Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 28 Jun 1984

Vol. 352 No. 5

Report of Committee on Public Expenditure: Motion.

On behalf of the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Keating, I move:

That Dáil Éireann takes note of the Report of the Committee on Public Expenditure: Proposal to establish a centralised State agency for persons registering for employment or training.

This is the second report of the Committee on Public Expenditure since we first met in September 1983. Our first report last February on recruitment by the Civil Service Commission and the Local Appointments Commission highlighted an unacceptable situation whereby costly Civil Service competitions were being held, in some cases with thousands of applicants, following which the actual number of vacancies filled was in single figures. The committee are glad to note that the Minister for the Public Service, who welcomed the committee's report, has since taken action on the report's recommendations and the saving involved will, I understand, be considerable. I mention this by way of illustrating that the Committee on Public Expenditure are dealing with issues of immediate concern to the public and on which there is a virtual guarantee that appropriate corrective action will be taken where it is found necessary. It is our intention that there will also be immediate follow-through on all further reports. The committee now have a well-established system for monitoring recommendations in all cases.

The committee's second report, which is the subject of today's debate, is entitled "Proposal to establish a centralised State agency for persons registering for employment or training". Before I summarise the main points in the report, I would remind the House of the committee's terms of reference: To review the justification for ineffectiveness of ongoing expenditure in Government Departments and offices and of non-commercial State bodies in such areas as it may select and to report thereon to the House recommending cost-effective alternatives and the elimination of obsolete programmes where desirable.

The committee's programme for reviewing Departments and State bodies falling within our terms of reference is now well under way and we expect to produce a formal report in our detailed examination of the Department of the Public Service in the near future. We have retained the services of a consultant to assist in this very important work and we feel that this review will provide a bench mark for all the reviews which will follow. Apart from the ongoing review of the Department and agencies, the committee decided at the outset that specific areas of public expenditure which warranted urgent attention because of the actual or potential waste of taxpayer's money should be dealt with as a matter of priority. It became clear to us that one such area that required immediate rationalisation was that of the multitude of Government Departments and agencies involved in recruitment, training and employment. The committee felt that there was clearly a need to find out exactly, first, what services were being provided by the various institutions at present; secondly, what liaison or co-operation, if any, existed between them and, thirdly, to identify avoidable duplication of those services with a view to eliminating such waste as a matter of urgency.

In undertaking that review the committee were, of course, mindful of the fact that any streamlining of the State services for employment and training should not be just an academic exercise but should be an improvement and of benefit to the users at a time when people must be provided with skills necessary to compete on the job market today.

The committee studied much background material on the subject and took evidence over four separate meetings from the Civil Service Commission, the Department of Education, the Department of Labour, the Department of Social Welfare, AnCO, the Youth Employment Agency and the Irish Vocational Association. We would like to put on record our appreciation of the courteous and co-operative manner in which many officials involved readily provided information on which we based our report.

The main conclusions of the committee are set out at paragraph 8 on page 26 of the report. It must be said that we confirmed our original fear that there was widespread fragmentation, duplication and lack of co-ordination of services that had led to a waste of public expenditure at a time when there was unprecedented demand on the Exchequer resources. From the unions' point of view it was quite obvious that the very existence of so many agencies presented a bewildering array of offices, forms and so on, which is an example of the type of bureaucracy that we are determined to change in the interests of greater cost-effectiveness and efficiency. The committee's recommendations are set out in detail on pages 28 to 31 of the report. In summary, they imply some fairly radical changes and improvements that must be made to ensure that the most up-to-date services are made available for people who may be seeking training and employment. While there is some emphasis in the report on school leavers and those under 25 years of age, who experience particular problems, the committee recognise that those in older age groups must also be catered for by the National Manpower Service, AnCO and other agencies.

I would like to read into the record of the House the recommendations, but I understand that we are short of time and other Members wish to contribute. I must emphasise that all the committee's recommendations are, of course, without prejudice to the possibility of the setting up of an umbrella organisation referred to in paragraph 9 (14) of the report which will ultimately provide the best solution to the overlap and duplication revealed in the committee's investigations.

