On behalf of my colleagues, I compliment everybody involved in these initiatives on driving the whole process. In particular, I compliment and congratulate the voluntary workers who were mentioned previously. On a personal note, I am particularly pleased that Mr. Tom O'Donnell is involved given his wide experience in the political field. His involvement at local level is indicative of the approach that needs to be taken. We must harness the talent that is available and I am glad he is involved. I also assure Mr. Haran that the good wishes of everybody for a speedy recovery will be conveyed to the Chairman, Deputy Mitchell.
Regardless of how the economy performs in terms of the Celtic tiger or recessions, given that it will fluctuate, there will be a need for local initiatives and State support. Some people may be concerned that the report is a critical analysis of their work, but it is a vitally important component in getting future guarantees from the Minister and Government of the day. It will be a critical component of the argument that will be put forward for further funding, support and a continuation of the current operations.
Voluntary work existed long before 1991. For example, Muintir na Tíre and others have been working since Canon Hayes's time. There is a tradition in Ireland of voluntary involvement at local level. It needed support and to be harnessed, but that does not suggest there should not be an examination of the value gained from the expenditure. I welcome this report because it is professional and points out the issues that need to be addressed.
The first item referred to was the administrative costs which range from 20% to 51% of total expenditure. The Secretary General of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment pointed out that it is now at 28% and that this figure will drop. I recognise the fact that the Department will be hand holding and there will be extra costs. The figure was too high but it has been reduced. We need to keep an eye on it because the public would not support any enterprise that was spending 51% of its total expenditure on administration. I welcome the reduction.
The second point was accepted by everybody. Better information systems are required. The third point was that because of the many similarities between the objectives, clients and activities of the three development programmes with regard to business support, there is a risk of overlapping and duplication of effort. If anybody said that was not the case they would be closing their eyes to reality. The idea of setting up the different groups and changing along the way is to avoid duplication.
It can be difficult for somebody who is doing well in business to see another person funded and to have that person put them out of business. It is part of the duplication problem that certain financial institutions appear to fund one competitor against another in areas where there is only room for one of them. Formal interdepartmental agreements should be devised, including written statements, to minimise the risk in that regard. Mr. Ó Sé referred to this earlier and I agree with him that while the bottom up approach for participation is being encouraged, the Departments and groups supplying the money must get their acts together. There must be co-ordination and co-operation. This is being tackled to some extent in the four pilot schemes that are being carried out, three in Dublin and one in my parish of Togher in Cork, under the area initiatives. These are considering the overlaps and how they can be avoided.
Some items raised in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report will be invaluable to the committee in making improvements. Reference was made to displacement and it is a difficulty. An estimation has been made but what happened is not certain. However, if information services were in place, we would be able to deal with it. The Comptroller and Auditor General made the point that policies should be geared towards minimising the incidents of displacement. We all pay lip service to that. We deal with our own projects and we may not look beyond it.
Reference was made to tunnel vision, but my place is the most important thing to me. I am the gardener of that patch and everybody else works outside it. However, this also happens in a group or an organisation. The Comptroller and Auditor General is correct. He does not have any axe to grind. He and his professional staff analysed what is happening and he made recommendations. In fairness, nobody could quibble with them.
The committee will note the report at this stage. We accept it and we will not look for further recommendations because the Secretaries General of the three Departments and the other groups involved will have consciously and carefully taken it on board. The report is a useful tool for each of them. It is not a critical exercise. One of a number of initiatives taken by the Comptroller and Auditor General is analysis reports and value for money examinations. We should all be open to scrutiny, although we might not come through it unscathed.
I thank you for your attendance. You all have a role to play and everyone has shown commitment. You will be open to criticism if we do not understand fully what you do. We look forward to working with you in the future. Is it agreed to note the report? Agreed.
The witnesses withdrew.