I thank the Deputies who raised this issue.
I am happy to have responsibility for community employment from 1 January. These schemes play an important role in our communities, in particular by providing services which have an intrinsic social value like helping the disabled to live independently or delivering meals-on-wheels and other services to our older citizens. This is a point that tends to get lost in some of the purely economic analysis of CE schemes, which views them as not delivering sufficient progression into the labour market. While it is true that many CE schemes do need to improve the manner in which they provide labour activation services, there will always be a role for schemes that are primarily directed towards the provision of crucial social services, often for disadvantaged communities who are in dire need of services like child care, elderly care and drug treatment programmes.
The intrinsic social value of these schemes is not captured by conventional economic models but this is more a failing of conventional economics than of the schemes themselves. As Minister for Social Protection, I am determined to ensure that the contribution of such schemes is recognised in any future decisions on the future operation, funding and role of community employment.
The Department of Social Protection has agreed that an initial review of the financial resources of individual community employment schemes will commence in January 2012. The timeframe for completion of the local examination is the end of March 2012. The outcomes will inform the overall approach to be taken by the Department in implementing these reductions.
The terms of reference for the review have been circulated to regional management. To ensure consistency in approach by Department regions, a template or schedule outlining the areas for the financial review was designed and this is the basis of the review at scheme level.
The terms of reference are as follows. First, to examine the income and funding of sponsoring organisations in terms of their ability to continue the programme with reduced funding from the Department. There are community and voluntary sponsoring organisations that receive funding from a multiplicity of state agencies. Second, to quantify the expenditure on training provided and the qualifications achieved by participants. Third, alternative sources of support will be examined particularly with reference to funding from other State agencies to avoid duplication. Fourth, to establish if income is generated by scheme activity and the potential for utilisation of these funds to cover project costs.
The review process has commenced and Department staff have begun engagement with sponsors and community employment supervisors at local level. I wish to emphasise the following point to Deputies Connaughton, Deering and O'Mahony. Staff are advised that schemes which have committed expenditure to eligible costs will be reimbursed where this has been approved by Department regional staff under existing arrangements. Let me be clear. If changes in the training and material grant announced in the budget create financial difficulties for schemes, the Department of Social Protection will continue to provide funding for those schemes and funding has been made available in this context.
Separately, the former FÁS research unit, which has joined the Department of Social Protection, has been asked to complete a strategic value for money review of a number of schemes administered by the Department. Community employment will be reviewed as part of this exercise. The outcome of this review will guide future policy development and is expected to be completed by the end of March.
It is most important for schemes to be in full communication with the management with whom they dealt in FÁS and who are now officials of the Department of Social Protection. That is critical.