The closing date for receipt of applications under the 2013 Single Payment Scheme has been set as Wednesday, 15 May 2013 and, by way of further improving the service offered to farmers in 2013 and in recognition of the significant contribution of the Single Farm Payment to the incomes of farmers, it has been decided to individually acknowledge receipt of each application form, as soon as possible after receipt. Consequently, applications under the 2013 Single Payment Scheme must be posted/delivered to my Department's SPS Payments Unit in Portlaoise and can, therefore, no longer be lodged in Department Local Offices. This has been clearly stated in the information provided to the farming sector that SPS forms in respect of 2013 Single Payment Scheme. My Department will be emphasising this message through ads in the farming press next week.
With regard to clerical work in the Tralee local office, following on from the successful restructuring of my Department's local office network, which reduced the number of local offices from 58 to 16, my Department has reviewed the business processes and procedures and, in particular, the administrative support requirements, in its 16 Regional Offices. Arising from this review, the Department has recently introduced a number of significant changes to the procedures in relation to the implementation of controls in the context of the TB eradication programme. In light of this and having regard to the significant efficiencies which have already arisen as a result of the investment made by the Department in IT in recent years and the substantial reduction in the incidence of disease, the number of administrative staff required to deliver the service in the local offices has been considerably reduced. The review concluded that further substantial efficiencies would accrue from the centralisation of adminstrative functions and, in light of this, my Department has decided to centralise this support in one or more centralised office(s).
Centralising administrative procedures will enable my Department to reduce the number of administrative staff it requires to support Veterinary Office operations and, accordingly, the cost of providing its services. This is in line with Government policy. In addition, the centralisation of administrative functions will facilitate the re-deployment of staff from the regional offices to other State agencies and, thereby, enable the Government to provide services more efficiently through these agencies.
I should emphasise that frontline services will be fully maintained and public access for all of the Department's stakeholders will continue to be available at the 16 regional offices. The Department vets, inspectors and technical officers will remain in place at these offices to service our clients across all of the schemes that are provided from our Regional Offices.
In line with my Department's decision to centralise administrative services, administrative functions have already been transferred out of a number of regional offices (notably, Clonakilty and Limerick), without any negative implications for the provision of services to farmer clients. The administrative staff in the Tipperary office will also be transferred to the Garda vetting office shortly. It is not possible for me at this stage to give any indication of the time-frame for the transfer of the administrative functions out of other regional offices, such as Tralee, because this will depend on the availability of opportunities to redeploy the staff concerned to support other critical public services. However, I can assure the Deputy that administrative support work in the local offices will not be transferred to a central office unless the staff concerned can be redeployed to other State services.