Vote 26 - Department of Education and Skills (Supplementary)

Apologies have been received from Deputy Ulick Burke. As the Vice Chairman, Deputy Ruairí Quinn would like to contribute to the Estimates debate I will act as temporary Chair if that is agreed. Agreed.

On behalf of the select committee I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan, and her officials. We are meeting to consider the 2010 Supplementary Estimate of the Department of Education and Skills, Vote - 26. The Supplementary Estimate is comparatively short. A timetable has not been circulated. I suggest we invite an opening statement by the Minister and the Opposition spokespersons and an open discussion on the Supplementary Estimate by way of a question and answer session. Please note that we must vacate the room by 1.30 p.m. as the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs has it booked. Is it agreed to proceed with opening statements followed by questions? Agreed.

Please note that Standing Order 156 prevents Members from discussing the original Estimate. The debate should be confined to the Supplementary Estimate. I invite the Minister to make an opening statement.

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee, for the opportunity to meet the committee to discuss my Department's requirement for a technical, or token, Supplementary Estimate of €1,000 for this year.

I should make it clear at the outset that approval is not being sought for the allocation of any additional current or capital expenditure on my Vote. In overall terms, I am pleased to report that expenditure in 2010 will be managed within the voted provision. Rather, I am seeking approval, by way of a token Supplementary Estimate, for my Department to transfer capital expenditure between certain subheads and, on the current side, to allow me to provide for additional expenditure on the student support scheme by offsetting savings and underspending that have arisen on other subheads.

On capital spending there will be a saving of €62 million, for reasons that I will shortly explain, on subhead F1, which provides for the building, equipping and furnishing of national schools. I propose to allocate €42 million of this saving towards additional capital expenditure on third level institutions, subhead F3, with the remaining €20 million re-allocated towards expenditure on schools information and communications technologies, under subhead B18.

With regard to current expenditure, demand-led pressures have meant that the original allocation for expenditure on student support payments, under subhead El, is insufficient to meet the cost of these payments this year. I am, therefore, seeking to allocate a further €43 million to that subhead, which will come from underspending on residential institutions redress, subhead B12, on the Commission on Child Abuse, subhead B19, and from savings on FÁS training and integration supports, subhead G2.

I would now like to explain in some more detail the reasons additional funding is required for some subheads and to outline the savings and underspending that have been made available to compensate.

I refer first to subhead El, student support - current expenditure. This subhead meets the costs of awards made by the local authorities and the VECs under the three third level student maintenance grant schemes. They are the higher education grants, vocational education committees' scholarships and the third level maintenance grants for trainees schemes. In addition to these schemes, the subhead meets the cost of providing maintenance grants to students attending post-leaving certificate courses. An additional €43 million is required on top of the original allocation of just over €324 million. There are several reasons behind this requirement. These include providing for a 21% increase in grant-holders in 2009-10 over the previous year, the fact that people are remaining in full-time education for longer periods and progressing to post-graduate levels, along with a large number of people entering post-graduate education following loss of employment. There has also been an increase in the number of persons qualifying for the higher special rate of grant. This includes persons whose financial position changes during the academic year and who are entitled to request a review of their grant payment under the scheme's change of circumstances provision.

Subhead B18 is for the schools information and communication technologies activities - capital expenditure. This subhead provides funding for the Department's policy of integrating information and communications technologies into first and second level education. The additional requirement of €20 million, on top of the original allocation of €43 million, is necessary to provide a second ICT infrastructure grant to post-primary schools and a one-off grant to the post-leaving certificate sector.

This additional allocation will assist in the advancement of the implementation of the €150 million plan for smart schools and demonstrates the Government's commitment to the smart economy at school level. It will build on the allocations already made and will ensure that post-primary schools are in a position to prioritise equipment for use in the teaching of project maths, as well as approaching the overall equipment baseline of a teaching computer and a digital projector for every classroom. Particular emphasis will be placed on ensuring that post-primary schools are enabled to benefit from high speed broadband capability.

Subhead F3 is for the third level capital programme - capital expenditure. This subhead provides for the building grants and capital costs for universities and colleges, institutes of technology and designated institutions of higher education. Up until May of this year, it provided the capital element of expenditure on the programme for research in third level institutions, PRTLI, when it was transferred to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. An increase of €42 million on the original allocation for this subhead of just under €127 million is sought.

I again make it clear that in proposing this Supplementary Estimate I do not seek additional capital and therefore I am not making further demands on the Exchequer.Instead I am merely seeking the approval of this committee and the House to agree to an internal re-distribution of already voted funding within my Department's overall capital envelope for use within the higher education sector. This re-distribution will allow my Department to continue with an existing grant scheme that targets capital to higher education institutions to enable them address a wide range of necessary improvement works including health and safety works on a devolved basis. In addition, the funding will provide access to an investment programme that will enable institutions to deal with the replacement, upgrading and renewal of equipment.

I now refer to subhead B12, which is for residential institutions redress - current expenditure. This subhead provides for the payment of awards under the redress scheme and related expenses of the Residential Institutions Redress Board. Projected underspending of €10 million on the allocation of just over €53 million is being forecast, which is due in the main to the number of awards being processed being less than estimated for. A number of incomplete applications on hands and the lack of documentation required to process such applications is also delaying the board's efforts to complete the process in all cases.

Subhead B19 provides for the administration and legal costs of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The underspending of €12 million, out of an original allocation of just under €16 million, arose because not as many bills were received by the commission as were estimated for. Another factor is the scale of the task and the complexities that relate to the negotiation process, in particular to ensure that only reasonable costs are paid. Previous experience has shown that a critical examination of individual legal bills by the commission has resulted in a significant reduction from the sums being claimed by the legal representatives.

The purpose of subhead G2 is to fund FÁS to provide training for those seeking employment, training for those in employment and to provide support for the integration of those furthest from the labour market into the labour market. Training for the unemployed comprises of a range of programmes that are aimed at giving clients with lower level skills the foundation necessary to allow them enter the labour market or progress to more advanced specific skills development. It is also aimed at providing specific competencies to trainees who have good basic education or skill levels. Training for the employed includes the apprenticeship programme and in-company training to assist workers to adjust to the rapidly changing economic environment. The local employment service, LES, which is also funded by this subhead, focuses on the provision of services to those most disadvantaged in the labour market as a direct response to the local context within which it operates.

The total FÁS budget for training for 2010 amounts to €426 million and a saving of €21 million will be achieved in respect of subhead G2. Savings will be achieved in the area of apprenticeship due to a reduction in demand due to the downturn in the construction sector. Price savings have been achieved on the training allowances paid to the unemployed, which are linked to a person's social welfare entitlement, due to the changing profile of trainees. Savings have also been achieved in respect of the procurement of contracted training as a result of new framework contracts being put in place. Planned expenditure for 2010 in respect of the majority of FÁS training programmes for the unemployed is expected to be made by the end of the year.

Subhead F1 funds the building, equipment and furnishing of national schools. A range of sub-programmes are funded by the subhead and these include large-scale projects, site acquisitions, the summer works scheme, emergency works, additional accommodation which schools can opt to deliver as permanent buildings or as prefab purchases, the minor works grant, the finalisation of the permanent accommodation and small schools schemes, furniture and equipment grants, the water conservation and energy efficiency schemes, asbestos and radon remediation schemes and miscellaneous items. All these sub-programmes have been funded throughout 2010 from the F1 subhead according to planned expenditure or demand led applications as appropriate. A saving of €62 million is now being declared on this subhead. The total allocation under the subhead in 2010 amounted to €378.8 million, including a carryover of €72 million from 2009. The full amount of the carryover has been spent.

Expenditure on the various sub-programmes within the subhead has progressed throughout 2010 in line with expectation, with the exception of the large-scale projects and, to a lesser extent, site acquisitions. This has been a very challenging year to ensure that capital moneys that have been allocated are spent, due to the reduction in construction prices for school buildings since the height of the boom. In this regard contract prices are sometimes now up to 40% lower than at their highest point, and a significant proportion of this is an additional reduction on 2009 average prices.

There are further difficulties within the construction industry linked to very low tender prices which are leading to delays. For example, confirmation of the availability of a bond prior to a contract being awarded is taking much more time. Second, there are increasing examples of contractors, sub-contractors and other professionals associated with school building projects going out of business while they are engaged on school projects.

While the Department has deliberately advanced some additional major projects to tender stage faster than was initially planned, the need to ensure value for money through public procurement processes means that the lead-in time for moving projects on-site results in difficulties in replacing projects that are delayed.

There are more than 200 devolved grants to the value of €30 million that have been approved for schools but where, over six months later, the school authority has not made any claim to draw down the funding. The Department has contacted a number of schools in this category and understands that the difficulties they are experiencing are similar to the difficulties being experienced by the Department on the large-scale projects. These include difficulties in the development of the design and delays in securing appropriate local authority planning permission.