If that is proved to be the correct course of action, then we would, of course, endorse the early introduction of such an institution. We have recommended that the agencies involved at the moment should hold urgent discussions under the direction of the Minister for the Public Service, to arrive at a more streamlined cost-effective service for users. The outcome of those discussions will be awaited with interest by the committee and I am sure will lead to the type of service that the public deserve and to which they are entitled as a basic right. The more cohesive structures which should emerge will, in the committee's view, set a headline for other State services and will, no doubt, trigger off similar evaluation and assessment, either internally or externally, which would lead to better value for money all around.

The committee, as will be seen from the report, are determined to ensure that the level of duplication of services for employment and training is eliminated. We are confident that the agencies involved will welcome such a development and will co-operate in ensuring that the committee's recommendations are acted on with all possible speed. I therefore recommend the report to the House.

Finally I should like on behalf of the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the committee, to thank Deputy O'Kennedy, my fellow colleagues on the committee from all sides of the House for their active participation in what is recognised as the valuable work of the committee. Their participation has enabled us to achieve the objectives which were set when we were appointed by this House in June of last year. We now look forward to the challenge of the goals we have set ourselves in the year ahead.

As a member of the committee I wish to support the proposal made by the Committee on Public Expenditure for the establishment of a centralised State agency for persons registering for employment and training. I ask the House and the Government in particular to take serious note of the findings and recommendations contained in the report for the purpose of achieving greater cost effectiveness in the spending of public money, a great proportion of which is raised through taxation, and also for the purpose of streamlining the system for those who wish to avail of the services provided by the various State agencies in the area of employment, recruitment and training.

As administrators we are all seriously concerned about the growing number of economic and social issues facing us at this time. I do not think anyone will disagree seriously when I say unemployment and the problem of taxation rank amongst the most urgent and the most serious of the problems calling for our attention. As the number of unemployed continues to increase, so does the tax demand on those who are working. Taxation generally has reached breaking point and saturation point for those who have to bear the burden.

While there is no immediate or overnight solution to the problem, it behoves the Government to ensure that the money so raised through taxation is used as effectively as possible for the purpose of creating productive employment — and I use the word "productive" deliberately — and stabilising the economy. In that context the Committee on Public Expenditure have faced the challenge and set themselves the task of monitoring and evaluating the return to our taxpayers on this very scarce and valuable resource.

I agree with the previous speaker. I am greatly impressed and encouraged by the activity of the committee to date and the dedication of members to this very important task. The committee have enormous potential and will give real meaning and effectiveness to the democratic process in general, provided the findings and recommendations are taken seriously and acted on by the Government.

The committee provide a forum for a public input into their deliberations. To date the response of the public has been most encouraging and will go a long way towards restoring confidence in State institutions. This report examines in depth the operations of the agencies involved in the general area of recruitment and training, particularly for young people. In their own way all of these agencies are doing a very good job, the job which they were entrusted to do by the State.

The report reveals that there is unnecessary overlapping and duplication in some of these agencies, and inevitably a poor return for the money invested in them. This must not be taken as a reflection on the agencies concerned, or on the excellent personnel involved in the administration of these agencies. It is a reflection on the Government for failing to organise and order their affairs in a way which would eliminate the duplication and the waste of money highlighted in the report.

In the area of public expenditure the committee highlighted duplication which, if eliminated, would lead to savings and improvements in the services. We should move in the direction of establishing a centralised recruitment agency with one single point of contact for people wishing to enter into the training or recruitment process. All of us in public life have evidence of the fact that there is confusion among job seekers about the range of services available and who they should contact.

It is interesting to note that the Department of Education, AnCO and the vocational education committees have agreed that there is duplication in some of the services. This is commented on in the report. The Department of Labour have also admitted that there is unnecessary duplication. I feel strongly that our deliberations in the committee have been fruitful in bringing those matters to the notice of the Government. I earnestly hope that they will lead to an early improvement.

The committee recommended that the Department of Education, through their vocational committees, should continue to have primary responsibility for education and training. I do not necessarily disagree with that point of view. I should like to compliment the various vocational schools and regional technical colleges on the wonderful contribution they made to the promotion of vocational education in general. Many young people are in rewarding employment today which they would not be in but for the very sound educational base which was laid for them by the instruction and tuition they received in our vocational schools and colleges of technology.

