Written Answers. - Community Employment Schemes.
118 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the concern of participants in the job initiative, community employment scheme, of those availing of the back to work allowance scheme and in the area of the social economy regarding reducing numbers on the schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter setting out her position. [19047/03]
119 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the precise targeted reduction in numbers of participants she is seeking from the review under way in relation to the community employment scheme; and the timeframe for the implementation of reforms she has in mind for this particular scheme. [19048/03]
120 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the widespread disruption to community projects in disadvantaged areas that has been occasioned by the reduction in numbers of those participating in the community employment scheme; her plans for this scheme; and the way in which it will relate to other or similar active labour market interventions. [19049/03]
121 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the way in which the community employment scheme can be either reformed or amalgamated with other schemes with a view to safeguarding this kind of active labour market intervention and underpinning the social and community outcomes of this particular scheme. [19050/03]
122 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the precise timeframe within which the current review of the community employment scheme will be concluded in view of the uncertainty that the review itself has brought about in areas such as Tallaght. [19051/03]
126 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she or the Ministers of State in her Department have met with representatives of the Irish Wheelchair Association or with other groups representing people with disabilities recently; if so, the issues raised by such groups and requests made; if action will be taken by her or her Department or the Ministers of State as a result; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19170/03]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 to 122, inclusive, and 126 together.
The primary purpose of the community employment, CE, and job initiative, JI, programmes is to provide long-term unemployed persons with the necessary skills and confidence to take up employment in the open labour market.
In accordance with the Government's decision in 1999 to restructure CE, participation levels are gradually being reduced in line with reduced levels of long-term unemployment and a strategic shift in policy in favour of training and other more appropriate supports. The average participation rate on the CE programme during 2003 is expected to be in the region of 22,500 with a projected year-end participation rate of 20,000.
The year-end participation rate on JI is expected to be in the region of 2,200. Funding for the social economy programme was increased to over €30 million this year which will enable FÁS to meet existing commitments under this programme. Policy matters regarding the back to work allowance, including participation rates, are the responsibility of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
All health service related CE projects including those providing services for persons with disabilities, have been ring-fenced from reductions that have taken place as a result of reducing the CE programme to 20,000 places by the end of 2003. Other services ring-fenced from reductions include drugs task force activity and childcare service provision. Projects in RAPID areas are given priority.
During 2002 when CE places were being reduced FÁS ensured that these designated health CE places were untouched and that the places were maintained as agreed. I understand the difficulties being encountered by sponsor organisations such as the Irish Wheelchair Association which I met recently and which has difficulty in replacing participants due to the lack of suitable applicants coming forward for the programme. While CE is an active labour market programme and the concept of progression by participants is central to such a programme, I have asked FÁS to make a particular effort to identify CE participants suitable for the positions in question.
The Government is very much aware of the important contribution that CE has made to the development of services for local communities over the years, and the difficulties which now arise for sponsor organisations in the voluntary and community sector due to the reduction in the level of funding available for the programme. In this context a cross-departmental senior officials group has been asked to consider options for the future of CE, taking account of the link with the provision of community services. In addition, the PPF mandated review of active labour market programmes is being progressed under the aegis of the standing committee on the labour market, chaired by my Department. FÁS is also currently undertaking an internal review of CE and JI, which should be finalised shortly.
The outcome of these various initiatives, which I expect to be concluded by the autumn, will inform the Government's consideration of options for the future of active labour market programmes, including matters relating to amalgamation of schemes and appropriate levels of participation on such programmes going forward.