Written Answers. - Social Welfare Offices.

Theresa Ahearn

Question:

169 Mrs. T. Ahearn asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he intends to meet the executive council of the Branch Managers' Association of employment offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8887/96]

Joe Walsh

Question:

172 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Social Welfare the estimated cost of the proposed replacement of approximately 70 social welfare branch offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8890/96]

Mary O'Rourke

Question:

173 Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he will make a statement regarding the social welfare branch office in Castlepollard, County Westmeath (details supplied). [9007/96]

Dermot Ahern

Question:

176 Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Social Welfare the estimated cost of buying out the contracts of the existing branch officers/proprietors under his proposal to close a number of social welfare offices throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8470/96]

Dermot Ahern

Question:

177 Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his proposal to close down social welfare branch offices throughout the country is approved by Government, the new buildings that will be required in order to replace these branches; the cost involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8471/96]

Theresa Ahearn

Question:

181 Mrs. T. Ahearn asked the Minister for Social Welfare the plans, if any, he has regarding social welfare offices throughout the country; the implication, if any, there are for the offices in South County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8552/96]

Michael Bell

Question:

182 Mr. Bell asked the Minister for Social Welfare the plans, if any, he has to close the social welfare office in Ardee, County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8568/96]

It is proposed to take Questions Nos. 169, 172, 173, 176, 177, 181 and 182 together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply, on 18 April 1996, to Deputy Walsh's adjournment motion on the future of social welfare branch offices. Since the end of the 1980s the Department has been engaged in a programme of fundamental change in the way it delivers its services to the public. This provides for the local delivery, by departmentally staffed local offices, of a much broader range of services and the implementation of more modern systems of payments. The switch from payments in cash to alternative payment methods, mainly through post offices, is a central feature of the new service. The frequency of signing for unemployed people is also being reduced from weekly to monthly. These changes in service delivery have implications for the traditional role and type of activity carried out by branch offices which are operated by branch managers on a contract basis for the Department.

For this reason, as I stated on 18 April, a review of branch office operations has been under way in the Department for several years and predates my appointment as Minister. The purpose of this review is to see how best the benefits flowing from the changes in service delivery can be extended to existing social welfare customers and the public generally in the catchment areas currently catered for by the branch offices.

No decision has yet been taken with regard to the future of the branch offices and any such decision will be fully discussed with the branch managers under the terms of the conciliation and arbitration scheme which covers them.