Thursday, 1 February 2018

Ceisteanna (4)

Mattie McGrath


4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the minor works scheme; if the grants are to be withdrawn or reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5087/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

I have raised the situation with the minor works grant scheme with the Minister on other occasions. I am concerned about whether they will be paid or if there will be a withdrawal of funding in 2018 and 2019.

The minor works grant was first introduced in 1997 and since then has issued to primary schools each school year with the exception of the school year 2012-13. The grant most recently issued to all primary schools last December in respect of the school year 2017-18. The payment of the minor works grant is not confined to any particular date and can be issued during any month of the school year.  For the 2002-03 school year, part of the grant was paid in May 2003 with the balance paid in October 2003.

With regard to the minor works grant for 2018-19, it is intended that the grant will issue not later than January 2019. The capital allocation for the school sector in 2018 will be expended primarily on large-scale projects, the additional accommodation scheme and site acquisitions.  The priority remains to have sufficient school places available for the start of the school year next September.

I am confident that outlining the position regarding the minor works grant for 2018-19 gives certainty to schools so they can plan accordingly for the infrastructure works specified in the minor works grant circular that they intend to undertake. My Department recognises the importance of the minor works grant and there are no plans in place either to withdraw or reduce it. As part of our longer-term infrastructural planning, the Department will explore whether it will be possible to give greater certainty to primary schools about the payment of the minor works grant, taking account of the Government's ten-year public capital investment plan which is under development.

The Minister is saying something different this morning, which is welcome, from what he said to me in the House some months ago, which was that there was no certainty about the funding into the future as there were too many applications and too little money. I agree with the Minister that the scheme is necessary. However, it is not just for minor works now. It is for physically trying to keep the schools standing with some modicum of respectability for the staff and the pupils. They are being educated in buildings that are creaking and damp and often have many other problems such as with the roof or the heating. There were issues with heating in some schools recently that the minor works grant would not even cover. The grant is really a sticking plaster for many schools. However, I accept the Minister's statement that the grants for this year will be paid not later than January 2019. My main worry is if there is enough funding available and whether there will be cutbacks to the scheme. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that because it is vital. As I said, the scheme is a sticking plaster but it is vital for principals, boards of management and parent councils to have that avenue to get some funding. They must fundraise for a huge amount of the rest.

The tricky issue is that one is balancing population pressures with other legitimate demands on our capital budget. I believe what we have worked out here is a satisfactory arrangement. We recognise that 2018 will be a difficult year because there are so many demands on the scheme. We made the payment before the end of last year and we have given schools advance notice that the next payment will be in January 2019. That allows us to manage our flow of money and it gives schools certainty. As the Deputy said, this has become an expectation and a need for schools, so over the coming years I will seek to give a map upon which people can plan.

Previously, the Minister definitely said that he was not sure he would have the money to pay for the 2018 scheme. Now he says he will pay it by January 2019. However, is there sufficient funding to meet the demand that will arise? The Minister was unsure in the House some months ago. He said it himself. It was not another Minister answering for him. I believe what the Minister says himself.

The concern is that people are going to put in applications. The Minister said they would be paid by January 2019, which is good, but will they all get over the wire? These schools are looking for a very necessary few bob to ease the pressure on the parents, the boards of management and the parents councils' fundraising efforts in order to keep the schools open - literally to keep the lights on, fix collapsed ceilings and deal with dampness, accidental damage or, God forbid, storm damage. This grant is all they have. The minor works scheme is paltry enough so I need to know, on behalf of the schools in Tipperary, that there will be enough in the scheme if they apply.

It is the Minister who has created the uncertainty. Has he since found money from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? If he has, it is great. I look forward to getting clarification on that.

The position is that schools do not need to apply for the minor works grant. This is something we pay on the basis of capitation, and it is so much per child and so much per school according to a formula. What I am saying very clearly is that we paid it before Christmas and we will pay it again on the same basis in January 2019. We will be paying it for each school year and we will continue to pay it. There are not pressures on the resources and we are making provision for that payment. We can map this. As the Deputy said, it has become an area where schools need money, so we will map that into the future in line with other longer-term planning.

Why the uncertainty?

The uncertainty arose because there was some question around paying last year but I made the payments last year. There was tightness in 2018 which I have described to the Deputy. I have resolved that by committing to pay this in January 2019.