The overall result is that there has been some softening of expenditure in some elements of the schools capital budget which is reflected in the expenditure to date, particularly in respect of large-scale projects. The overall result is that there has been some softening of expenditure in some elements of the schools capital budget which is reflected in the expenditure to date, particularly in respect of large scale projects. An amount of €62 million will not be expended this year. The Supplementary Estimate will facilitate the transfer of this sum to other capital areas in the Department where urgent and pressing needs can be addressed in 2010. Of the total, €20 million will transfer to the schools ICT programme, while the balance will be transferred to the third level sector.

I hope I have clearly explained the reasoning behind the technical Supplementary Estimate of €1,000 that I am now seeking for this year. This has been another very challenging year in terms of the scale of cost pressures on the education Vote, allied to the very significant deterioration of the wider economic picture. As a consequence, I have been very conscious of the need to minimise the impact of those unavoidable cost pressures on the overall Exchequer in these difficult times. I am pleased to be able to state that this has been achieved as a result of prudent management of the overall Vote allocation throughout the year.

I question the Tánaiste about the capital programme, about FÁS and about the ICT budget.

This is a shocking admission about a lack of management of resources in the Department. It is incredible that in such an economic crisis, it has not been possible to spend €62 million on different capital projects in schools; that is appalling when 450,000 people are signing on. There is a fast-track planning process in the Department for schools; schools in my area were designed and built within a six month period. I cannot accept that there is a delay in the planning process for any of these projects. The Tánaiste has been asleep at the wheel in the Department and it is appalling that she cannot build schools in this economic environment when, by her own admission, it is 40% cheaper to build now than it was during the boom. Why has the Tánaiste not been able to spend this money and fast-track these projects? To say €20 million has been granted in aid to schools but the schools have not even applied for it is a shambles. How can the Tánaiste claim to be a Minister when she is presiding over such an appalling shambles, when she has money to spend and it has never been cheaper to build?

No one in this room is a victim of the underspending but hundreds of kids and their parents are victims as a result of a collective failure to respond to a crisis which was signalled to the Tánaiste in September. I am not being vindictive when I say that. We were presented with projected underspending in September of slightly more than this and we had a carry over from last year. I am reasonably close to some of the sectors in the building industry and there is a fundamental question that must be asked by the permanent Civil Service in the Department and by the incoming administration: is the building unit in the Department of Education and Science fit for purpose? Is the system of decision making and allocating money functioning when people are clamouring for work in construction and we predicted prices would fall by 40%? I understand there are problems with contractors bidding for work when they are trying to buy cash flow and are underbidding, sometimes so precariously that they are putting themselves at risk.

There was previously an indication that much of the contract work was going north of the Border, which is fine in an all-Ireland economic sense but there are serious issues of tax compliance and regulatory requirements within the State. Many of those who missed out on the contracts missed out not because of the price but because arbitrary evaluations were put in place by the building unit in Tullamore. I invite the Tánaiste and her officials to reflect on this.

There will be a change of Government and although we cannot predict the outcome, there will be a new Government. For Marlborough Street and the building unit, the present system is not working. Should it be given back to the OPW and the Department admit it cannot manage it? Should it be done in the context of allocating the money at local level to the VECs, which have building units that are under-utilised. The top-down relationship between the building unit and the Department and individual clients is unwieldy. I would be interested in a response to that.

I raised the possibility that some of that capital spend should allow schools to acquire additional space if such space was suitable and available. The Tánaiste indicated in June that would be the case in principle and there are some applications in the Department on that point. I hope those informal discussions in the past three or four weeks would not be jeopardised by any decision here. We can jump up and down about this but there has been a collective failure and the victims are not sitting in this room, they are outside, they are the kids who are going to school in prefabs when they should be in decent rooms.

It is incredible that there is a surplus in the student support grant when the Tánaiste's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, outlined at our last meeting the number of local authorities and VECs that have failed to process grant applications. There is cash in one kitty while students face real hardship due to the inability of a local authority or VEC to process the applications, or the inability of those applying to fill out the forms properly. It is often the responsibility of the parent to complete the information and the parent can be reluctant to reveal all of it or may have problems in doing it. We had to wait two years for the Department to introduce Committee Stage amendments to make progress here. If the students were aware that part of the problem was with money that they could have got their hands on and that would have taken them out of debt, and if full-time, permanent staff in the public infrastructure are leaving us with this situation, it is a terrible indictment of us all.

This is the second year there has been underspending in the capital programme. Usually when it happens once, we learn from that, move on and do something different. We all know the benefit of the devolved schemes but why was nothing done differently? If something was done differently, why are we still at the same result? Does this underspending suit the Department?

Last year there was underspending of €72 million. This occurred because we were getting better value for money and lower tender prices. Taking that into consideration at the start of the year, presumably it is hard to forecast the tender prices but is that why we are in this situation with underspending of €62 million at the end of this year? Is there a system in place in the building unit to carry out a quarterly review where, after the first three months, it is apparent there is more money in the kitty than expected? At the six months stage, if there was additional money, the programme could be speeded up.

Deputy Quinn asked if the building unit can respond. Is it possible to respond quickly when there is a surplus?

Within my county some tenders have come in so low that even at the outset the architect knows that the price is too low to pay the subcontractors. Is it morally right to proceed with projects when we know that they cannot be done for the cost involved? Many builders have taken on jobs just to keep people working and keep the whole thing ticking over. They can only keep it going if they get a series of subsequent jobs, but they will never be able to complete the job and pay everybody off for the tender prices that have been provided. At some point someone must evaluate tenders and might not always pick the lowest tender if it cannot be justified. For example, on one project in my home town the subcontractors have been burned. It is the local people who get burned and an outside contractor comes in at which point a local project is opened. It is very hard to welcome the opening of a badly needed facility when local people have gone out of business as a result.

Last year we spoke about how slowly the grants were proceeding through the various institutions and were not getting out to students on time. While there has been an improvement this year, of course we have the added problem of an increase in the number of people seeking grants, which in itself has caused a delay. Last year the Tánaiste said she would put the various VECs and local authorities in funds at the start so there would not be an issue of them not having the resources to pay grants. I want confirmation that that has happened so that any delays in the system at present are simply related to processing the volume of applications.

The capital programme and the grants are the two issues involved. I know Deputy O'Dowd has a few more points and I call him to address them now.

Based on the reply to a parliamentary question, 20% of the applications for grants remained unopened on 31 October. At the last meeting I pointed out that a number of local authorities and VECs had exhausted their allocations and they have none to open. Places like Cork city and county, Dublin county and so on have a significant number of applications yet to process. I put this question already to the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, and I now put it to the Tánaiste. Is it not possible to ask staff from other VECs or local authorities to go to Dublin and process those grants which are in those bodies? Under the provisions of the Data Protection Act, I know they cannot be sent until the VECs or local authorities have finished their work, but staff should be allocated because they know the work and can do the business to get these grants through. Again it is an appalling vista. I accept legislation to change the process is being introduced, but the Department needs to be much more proactive on the issue.

I ask the Tánaiste to address the two issues of the capital programmes and the grants.

Following the discussion on Committee Stage of the legislation, the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, and I had a conversation. We have both written to all the county managers and CEOs asking that they expedite and complete all these projects. I sat over there for many a year where we struggled with this difficulty whereby the scheme was not out in time and thereafter the process took too long. On this occasion the scheme was out very early - the earliest ever - and in addition we front-loaded the money into the local authorities and the VECs on the basis that they had a cashflow problem. There was a 30% increase in the number of grant applications and many people came back under a change of circumstance. I thank members of the committee who are as anxious as I am to deal with this legislation which we need badly. I have instructed departmental officials to go to the market on the basis of an assumption - perhaps I should not assume - that the House will agree that we need a new procedure for the delivery of the student grant scheme. I have asked for expressions of interest from the sector to propose how it could deliver this programme as a single entity with someone in a position at local level to advise people when they make the application. I believe that will bring efficiencies to the delivery of the programme.

I have met representatives of the students' union, who asked that students be paid on a monthly basis, which I regard as fair, because if the grant comes too late they have an overdraft and cannot manage. I agreed that would be included as part of the new process.

The delays at this stage are unacceptable. I know there is a moratorium as regards numbers within the scheme. I have asked that resources within the VECs and local authorities would be reallocated to deal with this matter once and for all. Through further discussions in both Houses, I hope we will be able to introduce a new procedure for delivery of student grants. We also propose an online application, which will take a little time and we have amalgamated the three schemes, which will mean students who apply first to a local authority and then discover they need to apply to the VEC do not find themselves back where they started. While they might have applied on time to the local authority, when it is sent to the VEC it is simply noted as arriving as a late application, which is unfair. I have asked the CEOs and county managers to reallocate the resources in order to support those involved in the delivery of the programme to get those moneys to the students because we have the money available. Through this Estimate we will facilitate the requisite resources needed, given the 30% increase in applications.

