Adjournment Debate. - Youth Services.

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.

I thank Deputy Naughten for raising this matter. I am replying on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who is unable to be present this evening.

One of my primary concerns in the context of support for youth work programmes and services is the allocation of financial assistance towards the provision of non-formal personal development and social education opportunities for young people through participation in the programmes and services of national voluntary youth work organisations, local youth work groups, special youth work projects, youth information centres and so on.

Youth work organisations present valuable opportunities for the social and personal development of young people. Through participation in such organisations, life skills such as leadership, co-operation, decision making, motivation and taking responsibility can be acquired by young people. Therefore, youth work organisations are uniquely equipped to assist young people to become full participants in society.

The youth affairs section of the Department operates the youth service grant scheme under which State funding for the support of voluntary youth work is made available on an annual basis to national and major regional voluntary youth work organisations. The continued funding of voluntary youth work organisations through the youth service grant scheme is intended to ensure the emergence, promotion, growth and development of organisations with distinctive philosophies and programmes aimed at the social education of young people.

I recognise the concern felt by the youth organisations regarding the availability of increased resources for youth work and assure the Dáil that I shall continue to be unstinting in my efforts to secure increases in youth work funding. However, the subheads from which allocations are made under the youth service grant scheme are what are termed "non-pay subheads". They are grantsin-aid which are not intended to meet the full costs arising.

Successive Governments have raised the level of funding for the youth affairs section of my Department from a sum of £3.765 million in 1987 to £13.567 million in 1998. The 1998 figure represents an increase of 1.7 per cent over the 1997 allocation of £13.345 million. This year sees the first full year cost implication of the provision of additional resources for youth organisations, disadvantaged youth projects and youth information centres introduced in late 1996. The carry over of funds allowed these initiatives to function on a percentage allocation of their operating costs in 1997. Within my existing budget no scope exists for direct increases to youth organisations.

The rise in funding in 1996 permitted the allocation of funds for the development of certain new youth work programmes and services provided by the national and major regional voluntary youth work organisations through the youth service grant scheme. It also allowed my Department to extend provision for special projects to assist disadvantaged youth, most of which are operated by voluntary youth work organisations. In addition, the extra resources available in 1996 enabled the Department to undertake development in the network of youth information centres, all of which are operated by voluntary youth work organisations.

On foot of the first ministerial report on measures to reduce the demand for drugs the Government allocated £10 million in 1997 to support the service development plans submitted by the 13 local drugs task forces. More than £1.5 million of this amount was allocated to a number of youth work initiatives within the 13 local drugs task force areas. In addition to the £10 million allocated in 1997, the Government decided in January 1998 on a programme for young people at risk. The centrepiece of the programme is a young people's facilities and services fund of £30 million.

Within the last few weeks the Minister of State Deputy Chris Flood has invited proposals to be funded to the tune of £20 million out of that £30 million. The £20 million will be allocated over the next three years to support a variety of capital and non-capital projects in the 13 areas identified as being particularly affected by the heroin problem. Proposals will be prepared by local development groups in each local drug task force area comprising representatives from the local drug task force, the relevant VEC and local authority. The remaining £10 million in the fund will be targeted at areas outside the task force areas where serious drug problems exist or have the potential to develop. The arrangements for the allocation of that £10 million are being finalised and will be announced shortly.

Also, in the context of attracting additional resources, my Department is working on the preparation of the heads of the youth work Bill, 1998, and my aim is to publish the Bill during the summer. An amended legislative basis for youth work would provide an excellent statutory framework in which the phased development of comprehensive youth work services might be undertaken and, since it would ensure accountability in the expenditure of public resources, provide the opportunity of demonstrating the benefits and the value for money of youth work, ensure public funds expended on youth work programmes and services are spent efficiently and effectively, the introduction of the amending legislation should assist us in attracting additional resources for youth work.

Even though the existing youth work budget does not allow the Minister of State to grant increases to youth organisations he, as he already indicated to the National Youth Council of Ireland, is seeking supplementary funding in the current year. He will pursue this matter vigorously and in the event of a positive outcome he will review funding support later in the year. Furthermore, he is in the process of producing a three year funding proposal for the development of youth work services. He has requested the observations of the National Youth Council of Ireland on my draft proposal and, following receipt of the council's observations, he intends to finalise the proposal. On this basis, he hopes to be in a position to secure additional resources in future for youth service.