Decisions on disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are currently a matter for the dormant accounts disbursement board. This is an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. The board is currently deciding on the disbursement of funds up to €30 million and, to date, it has approved 18 projects for funding totalling approximately €1.7 million.
With regard to the proposed changes relating to dormant accounts, the position is that, having regard to the emerging size of the fund, existing legislative provision is simply not adequate. Shortcomings are evident on a number of fronts, namely, organisational structure — there is no explicit provision for a properly developed organisational structure to support the board and current arrangements, which involve a handful of seconded civil servants in a secretariat role, are not designed to support disbursements on the scale now emerging; accountability — existing provision requires that a part-time chairman would be wholly accountable for spend running into hundreds of millions of euro, which is clearly not sustainable; public policy — existing arrangements do not adequately support the focusing of spend by the dormant accounts board with policy priorities debated in this House and approved by Government and if we are serious about tackling disadvantage, we must target resources; and expertise — there is a considerable wealth of expertise and practical experience residing in public bodies which routinely deal with areas of disadvantage and disability. Current arrangements do not adequately allow this key resource to be drawn upon in informing decisions on spend from the fund. Therefore, in December 2003, the Government reviewed arrangements for dormant accounts.
In view of these issues, it was apparent that there were two possible routes that could be followed. One was the setting up of an independent agency with a large staff, CEO, offices and so forth to administer the fund and the other was to use the existing mechanisms of State and accounting procedures, including accounting officers of different Departments, to support clear criteria, a transparent application process and rigorous evaluation of projects. The first approach would have led to an inordinate amount of the funds being dissipated on administration. Implicit in the second route, using existing agencies, was the requirement that Departments or their agencies would support and inform the disbursement of funds.
The advantage of using the existing infrastructure of State to carry out the above work is that it means that much less of the money than otherwise would be the case will be spent on overheads and administration and that the benefit or the expertise of the State system will be available for the evaluation of projects. In this situation, legal responsibility for decisions would ultimately lie with the relevant Minister and accounting responsibility with the relevant accounting officers.
The objectives of the disbursements scheme, as set out in the board's first disbursement plan, will remain unchanged, that is, funding to assist programmes or projects targeting three broad categories of persons — those affected by economic and social disadvantage; those affected by educational disadvantage, and persons with a disability. As regards the integrity of the proposed future system for disbursement, it is important to note that the Government decision of December 2003 provides that decisions in this area would be taken following a transparent application and evaluation process.
With regard to the board itself, the Government proposes key roles for it, with particular regard to the following: advising on priority areas to be considered annually for funding and preparation of the disbursement plan. Furthermore, the board will critically assess the additionality and impact of spend on a regular basis. This is of critical importance and arrangements will be put in place to ensure that spending under the dormant accounts board will be kept separate from the normal Estimates process, so that additionality can be verified.
Draft legislation is to be brought forward this year with a view to giving effect to these decisions. I expect the draft legislation will be published over the coming months.