A number of things have happened on capital spending. There is a quarterly review of all expenditure in the Department that has been in place for many years. It is not just an internal process, but also one brought to Cabinet with discussions at Department of Finance level also. When I was appointed at the beginning of March I noticed the following. First, we had a delay for the first three months of the year owing to the inclemency of the weather - not that the present weather will help us much either. Second, in addition the projects were not announced at the very beginning of the year so it took that time for things to proceed. Third, as I have indicated there has been a 40% reduction in prices. Fourth, we have challenged a number of people whose tenders have been far too low on the basis of an assumption that they could not deliver the programme. Deputies can appreciate where people are coming from as it is a very difficult situation.

In addition it is not just the larger contractors who cannot get bonds, but also the smaller ones and the uncertainty in the banking sector has added to that issue. We have been able to work with the boards of management in supporting them in that challenge. We moved away from the OPW on the basis that it was felt we could deliver this programme better. That has not necessarily worked completely. For a number of years we had significant overspends, as well as underspends in the past two years. My predecessors would have got a rap over the knuckles for overspending as opposed to underspending.

Some 44 large-scale projects are at architectural planning, with 52 schools advancing through the tender stage and the projects for 65 schools are either under construction or recently completed. Of the major projects, 39 schools have commenced construction to date. There is still a significant investment by the State in education and in the new methodologies in which we deliver the programmes.

Following discussions with the committee in June and internal departmental discussions on a better delivery mechanism for capital projects, it was my view that following what I regard as a new configuration and the role of the VECs, we can look to others to deliver the capital programme for many reasons. First, with the moratorium, we will not have the staff. Second, because I believe it is possible to deliver much more quickly at local level, I have asked the local authorities to deliver schools for me. We have a project in County Louth which is going very well. Two excellent VECs, Kildare VEC and Monaghan VEC, have delivered programmes.

Last week I asked Dublin VEC, Limerick VEC and City of Galway VEC to deliver large capital projects at primary and post-primary level. That is the only way we will deliver these programmes. I am considering further projects that can be delivered in this way. We have had difficulties with the PPPs on the basis of contractors not being in a position to proceed. The better delivery of capital spend can come from local interaction and local synergies where planning can be obtained and site purchases can take place. Following on from a review of how we deliver the programmes, this is the way forward in which we will deliver our capital spend.

The other issue that is of grave concern to all of us, irrespective of our political persuasion, is the subcontractors who have lost out. They are not the big contractors and they cannot afford to take a hit at this time. This is why the Government will take on board Senator Feargal Quinn's Bill which I believe will address the majority of our concerns. I hope we can get the legislation through both Houses very quickly. That would give greater security to our subcontractors - it is not that the Department does not pay but that the contractor does not pay down the line. Usually, the last person to get paid is probably the local shop or the local subcontractor.

There was criticism that unless one was a big contractor one never got an opportunity to tender for a post-primary school or some large primary schools. I have changed the process to open tendering. We do not limit the number of tenders that can be submitted on the basis that if somebody is going to tender they can succeed if they make an effort and prepared to do the job. Open tendering is being introduced, following some experiences we have had, to reflect the present climate. The previous climate was that we could not get people to build any schools - they were not interested. Department officials were struggling to get contractors to deliver some of the schools. What has happened is that a competency was build up locally to build schools at post-primary level. We are changing to open tendering because the larger contractors are displacing the medium size building contractors who cannot compete. We have also changed the terms of turnover and a number of other aspects in the public procurement processes which are addressing the specific needs of the economy at this time.

There are a considerable number of projects we would like to complete. I secured an additional allocation for the summer works scheme this year. The majority of those who applied were successful. It is a good project and it worked well. Under the emergency works scheme, we have had a huge investment. Anyone who made application under the water conservation scheme and was eligible received the money. These smaller projects are hugely important in the delivery and support of schools and education.

Another issue that has changed, given the new economic climate, is that boards of management and parents associations, particularly in the smaller schools, are prepared to take on a devolved type project where, instead of getting a prefab, it is converted into cash and that money is used with its own resources to provide permanent accommodation. That was not necessarily the approach a few years ago. Everybody expected the Department to deliver it but I have seen a greater capacity at a local level to deliver those projects. We have seen great value for money and we have all been able to support local boards of management to deliver those.

Deputy Quinn raised the issue of tax compliance. One must have a C2 certificate in order to be tax compliant. When it comes to contractors from outside the EU, there are tax compliance requirements but we can keep an eye on that on that issue.

Perhaps I can assist the Minister. North of the River Boyne, and not a million miles away from the Minister's constituency, building sites are empty at the time when there is signing on across the Border. There is flagrant abuse. The Minister must get anecdotal evidence.

If the Minister speaks to the construction industry or any of the bodies, on a line from Dublin to Galway, small contractors - the people to whom Deputy Beverley Flynn referred - feel they are at a disadvantage because their labour force is competing against a subsidised labour force that is drawing money on the black economy, effectively across the Border, and it is not being policed.

It is not just that because there are issues in regard to pay and conditions that should apply in the South but do not necessarily apply. It is not just the black economy, the key issue is that the failure to spend that money is not acceptable. All of the solutions suggested by the Minister will not work. I cannot see how some VECs that cannot process the grant applications from students can build schools. It will not happen. The system is not working and the Minister's proposals will not fix it. I am concerned that 20 projects outside of the Department have been devolved on to schools or VECs and they have not been able to make any progress.

The position is that we have allocated €30 million to these boards of management to deliver programmes and whether-----

This is not to VECs.

No, that is directly down to boards of management. Some of them are VECs where they have had, say, a planning problem. Deputies from all parties have approached me to say they have made an allocation and they are seeking more. The project was never started in the first place and they have not drawn down the money.

Will the Minister give us a list of those schools?

I do not have them with me.

I appreciate the Minister does not have them but can she get it for us? It is necessary to drill this down to what is really going on.

The Deputy knows the score. When I give an allocation of, say, €200,000 to build two classrooms or a classroom and two resource rooms, they are back in to say they would like to do the boiler house, fit carpets, and install new windows. One cannot blame them because that is what they want. They are trying to squeeze in so much that they discover the €200,000 is not enough and they come back to the Department for more.

I have had many Deputies coming to me-----

The reality is that this money is disappearing from these schools.

No, that money-----

What the Minister is saying is that it is taken from them and that €20 million is being put into ICT----

No. Any money that has been allocated is safe. I would not do that.

Let us be very clear on that. What the Minister is saying is that she is reallocating moneys-----

Unspent moneys.

However, not the money that has been allocated.

Allow me to finish the point. The money was given to the school and it has not spent it.

The Minister is taking this money this year and is putting it into other projects, such as ICT or whatever.

To be clear, any money that has been allocated and any projects that have been signed off will be paid. Under no circumstances-----

Right, but they have not spent the money. What the Minister is saying is that it goes into next year.

Anywhere the money has been underspent I have to make sure for my capital spend for next year that money-----

The point the Minister is making is that there is a clear distinction in terms of the €62 million capital carryover-----

-----that this is money that was not allocated to anybody.

There are other moneys that have been allocated and have not yet been drawn down but they have not been withdrawn as such from those people.

They are still committed and will be carried through. Is that correct?

It is because there is no carryover next year I do not have the luxury of a €30 million carryover. What I have to do is take that money and reallocate it this year and start next year on a clean slate and make sure I have the €30 million for those people.

May I finish the point? I am trying to understand the issue. This is my first time on this committee and I am not totally au fait with the process. The Minister has €68 million which should be spent on schools by the end of this year but which will not be spent. At this moment in time, within this financial year, the Minister is spending that money somewhere else within the Department.

Within the capital allocation.

Therefore, from 1 January the Minister will reallocate the funds she did not spend to those schools that have been given the go-ahead. I presume the 200 devolved grants relate to 200 schools. Perhaps they do not. Those 200 schools should be first in line to get money next year.

Yes, when they are ready to draw it down. Sometimes schools never draw down the money.

If there is a cutback in the capital budget, other schools which would expect to be in the lottery for next year will not be there. The Department will not have that money because it will have been spent on the schools which did not draw it down in the previous year.

The difficulty with spending on education is that one does not necessarily draw down money the year the decision is made.

I understand that.

For example, if a new project is approved for 2011 the money will, more than likely, be drawn down in 2012 or 2013. This is true for large-scale projects. There is a process of architectural planning, schedules of accommodation and so on to be gone through. Deputies are all familiar with that. With large-scale projects, the Department allocates on the basis of what the allocation will be in 2012 or 2013. That is what is happening. The €72 million carry-over that my predecessor, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, had last year was able to facilitate the backlog of allocations made in 2008 and 2009.

However, new schools that might have expected to be in line for some of the €72 million not spent this year cannot get it because €72 million is already spoken for in the new allocation.

