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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 21 Oct 2003

Vol. 572 No. 6

Priority Questions. - Community Development.

Seymour Crawford


76 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the position regarding his review of community and local development structures; if he proposes many changes in the existing structures; if so, the date from which he proposes that these changes should take effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24195/03]

I refer the Deputy to earlier questions on this topic, in particular my reply to Question No. 79 on 3 June 2003 and my reply to Question No. 108 and allied questions on 26 March 2003. As indicated in these replies, following a comprehensive consultation process, which was advanced at a national seminar held in June, I am developing proposals that I intend, with my colleagues the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to bring to Government before the end of this year. The implementation of any proposed changes, including the timing of any changes that might be introduced, will depend on the outcome of Government deliberations in this regard.

The Minister's reply is extraordinarily brief compared with his normal style of reply.

Has he discovered what benefits can be derived from this review? Has he examined the numbers employed in the management and administration of the groups around the country? Will efforts be made to curtail the level of administration as against the level of funds being spent on projects and development in general? I notice from a reply I received today from the Minister's colleague, Deputy Noel Ahern, that the summer jobs scheme has been more or less sidelined to the partnership bodies yet those bodies would not have received any funds to deliver on that. They are being asked only to give advice and so on. A total of 4,600 students were left in limbo last year as a result and it caused serious pressures on those in deprived areas. The Minister can say whatever he likes but that is a fact of which I have proof.

Is the Minister undertaking this review for the sake of it or is he committed to actually ensuring that best value is given for money? In light of the fact that the Minister's budget was curtailed 11 months ago, perhaps he will have an increased budget this year and the review may not be necessary. If he has to deal with a similar budget allocation and the groups use up a considerable amount for administration, will the review deliver best practice and best delivery to the communities they represent?

I cannot pre-empt a Government decision on this matter and cannot make a statement on something that has not yet happened. However, the objective of the review is quite simple and it does not matter how much money is involved. That is the mistake people make; they think that if money is plentiful there is an excuse not to examine best practice in the system and that we continue to live with the old systems all the time. I do not agree with that view. Money always was and will be a scarce commodity. If it is so plentiful, why bother taxing the people? Why should we not still use it efficiently? I concur with the theory that no matter how plentiful money is, we should be as careful with it as if it were our own, even more careful as it is the taxpayers' money. I fully agree with the Deputy that the objective of everything I do is to ensure that as much of the money as possible goes to deliver front-line services. That is exactly what we are trying to do.

As everybody knows there are two steps in this process. One is to stop the ever-growing number of bodies adding to the complication for the citizen, and the second is to try to rationalise and make more efficient the existing bodies. I have pointed out time and again that as a member of a community, I get confused as to what all these bodies are doing. Those who visit my clinics and receive the telephone list of the contacts who might be able to offer assistance in various areas are testament to the fact that people want some order and rationality introduced to this sector.

I am trying to establish through this question whether there will be order. Many people are anxious about their own situations and the need for a better service being delivered on time. Does the Minister accept that there is duplication? Does he agree a great deal of time is being spent by administrators attending meetings with other administrators to ensure there is no duplication? Does he also accept there is a lot of administration involved in accountancy matters and so on? One person informed me he spends a day and a half per week dealing with the information demanded of him by Departments in general – not necessarily the Minister's Department. That is in addition to the fact that he has a person looking after finance. How can one justify a requirement on the part of a person with higher capabilities to spend a day and a half literally filling in forms? This was brought to my notice by more than one person. There is a plethora of forms designed to ensure that all of the groups concerned are not duplicating each other.

I ask the Minister to be brief in replying.

The Deputy and I are totally of one mind on this. He is correct – he has put his finger on what we are trying to achieve. On a recent visit to an island of 200 inhabitants, I was informed that because of structures which Government had created in a hotch-potch manner, the community development organisation on the island had 20 bank accounts. That represented one community bank account for every ten persons on the island.

They were legally offshore.

One could say that, but, unfortunately, there was probably no money in most of them. However, Deputy Crawford has hit the nail on the head with regard to what we are trying to do. I should point out that those working in the system will always emphasise the reason their job is most important. That is understandable. Most people see the solution to excessive bureaucracy in terms of adding more staff, rather than seeking to simplify the situation. As I have repeatedly said to community groups, this is as much an examination of what all of us have done in Government over the years to add to these structures, whatever their origin – some of them were established for good reasons, such as implementation of EU schemes and so on – as it is an examination of the groups concerned. I hope it will be seen in that spirit.