Education and Training Boards Bill 2012: From the Seanad

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.
Seanad amendment No. 1:
Section 22: In page 21, between lines 45 and 46, to insert the following subsection:
“(8) The Minister shall, in deciding whether or not to give a direction or his or her consent under this section, have regard to—
(a) the existing provision of, and future need for, education and training in the area in which the education or training provider is situated,
(b) the desirability of providing a diverse range of education and training opportunities for students and learners,
(c) the optimum use of available resources,
(d) the desirability of securing value for money in respect of arrangements entered into or support services provided under this section,
(e) the availability of expertise, experience and skills in the education and training board and education or training provider concerned,
(f) the capacity of the education and training board concerned to enter into arrangements or provide support services under this section, and
(g) the opportunity to share resources, expertise, experience and skills for the benefit of students or learners.”.

There are a total of 11 Seanad amendments before the House and they relate to criteria for giving ministerial consent, accounts and accountability, gender balance and drafting matters.

Amendment No. 1 relates to section 22 of the Bill. This section provides that an education and training board, ETB, may, with the Minister's consent, enter into an arrangement with a different education or training provider for the joint performance of any of the board's functions. An ETB may also, with the Minister's consent, provide support services to another education or training provider if that provider requests this. The Minister also is empowered to direct a board to perform functions jointly with another provider or to provide support services to the provider. This can only happen where there is a request from the provider. The amendment made on Committee Stage in the other House introduces criteria to which the Minister must have regard in deciding whether to give a direction or indeed his consent. The criteria include existing provision and the future needs for education and training in a particular area, the desirability of providing a diverse range of opportunities for learners, the best use of resources, the expertise, skills and experience available in an ETB and the other education provider, the capacity of the ETB to co-operate or provide support services, and the opportunity to share resources and knowledge for the benefit of students and learners. All these criteria will be of significant help to any future Minister in weighing up decisions in this area pertaining to directing or consenting to certain actions by ETBs and their relationships with other education or training providers.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 2:
Section 25: In page 23, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following subsection:
“(2) The chief executive of an education and training board shall give evidence to the Committee referred to in subsection (1), whenever required to do so by that Committee, in respect of any of the following matters insofar as they relate to a dissolved body for which the board is the relevant education and training board—
(a) the regularity and propriety of the transactions recorded or required to be recorded in any book or other record of account subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General that that dissolved body was required by the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act 2001 to prepare,
(b) the economy and efficiency of the dissolved body in the use of its resources,
(c) the systems, procedures and practices employed by the dissolved body for the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of its operations, and
(d) any matter affecting the dissolved body referred to in a special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General under section 11(2) of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993, or in any other report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (in so far as it relates to a matter specified in paragraph (a), (b) or (c)) that is laid before Dáil Éireann.”.

A number of amendments were made on Report Stage in the other House to ensure the proper accountability of the new education and training boards. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 will ensure that in the transition from VECs to ETBs, there is no gap in the obligation to respond to the Committee of Public Accounts on the VECs' financial activity. Moreover, the chief executive of an education and training board will be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts for matters arising during the tenure of the former VEC from which it has taken over responsibility.

The purpose of amendment No. 9 is to amend the accounts provision in order that the 1 April date for the submission of accounts each year to the Comptroller and Auditor General may be varied by the Minister. This is likely to be of most importance in the first year, when ETBs will be obliged to submit the final accounts of each of the former VECs not later than the same time as they submit the first set of accounts for the new ETBs. Given that they may have a number of sets of accounts to file in their first year, this amendment will ease any unnecessary pressure on the new bodies created by a 1 April deadline. Amendment No. 8 is simply a drafting amendment and replaces the words "financial year" with "accounting period" to ensure there is consistency throughout section 51.