It is €62 million.

The Minister mentioned €72 million.

Yes, €72 million was a carry-over.

Other new projects did not start this year because the €72 million had to be spent on those that were to be built last year.

No. In normal circumstances I would ask the Minister for Finance to carry over €62 million so that I would have my allocation plus €62 million. What happened in Deputy Batt O'Keeffe's time was that he had the money remaining from his allocation at the end of last year, plus €72 million. As there are no capital carry-overs at all, given the financial circumstances, that money must be re-allocated to do other things. It is appropriate to say that these other projects need to be done as well. There are institutes of technology that do not have enough space and need investment in windows, doors and so on. Representatives of them may have addressed the joint committee. The money will not be lost to education. It will be re-allocated into the other allocations.

With regard to what happened last year, Deputy Quinn has been a Minister for Finance and knows the score when decisions must be made. The third level end of the Department usually gets the least amount when it comes to making capital allocations. That has always been the way because it is at primary and post-primary level that the greatest need appears. Third level institutions had very little real investment until the last number of years of investment. They are coming from a particularly low base. It is often not politically acceptable locally, but that is a fact. The third level budget was reduced for the last number of years and transferred out of third level into primary and post-primary.

The politics of this does not look great. We have to find new ways to deliver programmes. There are reasons why things are not going to go ahead. There is also local vindictiveness, as Deputies know, that tries to prevent things as opposed to supporting them.

Many Deputies - not myself - represent constituencies where there is a huge need and capacity to be met very quickly at local level. There are also traditional five or six teacher national schools, perhaps using five or six prefabs, that would prefer to have money allocated to them rather than have the Department build a new school. Deputies have had to deal with those challenges in their constituencies over the last number of years. We can appreciate where people are coming from.

In a number of the programmes, we have been able to support everybody. On the smaller devolved schemes I have been able to deal with a considerable number of old cases that have been sitting about the Department for a long time. I have done this with the current investment since June of this year on the basis that projects at devolved level would be able to spend at least 70% of their funding by the end of the year.

There will continue to be a large-scale project capital spend over the next number of years. It is my intention to announce the capital programme as quickly as possible so that we do not have a time lag next year and have this same conversation next year, no matter who the Minister is, about the money not having been spent. I hope to give people the time and capacity to do what needs to done as quickly as possible.

On the €42 million that has been re-allocated to the third level capital programme, are third level institutions in a position to spend that money within the remaining few weeks?

Even though it is capital spending?

It is because the scheme for those institutions is a devolved scheme. I met the IOTs and third level institutions. A previous devolved scheme had been stopped. The institutions came back to me say that if there was a devolved scheme they would be in a position to spend X amount of money by the end of the year. I asked them to put it up to me and they have done so.

Is it the case that they have they already spent the money?

No, they cannot do that.

I am about to ask that. One cannot spend the money before it is allocated.

Under the devolved procedure to the IOTs they have a way in which they can draw down 70% very quickly.

Will the funding be for equipment rather than for capital spending? I cannot imagine one could build anything in a couple of weeks.

With regard to asking boards of management to deliver projects locally, is it the Minister's intention to retain overall control of an individual project and ask a board of management to deliver a particular project? I presume she is not going to ask boards of management to deliver two or three projects. We do not want an NRA type situation within the Department of Education and Skills.

In normal circumstances there would be concerns that a primary school board of management would not have the capacity to deliver a project, particularly a large project. It would have the capacity to deliver a smaller two or three classroom extension, or whatever. We have said to boards of management that where they would have an entitlement to a new classroom, for example, and might have been given a prefab, they should convert the money into cash and deliver the project themselves. That will continue. Smaller boards of management will be asked to deliver those smaller projects.

Some of the larger VECs have a capacity to deliver projects at both primary and post-primary level. We have a number of very good models that have worked very well on a pilot basis and we are in a position to ask more of them to deliver those projects. I hope some Deputies had a chance to see the €43 million project delivered by Monaghan VEC on the site of the army barracks in Monaghan. A new VEC school and two primary schools will be built on one campus. This is a better way of delivering projects. There will be one large PE hall instead of three and the children and the local community can use the PE hall. There is a lovely project in Piper's Hill, in County Kildare, which has also worked out very well. The campus will accommodate 1,000 pupils in a VEC school, a gaelscoil, the headquarters of the VEC and one of the new community primary schools. There will be no lack of facilities.

It is the way to go.

It is the only way. The children are all together and big facilities are available to them at primary and post-primary level. We can configure buses and drop-offs in a much safer way. It is better way of proceeding with the projects. However, it is easier to do in a greenfield situation. When one comes from a county such as mine or Deputy Flynn's it is much more difficult because everyone wants a local school in the local parish, although it might have only three teachers.

Must the lowest tender be accepted?

That is very important. In a county like Mayo a local builder who tenders for a project should be favoured rather than bringing someone from the other side of the country or from Northern Ireland. Can a project be geared so that a local builder, assuming they meet the criteria, can get the job?

We cannot lean favourably towards anybody. This is part of the procurement procedure. However, we have challenged a number of tenderers who we knew would not be able to deliver the project for the money stated, and we have gone to another person who might have been a little more expensive but who we knew could deliver it.

Is the Tánaiste within her rights to do that?

Yes. We are not tied to the lowest tender because there are competencies, bonds and other issues to take into consideration. Boards of management at local level also have the capacity to challenge.

Going back to the 200 devolved grants for €30 million, can the Tánaiste give us a list of those? If at the beginning of the year, money is being allocated, as happened in these cases, and for whatever reason everything is not in place in the projects we are talking about, or unexpected problems arose, should the readiness be looked at before the money is allocated? It will clearly not be spent this year. What criteria could usefully be changed without being restrictive to make sure these projects were ready to go?

Has the Tánaiste analysed the blockages? The Educate Together school in Drogheda was planned, built and completed in six months. Are there blockages that professional advice could be used to overcome? A standard school design is the way to go and such a model exists. Why not go with that? There would not be any planning issues then.

That is the RAPID programme.

How can issues be examined to fast-track building? The construction industry is beating a path to the Government's door about what needs to happen in our economy and it might be of use in advising on these issues.

The devolved projects would be based on an application that would have been accepted by the Department, a decision and a recommendation of the requisite needs of the school and then an allocation is made. The rest of the decision making is devolved to the boards of management who come with the bona fides that they will be able to deliver the programme. It is not necessarily their fault but the next thing is that they thought they had something organised and it did not work or the local authority wanted a sewage scheme in place. Much of it is not the fault of the boards of management but it delays the projects.

There are others who would take the money before changing their minds half way through the process because this is local decision making. They decide to come back for more and delay the whole process without spending the money they were allocated in the first place. We will get a list of those people. We should not be disrespectful to them. They are do their best to deliver the programmes and we all know what happens; the local politics on the boards of management can be difficult.

In 2008 the Minister changed the way capital programmes are allocated. We went ahead on the basis of difficulties at the time with RAPID areas growing up that meant we were not in a position to go back and deliver programmes more quickly. It was not all the Department's fault, local authorities moved masses of people from one part of the city to another and there was no primary school for their children. We were able to put a forward planning programme in place and have been able to introduce a geographic information system.

We are trying to deliver in areas where there is rapid growth and needs must be met. The project in Drogheda is exactly that sort of project. It was a RAPID project and was very successful. It was delivered very quickly and that is why Louth County Council has been asked to deliver a number of other programmes for the Department. It is only suitable, however, for a limited number of projects, it cannot be used all over the country. It can only be used on a green field site and limited numbers of contracts can do it. Some sites are not suitable for such projects but where they are suitable, we have been able to deliver these projects and they have worked well.

Fingal County Council is another example where a local authority was able to rapidly deliver projects. The county manager would say there were designated sites and ask the Department to join in the delivery of community facilities along with an educational campus. That is the right way to do it.

The other problem is that there are smaller schools in more isolated areas that are not going to come together so there is a doubling up of requirements for these schools. We said that schools that are willing to amalgamate would be fast-tracked so there would be better value for money in future. As we all know, these are independent bodies that have their own ethos and it would be a brave Minister who would take them on. There are local synergies but the other thing being done as part of the new delivery mechanism is to look at the processes and bureaucracy involved in getting through every stage. I have asked the Department to deliver a new methodology that will reduce the number of hurdles everyone has to go over while securing value for money.

I welcome that. It is my view that the system is one of rationalised administrative rationing. In bad times there had to be the appearance that something was happening but the money was not there to do it. The hoops people had to jump through were unnecessarily bureaucratic. The Department should take the leap towards streamlining the system and place the onus on applicants to tick all the boxes before they start looking for things. If they want two classrooms, they should not look for additional rooms at the end of the process.