If the Department of Education are to continue in this area, the bureaucratic barriers and the inflexibility of the Department will have to be broken down if they are to be as successful as we would wish them to be in the future training of our young people. We have a good example of how the flexibility of AnCO management has led to the provision of some of the most successful and relevant training courses in the country. Their record of job placement deserves further consideration. At the end of the day, that is what really matters.

Whether or not the training and educational facilities provided by all of these State agencies lead to employment and job placement for young students is the final testing point. AnCO have displayed tremendous flexibility and have had tremendous success in the placement of many students who went through their various courses. The committee should take a serious look at how they have achieved such a degree of success in job placement. I hope it will receive the attention of the committee in the future.

One of the great problems is to forecast the kind of job opportunites that will be available in the future. With good planning it should be possible to forecast in advance areas of employment potential and to advise students at an early stage regarding the training courses they should pursue. Such forecasting should be possible if undertaken in conjunction with medium- and long-term economic planning. We have not yet clearly identified where this form of development will take place.

I pose a few questions in relation to development. Are we going to develop agriculture and food processing? Are we going to develop training programmes within each of the State agencies to ensure that if employment is created through the development of agriculture our young labour force in the future will be scientifically educated to cash in on this development? Are we going to develop forestry and our coal resources? In that area there is tremendous scope for future employment. Finally, are we going to create an industrial climate where existing industries can expand and in which new industry will be encouraged to come here?

It is important that we identify the development areas that in future will be the basis for the creation of new jobs and having identified them in advance we should be able to advise workers of the future regarding the most suitable courses for them. The report made the following comment:

The Minister for the Public Service should report back to the Committee at an early date on progress made and on savings, projected or effected, following the rationalisation of services and programmes for employment and training.

I have been greatly encouraged by the commitment shown by members of the committee. The committee will be of tremendous benefit to this Government and future Governments in relation to the avoidance of unnecessary public spending and the duplication of services. However, if the committee are to have credibility and public confidence the paragraph which I quoted from the report must get an early response from the Minister concerned.

I welcome the report of the Committee on Public Expenditure, which comes at an opportune time——

Will it be possible for me to say something on this matter?

Unfortunately I am tied by an order of the House to put the question at 1.30 p.m. and, in accordance with procedure and practice, when a Minister offers I call him to speak.

The Chair has no way of knowing the wisdom that is stored on all sides of the House and neither has the Minister.

It would be wise not to waste more time. I call on the Minister to speak.

Firstly, the question of the co-ordination of education and manpower activities has been a major concern of Government. In December 1983, I was appointed as Minister of State at both the Departments of Labour and Education with specific responsibility for the co-ordination and training activities. In discharging this brief I have had detailed discussions with all interested parties including the educational, training and manpower agencies, teacher trade unions, employer bodies, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and other professional bodies. On the basis of those discussions I have formulated proposals for the more effective and efficient delivery of services. These proposals are now the subject of discussions with Deputy Hussey, Minister for Education and Deputy Quinn, Minister for Labour. Members will appreciate that while these discussions continue I am, of necessity, somewhat constrained in what I can say, and I should explain that where I have expressed views these are my own personal attitudes and may be influenced by the continuing discussions.

Secondly, wearing my Department of Labour hat, we are at present preparing a White Paper on Manpower Policy which will be ready for submission to Government later this year. This White Paper will set out our manpower policies for the remainder of the eighties and will provide the backdrop for deciding upon the administrative arrangements necessary for the implementation of our policies. In the course of this review, all institutional and administrative options including the radical suggestion proposed by the committee of the establishment of a central agency for recruitment will be examined and considered. A forthcoming NESC Report on Manpower Policy, the Proposals for Plan 1984-87 and the plan itself will also be given full weight in finalising our manpower policies.

