Voluntary youth organisations currently face a crisis retaining experienced staff due to their funding levels. Funding can only come from the organisations' programmes and, therefore, the young people for whom the service is provided will lose out. Funding for youth services needs to be increased urgently. The commitment in Partnership 2000 was for an overall increase of £4 million for youth services. Funding currently stands at £13.6 million, that is 0.6 per cent of the total Education budget. Despite the youth services having been identified as one of the key areas to benefit from national lottery allocations, percentage allocations to youth services from the lottery's surplus has fallen from 27 per cent to less than 13 per cent.
The 1998 increase in funds for the Department's youth affairs section is 1.7 per cent which will not cover the projected rate of inflation of 3 per cent and the Partnership 2000 agreement salary increases of 2.25 per cent. The meagre increase in 1998 constitutes a net decrease when these factors are taken into account. If this allocation is examined more closely the so-called increase will be seen to be creative accounting. The money had already been factored in by the previous Minister of State, Deputy Allen, for services provided as far back as 1996.
Youth organisations will have to curtail the services they provide for young people throughout the country thanks to the Minister's allocation. This cut in funding falls short of the Fianna Fáil election promise to combat drugs and social exclusion. The allocation of funds for the youth at risk projects is welcome but it is to be noted that the allocation was made following pressure from the Opposition and it is concentrated on 13 areas, mainly in Dublin. If there is not a real increase in funding for youth organisations in line with the recommendations of the Costello report the problems being experienced in urban centres will become widespread. In the current economic climate the Minister should provide genuine increases in funding and not try to dolly up the figures, so to speak.
Due to the Minister's cutbacks many youth organisations face financial crisis, especially as they may have been given loans on the basis of getting inflation proof increases from the Department. This problem is compounded by the current policy of not allocating funding until May or June. If the Minister is interested in developing youth services he must bring forward a programme of multiannual budgeting, thereby providing service providers with a tangible opportunity to plan ahead, instead of the current haphazard method of allocating funds.
The Minister of State with responsibility for youth affairs has a co-ordinating role to play between Departments. Yet, interventions by various Departments are unco-ordinated. For example, some partnership boards, ADM groups and health boards may provide similar services to the youth organisations while pitching salaries and resources at higher levels. This is enticing many out of the voluntary sector, thereby, starving the sector of valuable expertise.
The Minister must provide additional funds immediately for the youth services grants scheme to ensure the survival of the current level of service. He should also give a commitment that the £4 million promised in Partnership 2000 will be provided over the coming 18 months. It is a sad state of affairs that the Taoiseach is calling on the Garda to respect Partnership 2000 while the Government reneges on its commitment to the young people made in the same agreement.
Many volunteers are becoming disheartened by the inadequate funding provided by the Department and this discourages those who raise funds for the organisations. These people are doing an invaluable service but the only thanks they get is a cut in funds from the Department. The Minister should take the opportunity to give a real increase in the allocation to youth services. I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors' Gallery of members of youth organisations. I hope the Minister has good news for us.