I recognise that with 3,200 primary schools, many of which are in rural areas, there are local community administrative problems that an urban Deputy would not face. It might be well to say that schools have three teachers less because if the boards of management and available managers are fast forwarded, most of whom are in their 70s, and here I refer to Catholic clergy, it might be possible to introduce a system whereby schools with a certain threshold of either teachers or pupils must have a shared board of management. A number of parish priests have said to me that they would much prefer one board of management over two or three schools in one area.

Try to get all that through with the principal and board of management of a rural school.

It is extremely difficult but there is a dynamic under way. The suggestion has come to me from rural areas, not urban areas where there are completely different problems.

We missed the boat in getting school sites as a prerequisite in zoning for development and where site acquisition would be at existing use value. That tide has gone out but it will come back in again. Now is the time for the Department to act, when there is not so much greed and pressure to maximise value. One of the Tánaiste's predecessors from County Donegal, Mr. Neil Blaney, introduced an extraordinary provision in the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963, which would never get through now, whereby a person with land between coast and the road could not build a house on that side of the road but could do so on the inland side. While it has been breached in many places since then, that was the strength of thinking at the time. With the downturn it would be possible to get that sort of thing.

When the VECs are consolidated into 16, with serious units of management and administration, I presume the Tánaiste expects them to pick up the baton and run with the sort of task about which she is talking.

That is exactly the task I have given them. Some of the VECs are very small and do not have the experience of large building projects and others have great competencies. Much of it is driven by the people who lead including the principals in respect of schools. It is by bringing people together and creating a capacity that we can do these things and learn from that experience. There should be oversight from the Department's perspective, because that is the Accounting Officer's view. There are others who will equally be in a position to make proposals in the same way that they have garnered experience in the public sector in delivering programmes. Thinking outside the box is the way forward.

Building schools or extensions on greenfield sites should not run into planning difficulties and certainly not from third-party objections. The Tánaiste should consult the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and in cases where there might be a delay, consider using the provisions of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act to get it through. We just cannot afford these kinds of delays notwithstanding the rights of individuals.

Can priority be given to schools that were prepared to do much of the groundwork themselves and already have planning permission so that they are ready to go as soon as the money is allocated?

One has to work this one. A number of schools approach the Department with architectural drawings and planning permission, and ask to get the money. It was just that they went ahead themselves without ever getting any sanction from the Department or any assessment of the need. That would create an imbalance that would discriminate against a school whose board might not be as enthusiastic but which might have a greater need and I need to curtail that kind of situation. In the normal course of events people go through a procedure until they get the nod to go into the architectural planning stage at which point they are in the programme. Some schools have tried to circumvent the process and feel they have a greater priority when that is not the way it should be done.

If the process was more open and transparent and less complicated, people would get into an orderly queue and do it. People have only gone off and done that sort of thing out of frustration. It is not to be encouraged, but it is understandable.

As this is the last time there will be a capital carry-over, I draw the Tánaiste's attention to a specific case. Two primary schools in my constituency want to amalgamate. As the buildings are approximately 120 years old, I hate to think what the fire officer would do if ever he were to visit them. Beside them there is an empty secondary school.

Is this in Dundrum?

It is in Haddington Road. The nuns wanted to sell it to use for their older years. It is available to the Department at a bargain price and Mr. Carney in Tullamore has chapter and verse on the matter. Does the Tánaiste have any discretion in this regard. It ticks a number of boxes as I believe Mr. Ó Foghlú will know. It is in an area of rapid population growth and there is a shortage of school places. Some 90% of the primary schools in Dublin South-East are oversubscribed.

This is the difficulty, where we need to make hard decisions. We need to provide a place for the child to go to school versus the kind of pressure these guys put on me. It is not necessarily providing new places but augmenting.

While I have the Tánaiste's attention-----

I acknowledge I am speaking against myself in this case.

I ask the Deputy to move on as we have given the matter considerable time and we need to be out of the room within an hour.

In greenfield sites there is the opportunity for an educational campus, but in built-up areas those in the primary sector do not talk to those in the secondary sector as far as I can gather. Muckross College has a vast amount of land that was donated to the Dominican Order in the 1800s on the condition that the land could only be used for educational purposes. The national school in Belmont Avenue, Donnybrook is bursting at the seams and cannot expand because it is sitting on a tiny site. The Dominican nuns will not allow or facilitate that primary school to move on to its grounds. The Tánaiste's predecessor sanctioned a needed post-primary school that cost approximately €7 million. One of the Tánaiste's colleagues or officials when approving the secondary school for Muckross should have made it conditional on providing for a primary school on those lands - the school had one previously, which it closed down. The subscription rate to St. Mary's national school on Belmont Avenue is approximately 160% of the capacity. There should be joined-up thinking involving two or three schools sharing a campus, which is fine in greenfield sites. All that is needed is to consider single-school applications and ask what the feeder implications are and let them use a community hall or a sports hall as a condition of getting grants at post primary level.

I know Deputy Quinn was just raising those as examples and that they will be of interest to the Tánaiste. Earlier, Deputy O'Dowd indicated that he wanted to talk about the IT aspect under subhead B18.

I wish to ask a few questions on student support first.

We will conclude on student support then.

There is overspending and the Tánaiste is looking for extra money under student support. Given that 13,000 applications had not been considered by the end of October, how does she know she has enough money there?

Some 30% more people applied and were eligible so we have an overspend.

I thought the Department needed more money.

Yes. I am reallocating within my resources.

I understand that. However, if some applications have not been opened, is the Tánaiste sure she has enough?

Yes. If anybody is eligible-----

The point is that 20% of applications remained unopened at the end of October.

In the management of the Vote, we had to prioritise. We looked at where underspending and savings could be found in order to offset the overspending we had. My view, which I believe is the considered view of everybody in this room, is that those with an entitlement to a grant should be paid. There will be money to pay those people even if they have not gone through the process yet.

The four year development plan proposes to cut back on student support grants by €22 million next year. Allowing for an increase in the number of applicants this year, that implies that there will be either a reduction in grants or a reduction in the income qualification. How will it be done?

As the Deputy will appreciate, that is a budgetary issue and I am not in a position to discuss it until the Minister for Finance stands up to deliver the Budget Statement.

The significant increase in applications this year and the proposal to cut back for next year will create an appalling vista. Many people going to college will find they will not get grants because the income ceilings will have been reduced and less money will be available.

I cannot comment on it because it is a budgetary issue.

The Tánaiste might comment on it on Wednesday. We might table a priority question for her in advance.

I am looking forward to it already.

I wish to clarify where we are.

While I am not happy with the answer, I accept it.

We have dealt with the F3 and E1 subheads. Deputy O'Dowd mentioned earlier that he wished to raise an issue about IT under subhead B18.

I would like to get an update on the IT. I understand the Tánaiste is putting an extra €20 million into the ICT process.

Under B18 it is stated that particular emphasis will be placed on ensuring post-primary schools are able to benefit from high-speed broadband capability. In a reply to a parliamentary question in early October, it was stated that 2% of schools at that time had high-speed broadband. May I have an update on that, please?

Some 78 post-primary schools were selected in the pilot project for 100 megabytes and those 78 schools are now connected.

It was a different question. What is the total number of schools that have high-speed broadband capability? I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste is investing money in it. Under this subhead, how many schools have it?

100 megabytes and 78 schools.

Is that still the same 2%?

Is it post-primary or primary?

So that is 10% of the total of post-primary schools.

It is 2% of the total. I appreciate the Tánaiste may not have that information but could we have that information?

In the actual programme, it was estimated that the proportion of students to computers would be 5:1. That is the objective. What is the current position? I think the Tánaiste had a target of buying 150,000 laptops or computers.

How many have been purchased? What is the up-to-date position?

The up-to-date position is that of the overall programme of €150 million, €92 million has been spent.

What has been bought with that money?

The programme commenced in 1998. More than €213 million in capital expenditure has been made available to schools with €92 million of that funding provided in the past 12 months. Four separate ICT infrastructure grants have issued in the past 12 months to schools. Primary schools and post-primary schools have each received €46 million towards the purchase of appropriate ICT hardware. In addition to this capital funding more than €110 million of current funding has been invested in the ICT in schools programme. The breakdown of connection types on schools broadband network is as follows: fixed wire, DSL - 2,358, wireless - 703, and satellite - 833. As the roll-out of the new contracts is completed, the number of satellite schools is expected to reduce further. The idea would be to come away from the satellite which is expensive and go back into the new broadband facility - wireless - which is being provided under the national broadband programme which the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is putting in place.

If it is in order, may I have a summary of the position? Obviously I cannot get it today as the Tánaiste does not have the information with her. The key to our economic recovery is in this area. Does the Tánaiste know how many computers have been purchased by her Department?

It is the schools that buy the computers. I give them a certain amount of money as a grant.

I understand that but what is the expected purchase? I am trying to match the recommendations contained in the smart school, smart technology document and the current position.

Two thirds of that programme is done.