Following on my very extensive examination I can readily accept that the institutional arrangements need improvement. I cannot, however, accept the suggestion that there is a substantial waste of public funds. I must state clearly my own view, which is that the extent of duplication and overlap is generally overstated. In terms of numbers it is estimated that, in May 1984, there were just over 2,000 15-17 year olds in AnCO training, excluding apprenticeships. Over 60 per cent of these were in three programmes — CYTP, Community Training Workshops and Travellers Workshops — where either there is no potential for overlap as in the case of CYTP, or there is extensive VEC involvement. The figure of 2,000 and the potential for overlap must be seen in the context of up to 150,000 enrolments in the 15-17 age group in full-time education. In addition, duplication of itself does not necessarily mean waste. Indeed in a situation of high unemployment it will be acceptable to have a number of similar courses run by different organisations to provide opportunities for as wide a range as possible of unemployed persons. The target groups vary between programme sponsors. I would be more concerned that there are gaps which make it difficult to cater for all categories of unemployed who need assistance.

While the committee state that they found evidence of duplication and waste of public funds, very little is given in the way of specific examples. This mirrors the approach of some of those to whom I turned for assistance whose ability to criticise trenchantly other participants was matched only by their shyness when asked to produce specifics. The House can be assured that I would be most anxious to eliminate any waste of public funds, and the examination of particular areas of programmes would be assisted if the committee identified the areas of duplication they have in mind.

Extensive co-operation already exists between the various manpower, education and training agencies, and this has been recently improved in a number of areas. For example, educational interests are represented on the Council of AnCO and also on AnCO's industrial training committees, working parties and so on. A liaison committee was established some months ago between the Department of Education and AnCO and has been meeting regularly. The Minister for Education is represented on the Board of the Youth Employment Agency. Recent discussions between AnCO and the VECs have led to arrangements whereby the VECs are invited to tender for courses organised by AnCO's External Training Division, and it is hoped to move to a situation where the educational system will enjoy a first option. Again, this closely reflects my own thinking. In addition, the Community Youth Training Programme run by AnCO and the Grant Scheme for Youth Employment administered by the Department of Labour have been streamlined so that they complement each other and overlapping is avoided.

The committee also concludes that the Department of Labour should have assumed a much more dominant role due to their overall remit in the field of manpower services. I accept that the Department of Labour as well as Government Departments generally, have, for a number of reasons, been unable to pay sufficient attention to the formulation of policy. The relationship between non-commercial semi-State bodies and their parent Departments is covered in detail in the National Planning Board's "Proposal for Plan" which specifically recommends that policy must be the responsibility of the sponsoring Minister and his Department. The proposals of the Planning Board and the views of the Public Expenditure Committee have already been taken on board in the Department of Labour's preparation of the White Paper on Manpower Policy. Deputy Quinn and I are intent on strengthening the role of the Department to ensure that they will be in a position to formulate, monitor and evaluate the policies which will be put forward in the White Paper. The relationship between semi-State bodies and their parent Department must, of course, ensure that the initiative and drive of the semi-State bodies remains and that the many imaginative and successful activities of the past are not compromised. The capacity and willingness must exist to mount the programmes necessary to assist the unemployed and the less advantaged.

I would now like to comment on a number of the recommendations of the Committee. In relation to the National Manpower Service, the committee make a number of recommendations principally that the NMS should become the single user point of contact for all services available and that there should be an urgent independent review of the service. This corresponds closely with my own thinking.

As regards an independent review of the National Manpower Service, which would be costly and time-consuming, I have doubts as to its necessity. Decisions here are for Government. In addition, the service is at present preparing a medium-term plan and this will form an input to manpower policy.

The comments made by the committee in relation to the Department of Social Welfare are appropriate. We all accept that action must be taken at some time because of the complexity of the task and we are anxious that this should happen as quickly as possible. In the light of the committee's views and concerns, the Department of the Public Service will co-operate with the Department of Social Welfare and the National Manpower Service to establish whether the facility envisaged by the committee can be achieved in advance of the full computerisation of employment exchanges as currently planned.

In regard to the recommendation that the Department of Education through the VECs should have primary responsibility for education and training programmes for young people and that AnCO should not, in principle, duplicate such courses, the committee recognised that the educational structure and the curriculum are not attuned to those who leave the educational system at an early age at this stage and that compulsory education courses are still required in many cases.

The Minister must conclude.

I am available to speak to any Deputy——

I want to protest at this charade——

The Deputy should have done that this morning on the Order of Business. It was an order of the House unanimously agreed to.

The farce we have been listening to is a disgrace.

Question put and agreed to.