Finally, the purpose of amendment No. 10 is to ensure that education and training boards are required to submit to the Comptroller and Auditor General any accounts that are outstanding at the time of the VECs' dissolution. Once those accounts have been audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the education and training board will be responsible for presenting them and the auditor's report to the Minister. The latter will then arrange for them to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas in the normal way. This will ensure there is no gap in the obligation to file and lay accounts, which might otherwise occur as a result of the transition from the VECs to the ETBs.

I thank the Minister of State and welcome the consideration of the Minister in both the Dáil and the Seanad. I have no issue with the amendments coming back from the Seanad and, overall, it is quite a good Bill that I am happy to support.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 3:
Section 25: In page 23, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following subsection:
“(3) In this section, “relevant education and training board” shall be construed in accordance with section 54.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 4:
Section 30: In page 28, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following subsections:
“(5) The Minister shall make regulations for the conduct of elections for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) and the regulations may provide—
(a) for the establishment of panels of candidates for election comprising women only and panels of candidates for election comprising men only from which persons shall be elected in accordance with those regulations, and
(b) that, as far as practicable, a minimum number of women and a minimum number of men shall be elected from each local authority.
(6) When making regulations under subsection (5), the Minister shall have regard to the objective that at least 40 per cent of members elected under subsection (1)(a) shall be women and at least 40 per cent shall be men.”.

In the course of the debate on this Bill, the issue of gender balance was raised both in this House and in the Seanad. Under the current law, the proportion of male and female local authority representatives on a VEC must mirror the proportion of the total number of male and female members of those county, city and town councils when added together. This existing system has given rise to practical difficulties, particularly when a number of bodies came together to elect people to a single board. Having regard to these discussions and in particular to an amendment tabled on this issue by Senator Bacik, two new subsections were inserted into section 30. The effect of these insertions is to compel the Minister of the day to make regulations governing the election of local authority members to ETBs. In particular, these regulations may provide for gender balance by creating separate panels for women and men.

They will also empower the Minister, as far as possible, to set down a minimum number of women and men who must be elected by each local authority. The amendment provides that in the making of the regulations the Minister must have regard to the objective of at least 40% of each gender being elected by the local authorities. This reflects Government policy on gender balance on State boards generally.

I thank the Minister of State for this amendment. On Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil and in the Seanad a number of amendments were proposed by different Deputies to try to address this issue and it is good to see that Government has finally come up with an amendment with which it is satisfied and which we welcome.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, and 11 are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 5:
Section 30: In page 29, subsection (8)(c), line 28, to delete “paragraph (a) and (b)” and substitute “paragraphs (a) and (b)”.

This final set of amendments are all drafting in nature and were introduced either to correct minor errors in the Bill or to improve the language in order to aid interpretation.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 6:
Section 33: In page 32, subsection (1), lines 3 to 10, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following:
“(c) in the case of a person appointed under section 30(1)(c), and subject to subsection (2), he or she ceases to be the parent of—
(i) any child who has not reached 18 years of age and is registered as a student in a centre for education or recognised school, or
(ii) a learner in a children detention school, prison, education or training facility or other facility maintained by any other public service body where the board provides education or training.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 7:
Section 37: In page 35, subsection (1)(b), line 2, to delete “subsection (4)” and substitute “subsection (5)”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 8:
Section 51: In page 49, subsection (2), line 24, to delete “financial year” and substitute “accounting period”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 9:
Section 51: In page 49, subsection (2), line 24, to delete “earlier” and substitute “other”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 10:
Section 63: In page 55, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following subsections:
“(4) Any accounts of a dissolved body, other than the final accounts, which on the establishment day have not been submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit, shall be prepared and submitted by the relevant education and training board not later than 3 months after the establishment day.
(5) Immediately after the relevant education and training board receives a copy of the accounts submitted under subsection (4) duly audited and a copy of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report, the board shall present a copy of the accounts and a copy of the report to the Minister who shall, as soon as may be, cause copies thereof to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 11:
SCHEDULE 6: In page 92, line 12, column 4, to delete “section 43(2)” and substitute “section 44(2)”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendments reported.

A message will be sent to Seanad Éireann acquainting it accordingly.