The following is the information requested by the Deputy:
1. Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS)
The terms of reference, functions and purpose of An Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS) are set out in the Labour Services Act, 1987. In summary the main functions and purpose relate to the provision of training or retraining for employment and the provision of assistance in obtaining employment or work experience. The role of FÁS is reviewed on an ongoing basis through the formation of its Statements of Strategy. The current FÁS Strategy Statement and the complementary Training Strategy outline the vision and direction for FÁS for the period 2006 to 2009. The strategy is closely aligned to the policy goals of my Department and was developed in close collaboration with my Department. In addition a comprehensive internal and external consultation process involving all relevant stakeholders was undertaken by FÁS. In implementing its strategy FÁS carries out a range of specialised activities, which lend themselves to provision by a dedicated agency, with specific skills.
In response to the changing demands of the economy and a situation of virtually full employment, the training and up-skilling of workers have become a key focus. The National Partnership agreement Towards 2016 includes commitments to increased training of those in employment, with a particular focus on the low skilled, disadvantaged communities and those in vulnerable sectors. FÁS plays a major role in delivering such training, addressing skills needs, barriers to access and progression, the issue of life-long learning and helping to tackle early school-leaving, literacy and numeracy issues. It has, for example, increased its activity in in-company training and provided additional training and employment schemes for people with disabilities. It works in close collaboration with industry to ensure that the training and curricula meet the needs of employers. It has also developed specific training in areas such as childcare. It works in partnership with the community training centres to provide early school leavers with basic skills and work experience and to assist with progress to further training and development. Such activities produce positive externalities for tax-payers by reducing the potential need to draw on social benefits, and by spreading the tax burden, due to increased tax revenue arising from higher-skilled employment.
2. The National Competitiveness Council (NCC)
The National Competitiveness Council (NCC) is a social partnership body, which reports to An Taoiseach on key competitiveness issues facing the Irish economy together with recommendations on policy actions required to enhance Ireland's competitive position. The taxpayer benefits from the independent and comprehensive commentary and advice which this body produces. The functions of the NCC are:
(a) To prepare and submit to An Taoiseach, an Annual Report on Competitiveness Policy outlining the main challenges facing the business sector in Ireland over the medium term and policy responses required to meet them.
(b) To publish an Annual Competitiveness Report examining and monitoring the international competitiveness of the business sector in Ireland, and to prepare such other reports on priority competitiveness issues, as appropriate, with recommendations on measures required to improve competitiveness.
(c) To undertake from time to time such other functions as An Taoiseach or the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment may decide. The membership of the NCC consists of representatives of the employer and trade union social partnership pillars; persons with relevant expertise in competitiveness; a representative of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and the Chief Executive of Forfás. Council Members are appointed by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment who also appoints a Chairperson from amongst the Members. In addition, representatives of other Government Departments attend Council meetings in an observatory capacity. Finally, the Council may invite additional representatives of the Government Departments and Agencies to attend Council meetings in an observer capacity where it appears appropriate.
Each year the NCC publishes the an Annual Competitiveness Report, Benchmarking Ireland's Performance, which is a collection of statistical indicators of Ireland's competitiveness performance in relation to 16 other economies and the OECD and EU averages. The NCC also publishes Ireland's Competitiveness Challenge, based on the benchmarking report and the latest research to outline the main challenges to Ireland's competitiveness and the policy responses required to meet them. As part of its work, the NCC also publishes other papers on specific competitiveness issues. The NCC is operational, recently publishing its 2007 reports.
By its very design, as a social partnership body, it would not fall within the remit or function of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The secretariat is, however, provided by Forfás which is an agency falling under the aegis of the Department.
3. Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB)
The purpose and functions of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board are set out in the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2007. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was established as an independent Statutory Body in April 2004 as part of the Government's insurance reform programme, with the aim of allowing certain classes of personal injury claim, where liability is uncontested, to be settled without the need for the costs associated with litigation. The threat of rising insurance costs at the time posed serious risks to Irish business and the economy generally.
Since its establishment the PIAB has successfully fulfilled its legal obligations: the PIAB is now assessing many claims three times faster and four times cheaper than under the old litigation system, which is of benefit to the taxpayer.
The fact that the Board is established as a statutorily independent body delivering fair and equitable assessments is one of the factors underpinning its success.
The PIAB has made a very positive contribution to the success of the Government's insurance reform programme and has pared down the personal injury claims process in a wholly positive way. Motor premiums are currently at levels last seen in December 1997 and, taking account of inflation, at 1989 levels. The PIAB has succeeded in establishing a new non-adversarial culture of settling claims. The effects are felt throughout the Court system, where valuable time has been freed up to deal with cases that should more properly reside there.
4. The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI)
The National Standards Authority of Ireland Act 1996 established the NSAI as an independent statutory body with specific functions relating to certification and the development of standards. Functions relating to the Legal Metrology Service (LMS) and National Metrology were transferred to the NSAI by the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998. The functions of the LMS are set out in the Metrology Act 1996 and are designed to secure confidence in measurements used in trade, through the exercise of controls on measuring instruments and quantities of pre-packed and loose goods and to implement a national system of measurement, more usually referred to as National Metrology. The NSAI also has responsibility for the Irish Agrément Board (IAB), which advises the NSAI on construction products and processes suitable for Agrément assessment and certification in Ireland.
The functions of the NSAI require professional and technical competencies and skills not available within my Department. The benefits of the work of the NSAI to the taxpayer can be summarised as the provision of a wide range of enterprise support services and also the securing of consumer confidence in measurements used in trade. The NSAI, through charging for its services, self finances approximately two thirds of its annual expenditure requirements.
5. City and County Enterprise Boards (CEBs)
The 35 City and County Enterprise Boards (CEBs) are statutorily recognised under Section 10 of the Industrial Development Act 1995 and continue to be operational. The Boards are incorporated individually as companies, limited by guarantee under the Companies Acts, with individual Memoranda and Articles of Association. The functions of the CEBs are set out in Section 10(1) of the Act and are essentially to promote and assist economic development within their area of operations and, in particular, by means of enterprise creation and business development.
My Department is responsible in respect of the legislative basis and policy framework for the CEBs. However, the Boards have a specific targeted remit in the development of indigenous enterprise potential regionally and, accordingly, they are best placed, structurally and geographically, to carry out these functions at a local level throughout the country.
Through the activities and range of supports provided by the 35 City and County Enterprise Boards the micro-enterprise sector in Ireland has been strengthened since their establishment in 1993 which, in turn, is of benefit to the taxpayer and the economy as a whole.