unemployment figures. It is a Civil Service word which should be airbrushed out of replies because the day we are satisfied is the day we will have to leave this House.

Like the Minister for Finance, I am an advocate of the importance of area based partnerships. He and I had many outings on this issue. The Minister of State referred to local employment services which are developed on the basis of successful partnerships, particularly through the contact groups. Does he think a conflict will arise between those developments and the county enterprise boards, Forbairt and the back-to-work, social welfare and other schemes? People are becoming perplexed about what to do and they end up running from Leader to Forbairt, the IDA, the area based partnerships, local development schemes, the county enterprise boards and the county councils. Does the Minister have any solution to this problem?

We could send the money back to the European Union and apologise for taking it. These bodies and schemes are funded separately by the EU and have matching Exchequer funding.

There is a problem with the multiplicity of services.

The need for them has been justified to the European Commission which critically examined them. All the programmes have a purpose and are achieving results.

The Deputy took me to task for using the word "satisfied". I am satisifed that pilot schemes are achieving the objectives set for them. However, I am not happy and if I was, the issue would have been dealt with in a much more effective way. I share the Deputy's concerns about the lack of co-ordination between the various groups and this is the subject of a later question from Deputy Dempsey. There is a certain level of confusion in this area but it must be borne in mind that these are relatively new schemes and they have some teething problems. It is up to us to pull the various programmes together and I will deal with this point in greater detail when replying to Deputy Dempsey's question.

The Minister referred to an evaluation of the pilot areas — my home town was a pilot area and was quite successful. Has the evaluation been published? If not, will he publish it?

The report, An Evaluation of the Global Grant 1992-95, was prepared for Area Development Management Limited. As far as I am aware it has been published but if not I will ensure that a copy of the report is placed in the Library.

May I pursue the Minister on his reply to my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, as he is appropriately placed in the Department of the Taoiseach to answer it? I accept that the funds have come from Europe and we should not reject them but I agree with my colleague that there are too many Ministers and too many agencies dealing with the unemployed. In many cases there are up to 80 agencies and in some counties there are 40 or 50 agencies dealing with the unemployed. Surely the Minister of State is in a pivotal position in the Department of the Taoiseach to co-ordinate the work of Ministers and the agencies. The Minister referred to the valuable education and training work pursuant to the area based partnerships but at the same time there have been cut backs in the VTOS scheme. Is the Minister's Department doing anything to co-ordinate the work of various Ministers dealing with the unemployed? Is his Department doing anything to co-ordinate the work of the various agencies to make it more meaningful for people on the ground?

As Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for local development, it is my responsibility to ensure there is proper co-ordination of the various programmes. I do not wish to anticipate the next question, tabled by Deputy Dempsey, which touches on this matter but I try to ensure that we eliminate multiplicity where it exists.

There is a misunderstanding about the number of agencies dealing with employment. For example I set up 35 companies but the reason there are 35 companies is that they are geographic and are partnerships of the local people, the State agencies at local level and the local social partners. The concept is local development, which has to be area based. It is a matter for the community to examine its needs and submit its application to an overall company for the country, Area Development Management Limited. There is a misunderstanding but I expect the reason for this misunderstanding is that this is very new. My ambition is that over a period local development will become known for job creation and assisting the disadvantaged in the way the credit union movement is known for finance. That will not happen overnight.

Like the legislation.

It will take some time but that is my ambition for it.

I commend the Minister for the honesty of his reply in stating that many of these projects are in place to attract and spend money from Europe. I agree with him. Does he think that will commend him to his partners in Europe when he seeks funding for another scheme or does he think the honesty of his answer, which undoubtedly is correct, will be a difficulty for him?

It is unusual for Deputy McCreevy to misquote Members. I did not say what he attributed to me. I said the reason there is not one scheme but a series of schemes is that we have been able to justify these worthy and needy schemes to the European Commission.

On the question of local development I have already asked the OECD to carry out an examination of how we deliver local development as a service, warts and all. During Ireland's Presidency next year we intend to hold a conference on local development so that Ireland may lead the field in Europe. Far from the programme finishing in 1999, there might be a Europe-wide programme from 1999 onwards.

Is the Minister getting a Council meeting? Is there fighting about them?

This is a very worthwhile programme and I hope that over a period we can convince the House about it. A great many people need to learn more about this very difficult area. When I joined the Department a little more than 11 months ago the detail of the scheme was new to me but as the partnership companies are up and running I hope to be able to spend more of my time concentrating on facilitating Members of the Oireachtas to learn more about local development because it is a very exciting prospect.

Having regard to what the Minister said about sending the money back to Europe I wonder if the courts take the view that referenda results can be cancelled out by improper funding and whether we will be sending the money back to Europe because of the funding of the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty and the consequent Single European Act.

Does the Deputy include legal fees in that? How about a rebate for the citizens?

Would the Minister agree that the largest growth industry in Ireland is in employment-creating companies? Would he indicate to the House how many people will be employed in these companies and the national company when they are fully set up and established?

Deputies should bear in mind that this scheme is targeted at 35 of the most disadvantaged areas in the country. I hope Deputies will take the time to study it. None of the directors of local development partnership companies are paid and in each area there will be one manager. There will be some seconded staff as well. Before Members start the trite questioning we should try to familiarise ourselves with what the programme is all about.

On the question of the Supreme Court decision and sending money back to Europe, perhaps it would be a good idea occasionally to send judges and barristers to Europe.

We could send the Minister to Europe.

Is he not Mr. Europe?

Earlier I exhorted the Minister to publish the evaluation report. We on this side of the House are fully aware of area partnerships because we set them up in the first place. ADM Limited together with the Combat Poverty Agency are administering under the peace initiative the Delors fund for Border areas. Will the distribution of those funds be equally well publicised? I think that is part of the problem in all this.

I will bring the Deputy's comments to the attention of ADM when I meet them shortly.

I note the Minister has referred to the next question on local government but I could not let the Minister go to the extraordinary lengths he has gone in his various replies without drawing attention to his omission of the words "local government". My point is that the area partnerships, the enterprise boards and the various organisations are making a contribution but we do not know if they are maximising the value of the funds they are administering. Has the Minister any intention of finding this out? How will we know that all of the organisations are providing value for money? The Minister of State has made no reference to the Minister for the Environment who supposedly has embarked upon a review of local government. Does he not accept that this is central to local government and that the problem is that local government is being diminished by being by-passed by these schemes? More money is going to self-appointed organisations, who as far as I can see, are accountable to no one whereas the local authorities, the only organisation accountable to the people every few years, are being diminished.

The Deputy is straying into the area of Question 5.

Sir, you took the words out of my mouth.