Forfás has been of enormous value to my Department and to the Government in the development of appropriate policy responses to the many enterprise and jobs-related challenges that have confronted the country, particularly throughout the economic crisis of the last few years. The overarching objective of integrating Forfás into my Department is to strengthen our capacity to develop and implement enterprise policy. Integrating Forfás in to the Department will streamline the process between policy development and its implementation, serving to strengthen my Department's role in driving economic recovery.
Forfás's policy and research functions will form the core of a new Strategic Policy Division in my Department. My objective is to maintain, within the Strategic Policy Division, the independent research and analysis that is associated with Forfás. There are precedents in the Civil Service for this type of independent analysis being conducted within a Department. Examples include the Structural Funds Evaluation Units which, in the 1990s, were established in the lead Departments responsible for the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the European Agricultural funds. Although primarily staffed by civil servants, these units independently evaluated programmes and published their reports.
More recently, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s Central Expenditure Evaluation Unit has produced a number of policy analysis papers, published on the stated understanding that they “do not necessarily represent the views of either the Minister or the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform.” I am confident, therefore, that the independent nature of Forfás’s analysis and reports will be maintained within my Department.
The capacity of Forfás to support independent advice and analysis will also be maintained through its support for the National Competitiveness Council (NCC), and the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN). The role of the NCC in the context of the Forfás integration has been carefully considered. Revised terms of reference have been approved for the NCC, which will give it greater flexibility to prepare and publish reports on issues it considers important, thereby copper-fastening its independence.
The EGFSN, which reports jointly to me and the Minister for Education and Skills, will continue to prepare independent policy papers on skills needs and labour market issues that impact on Ireland's enterprise and employment growth. As with the NCC, the EGFSN will be serviced by the Strategic Policy Division.