I support Deputy O'Dowd. Perhaps the Tánaiste would give members an up-to-date report on the state of play in the whole ICT sector at primary and secondary levels?

Yes. Two thirds of the work has been done this year.

What does that mean?

What does that mean in terms of the plan?

I will have to come back to the Deputies because I do not have the number of computers that have been purchased. I will come back to the committee.

Not now but the Tánaiste can come back to us.

It will be of interest to all members. Perhaps the Tánaiste's officials could give it to the clerk and then it can be circulated to members. We want an up-to-date report on the smart school, smart technology plan.

On each of the targets, there is an executive summary and there are targets which I think were agreed by the Minister of the day. What is the position on each of those?

I understand that two thirds of it has been achieved.

Fair enough. I want to turn to the FÁS issue.

We are moving to the savings on subhead G2

This is the outstanding issue that Deputy O'Dowd raised earlier in respect of FÁS.

I understand there has been an underspend in FÁS. What is the reason?

The reasons are as I have outlined. The number of people going into apprenticeships has been reduced, savings have been achieved in the procurement of training programmes and there have been price savings on training allowances.

I understand that 700 FÁS apprentices cannot get qualifications because they have lost their jobs or cannot get training anywhere else.

We introduced the redundant apprenticeship scheme. The ESB, the Air Corps and some of the large organisations have been in a position to participate in that programme to help apprentices complete their education. We also introduced the rotation scheme. If an employer had a student who was going into the academic side, we would pay that employer to take on a person who was coming out of the academic side and help him or her go through the programme. We have the apprenticeship scheme for redundant apprentices, the rotation apprenticeship scheme and some public sector people have agreed to take on a number of these apprentices to complete their apprenticeship.

That is not enough. Redundant apprentices are in an extremely difficult position. While I bow to the Tánaiste's wisdom, they inform me that if they go into the Air Corps module, notwithstanding its excellence, they are still not working on full-scale commercial aircraft. While they may technically qualify on apprenticeship, they will not be able to work on commercial aircraft because they have not finished their training on them. The question that has been put to me is whether the Department would consider liaising with Ryanair and Aer Lingus with a view to placing more apprentices there than at present. The case has been put to me that while the Air Corps system may be adequate, it will not get them employment.

I will have get some information from the Air Corps on this.

Fine. I would be happy with that.

I go back about 20 years to the debacle in the Air Corps where it was training pilots and technicians and it could not keep them because they were all going into the private sector.

They were suitably qualified at that stage. I will have to go back to FÁS. Anyone in the private sector can come forward and provide training opportunities for these apprentices.

I accept that. Can the Tánaiste be more proactive?

We had very good discussions with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Tony Killeen. We had to work through the process and ensure we had the right people with FÁS and his Department. I will revert back to the Deputy. I can only assume the qualification will be of the requisite standard to pass the examinations.

That point is given. The problem is that it does not get them employment because it is not commercial aircraft training per se. I am not taking from the Air Corps. I welcome and support everything it does. When apprentices visit my office they tell me this course will not help them get a job and that they will never be able to work on commercial aircraft.

Are these previous apprentices?

We will find out.

Does the Tánaiste accept that 7,000 apprentices cannot complete their courses, or is the figure higher?

It is fewer than 7,000 at this stage on foot of the two new initiatives introduced.

What is the figure now?

We have also been able to assist whereby a number of employers abroad have taken on apprentices. I have been working with the Construction Industry Federation and we have asked contractors who have been able to get contracts abroad if they would take on young people who were prepared to work abroad on contracts. We have some success, albeit limited, but at least some success with a number of those companies. We are actively engaged with people in the marketplace, especially with contacts we had many years ago, seeking to ensure apprentices will be able to complete their apprenticeships. The number is fewer than 7,000.

What is the figure?

I do not have the figure.

It is important the Tánaiste would have it because I have been told the official figure is 7,000 but the actual figure could be as high as 10,000.

We have moved many of the apprentices through the system over the last while.

I know that, but these people are not getting training. Their previous experience in some cases is not recognised.

The harsh reality is that a huge number of people are in that programme and currently there are no jobs in that sector on the basis that 110,000 people in the construction sector have lost their jobs.

Many people in the industry are reluctant to take on anyone. That is why we brought in the rotation scheme on the basis that we would pay. We pay the employer-----

-----to take on these people. We are changing the new methodologies of traineeship of apprentices because on foot of union agreements, some apprentices get paid more than some people who have long-term experience. We are tied into the REAs and EROs in the case of apprenticeships. That is difficult for employers because they cannot afford to pay them. FÁS, on my behalf together with some officials in the Department, is working with the unions to examine whether a different mechanism can be found which would ensure an apprentice would be paid more than a married man with three children with 20 years' experience. In that way we could get more apprentices through the process. The way it is structured is ridiculous and does not work.

Many employers have come forward and have been more than helpful in facilitating us to get these young people educated and to enable them to complete their apprenticeships. They may need to convert their qualification later but they need their qualification at present even though it is difficult for them to get employment. We are actively examining new methodologies to try to get these young people through the system. The institutes of technology have been very helpful, as the Deputy will be aware, and have taken people into their institutes to enable them to complete their education. In that way we will be able to move people on.

We are reviewing the entire apprenticeship programme. I do not want there to be any loss in terms of the reputation or quality of the programme as it is excellent. We are one of the very few in the world that have such an intense and long programme. We are examining a new model and FÁS will come up with a new and better model of traineeship-apprenticeship that will be structured in such a way that participants will not spend as long in the apprenticeship model. While some participants spend six years in the apprenticeship model, all participants spend a minimum of four years in it.

The number of types of apprenticeships that people can pursue also needs to be increased.

We are changing that whole scenario.

There are a very limited number of apprenticeships. I would like the Tánaiste, through her officials, to revert-----

We will get the number and pass it on to the clerk to the committee.

One of the issues the Tánaiste brought to my attention was that in the past some employers took on apprentices but did not register them until they had been working with them for, say, six months. People who may have a very short time left technically to finish their apprenticeships find that their pre-apprenticeship work-----

It is not recognised.

-----for which they were paid an apprentice wage and on which they worked as part of their apprenticeship is not taken into account and they cannot complete their apprenticeship because they cannot get that 30 weeks' work experience somewhere else. I am referring only to people who have been employed as apprentices in a transparent manner and who would have worked on the job. Will the Tánaiste examine the position of those people?

We could only examine this on an individual basis-----

-----if it involved someone in particular. One must register with FÁS-----

-----in order that one can be supervised by FÁS.

If there is an individual case, we can-----

I refer only to cases where the people were trained and worked and it was transparent and accepted that they did that work. If they have done that work and were paid as such-----

FÁS tries to be as flexible as possible but it also gets criticised for being flexible.

If there is a particular case, it could be considered on an individual basis and we would definitely ask the head of the apprenticeships to contact the Deputy directly if the Deputy has the name of the person concerned.

Sure. FÁS has had an underspend of funding. I understand the future skills task force - the Tánaiste can correct me if I am wrong on this - identified that approximately 180,000 people need to be up-skilled from level 3 up.

Given the current economic climate and the great number of people unemployed, it is amazing that FÁS is not spending enough money on those courses. Why is more money not being spent on up-skilling people? Is there a roadblock to doing that?

The harsh reality is that we had to change the emphasis in FÁS from training in employment to training the unemployed. Skillnets has done the same. In some cases it has worked very well and in others it has not worked as well. The synergy between unemployed people and employed people working together has worked out very well and people who were unemployed have obtained employment from the programme. We had to change. We had to take a 360 degree turn away from training people in employment. Under the national skills strategy we have achieved a considerable amount and the percentage of those in the labour force with higher education qualifications has increased from 33% to 39%. The target is 48%. We still have a way to go to reach that target. On levels 4 and 5, the percentage has remained at 40% and the target is 45%, and at levels 1 to 3 the target is the other way around. We want it to fall from 27%, which is level we are at, to 21%, so our target is a 7% reduction. In other words, we want to take people out of the system.

Although there has been progress, there is a challenge because the focus has been on training those who are unemployed. A number of small pilot projects have worked well whereby we have had people in existing employment and, through training programmes, we have been able to keep them in work instead of them having to be laid off work for two days. That has helped build their capacity.

I will give the Deputy a good example in this respect. A company in Shannon was going to have to lay off a considerable number of employees. We worked with FÁS on a pilot project to train these people on the two days they were going to be laid off and they reconfigured the work among themselves to ensure everyone would keep his or her other job. This year they had to increase their employment. Training in employment is important and up-skilling is very important. We have not discontinued the programme but we have had to convert our resources to focus on those who are unemployed. I hope that when we get through this difficulty we will refocus back. That would be part of the parameters of FÁS under the national skills strategy and the implementation of the plan. We will work to achieve the target of 48% for those at levels 6 to 10 in the labour force, a target of 45% for those at levels 4 to 5 and a target of a 7% reduction for those at the other levels.

