I propose to take Questions Nos. 90, 112, 113 and 132 together.
In February 2006 the Government decided to transfer certain non core functions from the Health Service Executive to the Department. The General Registrars Office transferred to the Department with effect from 1 January 2008 and plans are well advanced for the transfer of a number of disability related payments including domiciliary care allowance. The transfer of the Community Welfare Service to the Department is also to take place.
The work of the community welfare officers requires them to exercise discretion when making decisions regarding entitlement of supplementary allowance. From the outset, assurances have been given that when they transfer to the Department they will continue to make discretionary payments under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. This discretion is recognised as being fundamental to the scheme and there is no proposal to make any change in this regard; the existing flexibilities will be retained. The 2007 and 2008 Social Welfare and Pensions Acts which provided the legislative basis for the transfer of functions did not in anyway alter the existing discretionary element of the scheme. In relation to the location of Community Welfare Officers who transfer to the Department the position is that arrangements have been agreed with the HSE for the continued use of their existing accommodation. They will continue to operate from Health Centres but opportunities for co-location with other locally based Departmental staff will be examined on an ongoing basis taking account of service needs.
The transfer represents a significant change for the staff involved and there are a considerable number of human resources issues to be dealt with. Discussions are taking place between the management side comprised of officials from the Department, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE and the staff unions SIPTU and IMPACT. These discussions are being facilitated by an independent chairman. An intensive series of meetings took place between October 2007 and April 2008. A summary position paper outlining management's proposals for the transfer has been sent to the Unions and I understand that this will form the basis of further discussions. Discussions are also taking place with unions representing existing staff in the Department in relation to the transfer proposals. The aim is to reach a collective agreement with all the unions involved that addresses the concerns of all the staff involved.
In addition to administering the supplementary welfare allowance scheme on behalf of the Department some Community Welfare Officers working in counties other than Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow are also engaged in means assessment work for medical cards, nursing home subventions and other schemes which will continue to be administered by the HSE. It has been decided that a proportionate number of staff will remain in the HSE to deal with this work. Out of a total of 1,033 posts, 167 will be retained in the HSE and 866 will transfer to the Department. This distribution of posts is based on a study undertaken by external consultants engaged by the HSE to examine the work of the CWS in order to determine the exact level of staff resources engaged in the various functions. The final detailed figures were agreed between the Department and the HSE taking account of service delivery requirements in relation to the full range of work involved.
The integration of the Community Welfare Service with the Department will allow for the development of the role of Community Welfare Officers. There is already a significant level of liaison between them and locally based staff in the Department. Under an integrated management structure existing areas of duplication of work can be reduced and ultimately this will lead to an improved and more efficient service for the public. The Department is moving to a more dynamic response to the needs of the unemployed, lone parents and persons with disabilities. This involves a more direct engagement with these groups and the introduction of a case management and activation approach.
Community Welfare Officers have developed a huge level of experience and expertise in relation to dealing with persons who are disadvantaged. They are well placed to become involved in the development of the case management and activation approach. There will be ongoing consultation with staff in relation to these developments. The Department's priority is to maintain the existing high standard of service to the public during the implementation of the transfer of functions from the HSE.