On 12 October, the Minister of the Education and Skills announced a Government decision to restructure the VEC system through the amalgamation of the VECs to reduce the number from the current 33 to a proposed 16. The decision includes the amalgamation of Kerry Education Service, County Kerry VEC, County Limerick VEC and City of Limerick VEC. The rationale behind the decision, according to the text of the Minister's statement of 12 October, is that it is part of the overall Government agenda to transform how public services are delivered. The consolidation ensures that each of the 16 VECs will be organisations of sufficient scale to support the evolution of local education service delivery and to meet future challenges.
The briefing document indicates that under the proposed revised structure, the smallest VEC will have a budget of €39 million. I remind the Minister of State that Kerry Education Service had a budget of €40.6 million in 2008 and a budget of €41.4 million in 2009. The projected outturn for 2010 will be €44 million. This is way above the guidelines. Under the proposed revised structure, County Kerry VEC, City of Limerick VEC and County Limerick VEC will have a combined budget in excess of €100 million.
Since the amalgamation of Town of Tralee VEC and County Kerry VEC in 1998 when Kerry Education Service was formed, Kerry Education Service has developed a vigorous, modern and progressive education service in the county, supporting and developing schools and reaching into every corner of the county with adult and further education provision. In 2009, Kerry Education Service provided education for 3,000 second level students and 11,000 further and adult education students.
The McCarthy report quoted savings of €3 million but did not take account of the collateral damage, which will be far in excess of that amount when one considers the effect on communities, service users and staff. If the proposed amalgamation places the headquarters outside of Kerry, the loss of revenue to local businesses in Kerry alone will be in the region of €5 million per year.
At present, 1,000 full and part-time staff are employed throughout the county by Kerry Education Service. Any amalgamation will impact on resources for staffing. Decisions regarding the allocation of resources for schools and further education programs will not be made in County Kerry. There will be a loss of school identity in the scheme that will span two counties and 21 schools. Larger geographical areas for teaching staff will mean that teachers will have to travel further for re-employment or redeployment purposes. Kerry will also compete for PLC, FETAC, literacy and community education places with a large city such as Limerick and with Limerick regeneration requirements. Budgets and student places will be allocated without an understanding of the local economy and educational or social needs in many parts of Kerry. Kerry education service currently has the flexibility to provide quality-assured FETAC programmes throughout the county and this may no longer be possible. The development of new education initiatives for the county will be at risk. Special initiatives currently in place in Kerry education services schools such as the development schools and enrichment learning programme may no longer be available.
I am completely opposed to this proposal. There is no evidence of a coherent, thought-out plan and costed strategy focusing on the needs of students and on the needs of Kerry as a community and as a society in times of serious economic stress.
The Fine Gael document, Reinventing Government, has been criticised by some people in Kerry — I was attacked about it today by a member of the TUI in Kerry. On page 83, it is clearly stated that Fine Gael plans to rationalise vocational education committees from 33 to 20 in number but that Kerry would be left on its own. It is Fine Gael policy that for all the reasons I have outlined, Kerry will be left on its own. We have lost our industrial independence, our health independence and we will not give up our educational independence as it is one of the last real strengths we have as a county.