There is underspend of €21 million in FÁS this year yet a vast cohort of people need to be up-skilled.

As the Deputy will be aware, when I appointed a new board and a new chief executive, I told them I wanted to cut any unwarranted expenditure and they have increased savings hugely for the Department. Huge savings have been made on the basis of getting good value for money and also in dealing with the issue of apprenticeships. We have had to convert matters, and rightly so. When this crisis hit in 2008, we had to ensure people stayed close to the labour market and we had to keep people motivated. There was a good deal of criticism of there being short courses as against long courses, and I can appreciate there being such criticism. When I was in the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Secretary General had a different perspective to me but we had to do this. We had to get people motivated and to connect with the labour force.

Although we continue to have those short courses, the emphasis now is on more medium to long-term courses, new conversion-type courses and different types of courses. PLC colleges and FÁS are running beauty therapy courses but one is enough to do that. FÁS's new strategy is to work with the further education sector to streamline who does what. Nobody should be a hostage to fortune on this. That work is ongoing in the Department so that one will go to one place if one wants to be a hairdresser or a beauty therapist and to another if one wants to do the ECDL. One should go to wherever the competencies are. That will provide even more savings because we will streamline things.

A fine, a tax or whatever one wants to call it is being imposed under the four year plan. If one wants to go to a PLC college, one will have to pay €200 to do a course whereas if one goes to FÁS, one will not have to pay it.

This is where the work is ongoing.

From talking to people involved in PLC colleges, a significant number who go to them are unemployed, are trying to up-skill and to get back into the workforce. They do not have that money.

People who are entitled to a grant will get one for the PLC college.

They will have to pay the €200-----

No, they will not. We will pay the fee.

-----to get in the door.

The Department will pay the fee by way of the grant.

To whom will the €200 apply?

It will apply to people who are not eligible for the grant. Those in receipt of the back to education allowance will not have to pay the fee either. It is exactly the same as the higher level grant.

Does the Minister see a new role for vocational education and training - in other words, a new synergy between VECs and FÁS and new line up there?

Yes. I have that lined up. We have two or three people on the board with expertise in this area. They have come from the VEC sector. We are streamlining the situation because it is ridiculous.

One of the criticisms we all face as Deputies is that people do not know where to go. We will now have one place. If one wants to do a certain course, one will go to a particular place. We will not differentiate. There is excellence in both sectors and they have both been very flexible in dealing with the needs of the economy but we will streamline the situation in such a way that we will not have a doubling and trebling of course provision in the same parish not to mention the same town.

One of the criticisms of FÁS by the OECD was that there was not adequate contact with the long-term unemployed - in other words, that contact should increase the longer one is unemployed.

That is happening. The European model of labour activation measures is different from ours. The OECD gave a number of directions when I was in the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on new ways in which labour activation measures should take place. One of the criticisms was that there was a disincentive for some people who found themselves unemployed to go on courses or to get work.

That is why under the new model in the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010, on which Deputy O'Dowd might have spoken, we are changing the interaction between the State and client. This is to be client-focused. We will have a service delivery model where one will establish an entitlement to jobseeker's benefit or whatever but interaction will take place at that time in regard to one's career path. One will be supported to go into training, a job or whatever. The criticism was that people were left languishing for three or four months before the national employment action plan went through. There was no interaction.

Under this new legislation the Minister for Social Protection will be in a position to create a better synergy. That is the model used in France, Germany and in the United Kingdom. When I was in the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, we looked at how that model could be adopted in Ireland.

We are now asking the client how we can help him or her to get a job or be trained. We are saying that in the meantime, he or she has an entitlement. The psyche must change from what one is entitled to followed three months later by what one will do. When there is that greater interaction, there is less fraud. There have been situations where people who did not have an entitlement disappeared. That must take place more quickly and is why the national employment action plan has changed from six months to three months to even less.

That is where we will target people, in particular those under 35 years of age. Different types of people are coming in who never knew where the Department of Social Protection was. They have a different need from those who might be accustomed to part-time working or whatever. That is very much the strength of the new model, which is the right way to go. There has been an appreciation in the House that it is the right thing to do. FÁS will provide the training. There will also be private colleges, third level institutes and further education.

Could we have a copy of the savings or the headings in FÁS where the €21 million has not been spent? I would not have a problem if the Minister sent it to the committee secretariat.

The savings are on the apprenticeship programme - €5 million-----

That does not make sense.

-----services to business - €2 million, integration supports - €2.7 million, employment schemes - €3 million and training for employment - €15 million.

Could I get a copy of those savings?

I will get a copy for the Deputy.

I do not understand how €5 million was saved on apprenticeships. It does not make sense.

It does. It is a demand-led programme.

People are demanding to finish their courses but they cannot do so.

This is the beginning and not the end. The demand has gone down from 2009 and there has been a shortfall of approximately 7%. In other words, we put in an allocation for the apprenticeships last year but the demand has gone down more than we anticipated and the saving is €5 million as a consequence. The number of people going into an apprenticeship programme has gone down.

I am concerned about people who are in apprenticeships but who cannot get out.

Yes, but that is not this money. This money is for people going into apprenticeships.

The Minister is talking about the first year.

The number of people who came into the first phase is down by 7% on the 2009 figure which was down considerably on the previous year.

The 7,000 apprentices who cannot qualify-----

They are not on FÁS's book.

Where are they? They are nowhere. They are still in apprenticeships. They are still on FÁS's book.

Yes, but they are not working.

That is the point. They want to work.

It has nothing to do with the €5 million. That is an expenditure issue. Their issue is an employment one.

Their issue is they cannot get a job and, in some cases, their training is inadequate.

The Deputy does not seem to understand what I am saying.

I understand the figure.

When I did the Estimate last year, I allocated a certain amount of money for those who will go into apprenticeships. Due to the economic climate, there has been a reduction in the number of people expected to take up apprenticeships, which is equal to €5 million. That is from where the savings is coming. The second saving of €2 million is coming from the competency development programme which I am winding down. That was a matter of real controversy in the House for some time. That programme will be closed, so that money will be saved.

I refer to integration supports. That is mainly on the basis of the local employment service and the employment schemes. There have been some savings on activities in regard to the job initiative scheme which has been closed for many years. We are working through it and as people leave, there is a consequential saving. In addition, we reduced the allowance and this has also been factored into the saving.

The position with regard to training for employment is broadly in line with the forecast we made. Savings were made on a number of programmes, particularly the specific skills programme, mainly as a result of reductions in training allowances, travel and subsistence costs, start-up costs and contract fees. The costs have decreased considerably and to an even greater extent than was the case at this time last year. We made our decisions at that stage on the basis of what we would have expected and would already have seen in 2009. There is a €10 million saving on training for employment activity. This relates mainly to training in community training centres.

The market has changed to a major extent and it continues to become more competitive. Consequently, we are obtaining greater value for money through FÁS. The reduction in the allowances is working through the system and is giving rise to savings. Another factor is that fewer people are entering the apprenticeship programme. It is in these areas that savings have been made in FÁS expenditure.

The Deputy inquired about redundant apprentices. I will obtain the figures in that regard and forward them to him. This is a very difficult time for FÁS but we are actively engaged in trying to obtain positions for the apprentices to whom the Deputy refers so that they might complete their training programmes. We will continue our work in this regard.

I acknowledge the facts which have been provided to the Tánaiste. I will not labour the point but there is something wrong when €5 million relating to apprenticeship training remains unspent and 7,000 apprentices cannot complete their training. The Tánaiste appears to be stating that money allocated under one subheading cannot be spent under another.

There is no subhead for-----

Let us be clear, the Tánaiste stated that the €5 million which remains unspent relates to the point of intake.

Yes, the €5 million saving is for first-----

So that is a subhead.

I could transfer that money into the redundant apprentices scheme but there are not any employers to whom I can pay it.

That is the point. However, there are a number of options available.

As already stated, we are actively engaged in the marketplace in the context of trying to-----

Is it not the case that the rules which apply should be changed?

I have been in contact with someone who employs large numbers of apprentices throughout the country and who stated that the rules must be changed.

Their rules are-----

I am referring to the rules relating to apprentices. The individual with whom I was in contact spoke about a new way of considering how 7,000 people-----

The Deputy should wait a minute.

The Tánaiste should allow me to conclude. The key point is that 7,000 people are in limbo and that there is €5 million available which could have been allocated in respect of them. I am of the view that this matter is not being tackled in an adequate fashion. This is a serious problem and it is unacceptable that the money to which I refer has not been spent on trying to resolve it.

I have explained the position five times and I do not intend to explain it again.

The Tánaiste will have to provide an explanation to the 7,000 apprentices who are in limbo at present.

