I propose to take Questions Nos. 105, 176, 181 and 202 together.
The Combat Poverty Agency report on Poverty and Social Inclusion, Linking Local and National Structures, is currently being examined in my Department.
The promotion of social inclusion is a key policy objective for my Department and is prioritised in our Statement of Strategy 2005-2007.
Local authorities have a key role in achieving this objective at local level, through the delivery of a wide range of services, including specific responsibilities in areas such as housing and community development. Local authorities are also required to ensure that social inclusion is properly addressed in their Corporate Plans and supporting annual Business Plans.
Through the local government reform programme, local authorities have expanded their social inclusion and community development role, particularly through the establishment of Community and Enterprise Sections and their lead role on the County and City Development Boards (CDBs) and the Boards' supporting Social Inclusion Measures Working Groups. The national to local linkage is a key focus for the CDBs, which also comprises the State Agencies, local development bodies and social partners operating locally, and whose main function is to co-ordinate the delivery of services at local level.
My Department also works with a range of organisations to enhance and support local government's capacity in tackling poverty and promoting social inclusion, including with the Combat Poverty Agency. In this context, my Department chairs a national Social Inclusion Steering Group comprising representatives from the Agency, the Office for Social Inclusion, Local Government Management Services Board, County/City Managers Association, Institute of Public Administration and the Department of Community, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs. This group supports and will continue to support the development of a strong anti-poverty focus within local government, including in relation to local social inclusion strategies referred to in the report. In addition, I note that some pilot work, within local government, on poverty impact assessment is being undertaken by the Agency, in conjunction with the Office for Social Inclusion, and that this work is being overseen by the Steering Group.
Local authorities are giving effect to national policies and programmes at local level through the implementation of a range of initiatives. For example:
Local authorities participate in delivering the National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPs) and the new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAP Incl.);
Pilot Social Inclusion Units were established in seven local authorities in 2002 with funding from my Department. These units have now been placed on a permanent footing and the programme, with the support of my Department, will be extended to half of all county/city councils by the end of 2008 in line with a commitment in Towards 2016;
The Local Government Anti-Poverty Learning Network, representative of elected members and officials, was established in 2000 by my Department in conjunction with Combat Poverty Agency and Office of Social Inclusion, to provide a forum for sharing information and exchanging different local experiences and best practice on anti-poverty measures;
Local authorities support the national RAPID (Revitalising Areas by Planning Investment and Development) Programme, which is targeted at the most disadvantaged areas in the country and under which such areas are prioritised for investment to tackle social exclusion. The cost to local authorities of employing the local co-ordinators in RAPID areas is met directly by my Department (€2.8m per annum);
Community & Voluntary Fora, established in each city and county in 2000 with funding of over €1.3m per annum from my Department, are also supported by local authorities. The Fora are involved in promoting social inclusion and in facilitating community representation on public sector structures.