If the Deputy ever has the honour to sit on this side of the table, he will then know the score. The position is that I allocated a certain amount of money to FÁS last year in respect of new apprentices. Some 7% fewer apprentices actually entered the system in the intervening period. It was as a result of this that the saving was made.

The position with regard to the apprenticeship and rotation schemes is that adequate funding is available through FÁS's budget - and under the new scheme - to pay employers who provide apprentices who have not yet completed their training programmes with the opportunity to do so. The issue that arises is that there is a lack of employment opportunities - even on the schemes currently in place - for the apprentices in question. All of the members of the various FÁS teams and I are actively engaged in the marketplace in an attempt to obtain as many places as possible to allow these redundant apprentices to complete their training programmes. Our efforts in this regard are focused in both the private and public sectors. I met representatives of the County and City Managers Association to see if it could be of assistance. I also made inquiries with a number of contacts we have in certain countries throughout the world.

Another aspect of this matter is the fact that training must be authenticated by FÁS and assessed as being deliverable. An expense arises in this regard but I am prepared to pay that money in order that the people in question can complete their training. The rules, etc., relating to a new traineeship scheme are being negotiated with the unions at present. The person to whom the Deputy referred is probably of the view, and rightly so, that being tied into to EROs and JLCs acts as a deterrent for a number of employers in the context of taking on apprentices. We are working with the unions to change the system.

FÁS's level of interaction with employers is superb when it comes to the apprenticeship schemes. We have listened to what the employers are saying and we are trying to change the system. However, I am obliged to get the unions on boards in order to facilitate this. That is proving quite difficult but it is the correct thing to do. The review of the various schemes is taking place under the national recovery plan and is being co-ordinated by the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary. If we can change the system, it will provide employers with a better incentive to take on apprentices. There is a financial issue that arises. Under the new service programmes we are going to deliver through FÁS, we are going to provide a new traineeship programme which will prove to be excellent. This programme will gain a great reputation and will involve apprentices spending fewer years in training and there will also be fewer stages to be completed. That is the current position.

We are working with employers in the public and private sectors to progress matters. We are pushing hard with the public sector. The Deputy will appreciate that if Louth County Council let a certain number of people go and proceeded to bring others onto schemes, the unions would be up in arms and an issue relating to displacement would arise. At teaching level and in the context of apprenticeships, I am trying to stress that these are difficult times, that we are operating in a new environment and that we should allow the apprentices in question to complete their training in order that they will have an opportunity to obtain employment. When they obtain their certification, they will be in a position to use it as a pathway to the next stage. We will continue to be extremely active in this regard because it is the right thing to do.

Would it be possible to provide greater subsidies to employers in order that they might provide opportunities for the 7,000 apprentices who cannot complete their training? Could we increase amount paid to employers to make it more attractive for them to either retain or take on apprentices? If the subsidy was increased, the cost to employers would be reduced. They could pay apprentices the same wages as now but the Department could subsidise the remainder. As I understand it, such apprentices have no future at all.

I do not believe any Deputy or Senator should state that young people have no future. That is neither fair not right.

I did not say that.

The Deputy said it a moment ago.

The Tánaiste cannot twist my words and the record will show-----

The people in question are excellent individuals and-----

I am asking the Tánaiste a question. She should not try to attribute to me words which I did not utter. Regardless of whether she likes it - I certainly do not like it - 7,000 people have no future as apprentices because they cannot obtain employment to complete their training. That is what I said. If the problem is that employers cannot pay the rate which applies in respect of third or fourth-year apprentices, will the Tánaiste not provide a subsidy so that employers can pay wages at a reduced rate? This would allow the 7,000 apprentices to complete their training and have some hope for the future. These individuals will have no future if they cannot obtain their qualifications.

We have discussed this matter for a considerable period.

We have until 1.30 p.m. to put questions to the Tánaiste. I apologise if we have been dealing with this matter for a considerable period but I am of the view that it is worth discussing.

With respect, the Deputy does not appear to understand anything I am saying. I do not disagree with him in respect of the necessity of ensuring that people complete their education. That is I have been active in the marketplace - in conjunction with FÁS - in respect of progressing the rotation scheme and providing other supports. The harsh reality is that employers do not exist.

What about where they could exist?

How can one have a situation where 110,000 lost their jobs in the construction sector and expect them to be taken on? That does not make sense. We are financially supporting employers to complete the projects. It is difficult because many of the people on the rotation scheme have their own apprentices and may not be able to keep them on. They may have to let them go and this is difficult for employers. We are working with the private and public sectors to allow these people to complete their education. We have travelled abroad to the UK and Germany, in particular, where we had apprentices many years ago and we have an authentic way in which we can ensure these people are qualified.

When they do their apprenticeship, not only does the academic work have to be supervised, the practical work has also to be adjudicated on. We are doing this with the practical work but we do not want a scenario such as that raised by the Deputy where some unfortunate person who was not registered on time or who was not supervised cannot secure the requisite number of weeks for authentic certification. We do not want that to happen. We are working closely with employers on this. There has been no restriction whatsoever on FÁS's budget in this regard.

I will raise the Air Corps issued referred to by the Deputy. Its apprenticeships should have the same-----

The issue is acquiring experience on a commercial airline.

That is something we could look at. We are working with employers and we asked others in the airline industry whether they would take on some of these people in order that they could finish their qualifications. That is part of the work we are currently involved in. I asked local authorities, although it is difficult for them as well because there are issues with displacement, to see whether there is any way these apprentices can complete their projects. The ESB came forward with a considerable number of places for redundant apprentices and we are working towards that. A number of other private people are out on a daily basis on my behalf and the Deputy's behalf working to allow that happen. This is not a financial issue. There is no capacity in the economy to help these people complete their projects. A great deal of pressure was put on me to allow these young people to go to Australia to finish their apprenticeships, although I am favourably disposed if they would like to do that. One of the issues that has arisen is the qualification and certification in Australia is totally different from ours and it will take time to work through this.

When I was on a trade mission to Canada, I met a number of people, particularly in western Canada, who were anxious to take on apprentices, particularly in the gas industry. It is difficult, unfortunately, because we do not have the same qualification rigour as the Canadians but we are working to see if there are opportunities, even if means only ten or 20 people can go to Canada to get that experience. We are, therefore, actively trying to work through the system.

I wish to clarify that members are not obliged to continue asking questions until 1.30 p.m.

I am obliged to ask questions as spokesperson.

Another committee is booked into the room. The Deputy is not obliged to continue.

My job is not to remain silent.

I want to avoid repetition. We need to have questions on the Estimate before we conclude.

A total of 4,000 apprentices who were made redundant are in these programmes and 7,000 are not. We have successfully established opportunities for 4,000 apprentices and that is important for them. We will not lose sight of the others who need to be supported.

That is the stark reality. It would be helpful if the Minister provided us with an analysis at our next meeting of the progress outlining the categories, the issues arising and the strategies that could help these people. The Minister said some employers cannot take on apprentices in their fourth year because they cannot afford their pay but they can take on someone on a lower income who does not have the same skills. They would prefer to have the fourth year guy but they cannot afford him. Can the Minister consider strategies for this cohort, which would result in the Department giving increased payments to the employers?

The payments are expensive as it is.

I acknowledge that but how will these people finish otherwise? Some of them have cars and so on and they incur expense travelling to a job. Some are married and have families.

The Department pays the employers €250 a week.

I do not deny that but there is a problem and if it helps an employer to take on Johnny Murphy and he finishes his apprenticeship, it would be worth it. I would be happy if the Minister examined this issue.

We are considering every idea. We have had a number of discussions at this and other committees about how to address this. Nobody has an answer to everything and that is why we are examining new initiatives. Over the past two years, 4,000 people have been placed in programmes. We are considering as many options as we can and we will continue to do that because we want to ensure all these people complete their programmes in order that at least they will have their certification, which is a necessity to get a job. We have an over supply issue until all the programmes are worked through. We have an over-supply of apprentices and a lack of opportunities.

Deputy O'Dowd said he would be happy if the Minister examined the issue and she said will not lose sight of this as an issue.

I accept that but I would like her to come back to the committee with a deeper analysis from FÁS, including the comments of programme managers and an outline of the issues and how they can be dealt with.

That work is ongoing.

I fully appreciate that. I do not have the-----

A committee in FÁS is working on this and interacting with my officials on the new apprenticeship and training programmes.

I am delighted to hear that.

That work is under way.

I welcome that and I would welcome a detailed analysis by those at principal officer level of the issues and what can be done to address them.

Everybody accepts it is an important issue and considerable time has been devoted to it. Are there questions on the Supplementary Estimate?

There are many issues relating to FÁS and FETAC about which I would like to ask the Minister but I will put them to her next week. I appreciate she may not necessarily be briefed on all of them. The reply to the parliamentary question I tabled about FÁS, FETAC and their relationship did not indicate that she knew. I will wait until next week.

I thank the Minister and her officials.