Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Ceisteanna (64)

Brendan Ryan


64. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the rating system for sports capital grants; his views on whether it is the fairest process for rating applications; his plans to make changes to the process and the appeals process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29582/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

The question relates to sports capital grants, particularly those for equipment. I agree with the principle that we need a quantifiable measurement when it comes to funding schemes essentially coming down to some form of choice from the Minister's Department.

Nearly one third of the weighting relates to criterion No. 3, the level of socioeconomic disadvantage in an area, which is scored automatically on the Pobal deprivation index. I will develop that point further when I speak again.

I thank the Deputy. As the Deputy knows, the detailed scoring system was published on the Department's website prior to the commencement of the assessment works under the 2018 sports capital programme. The key factors used in arriving at the relevant score for each application include the likelihood of increasing participation and improving performance, or both; whether the proposed facilities will be shared with other users; the level of socioeconomic disadvantage in the area; the technical merits of the proposed project; the level of funding being provided for the project by the applicant; and the level of sports capital programme funding received in the last ten years by the applicant.

There were 2,337 applications received by the deadline, 186 of which were for projects that were deemed to be invalid in the 2017 round of applications. There were also equipment-only applications. We are assessing these applications.

We have changed the weighting for the 2018 programme to give a better chance to communities that are considered to be disadvantaged on the Pobal deprivation index, even though 50% of successful applications in 2017 were from such areas. We have also increased efforts to raise awareness of the programme in disadvantaged communities to try to have more such applicants.

There is no perfect system when a programme receives over 2,000 applications from all over the country. We are trying to be as fair as possible and encapsulate as many criteria as possible to try to score applications on merit. For the first time ever, allocations under the 2017 programme were based on the points the applications scored. Previously, some would have been picked and prioritised, even though they had not scored as well as others. The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I were keen to ensure in 2017 that the scoring system we had published on the website would be strictly adhered to and we are trying to do so again this year.

I will be happy to receive feedback from the Deputy at the end of the process. We are currently in the middle of it. We will be reviewing how the 2018 programme worked before establishing and publishing the scoring system for the 2019 programme. It is constantly evolving and changing, but the changes we made between 2017 and 2018 have probably been the most radical ever in trying to make the programme as accessible as possible to disadvantaged communities and ensure applications from them will receive as much funding as possible.

At the higher end of awards made under the sports capital scheme there can be applications for large, multi-use clubhouses which are of major benefit to any area but especially so in areas of economic deprivation. The socioeconomic indicator can prove useful when considering such larger capital project applications. However, at the lower end of awards made, for equipment-only applications such as mowing equipment and maintenance machinery, I am not sure the index is useful. If a club needs new machinery to cut grass, the level of socioeconomic deprivation is not as relevant as it would be if a club was, for example, seeking to have a new all-weather pitch or build a multi-use facility. I ask the Minister of State to look again at the scheme because some applications for smaller awards are falling through the cracks. I believe the heavy weighting given to the socioeconomic indicator is a key reason for this. The scheme could be amended by using the socioeconomic criterion in considering applications for grants in big amounts and a slightly different equation in considering equipment-only applications. That is the case I am making. I will give the Minister of State a brief example of how the programme is not working when I come back to him.

I take the Deputy's point and see where he is coming from. One of the key things about the use of the Pobal deprivation index is that a blunt instrument was used previously where an applicant fell or did not fall under either the CLÁR programme or the RAPID programme and the different categories within them. The Pobal deprivation index is more specific. One of the failures of the deprivation index is where a club serves a large catchment area and its co-ordinates are in an advantaged area, yet its membership is drawn predominantly from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am the first to say it is not a perfect system, but we must have some way of including levels of disadvantage in the application process.

I hear what the Deputy is saying about equipment-only applications. The logic behind the application of the Pobal deprivation index in all aspects of the programme is that fund-raising capacity and ability in communities tends to be lower where there are higher levels of disadvantage. That is the mentality, whether it be for a large or a small grant. I see where the Deputy is coming from when he says people are at a disadvantage by not being disadvantaged and that they are less likely to receive higher amounts of funding. In general, the logic is that clubs are in a better position to raise finances from their membership if it is drawn predominantly from a non-disadvantaged area. We will be carrying out a review in advance of the putting in place of the 2019 programme and I will be very happy to take on board what the Deputy has said. It may well be workable to factor it into the programme. If that would be fair and better, I would be open to it.

I have a final point because I want to give an example related to one of the other criteria used. To get points in sharing a facility, there must be a 15-year lease in place, as the Minister of State mentioned. The Hills Cricket Club is in a rural part of north County Dublin and shares its facilities with Cricket Leinster, Cricket Ireland, the local prayer group, Skerries motorcycle group and Weight Watchers. The club allows its facility to be used by a small rural school and provides a men's shed-type environment for older people in the area. Some 70% of the cricket playing population are from new Irish communities and, through the club, there is much-needed and wonderful integration taking place. None of these factors counts for anything under the regime whereby a 15-year lease must be in place.

There is a fine line between protecting and not protecting public moneys. The reason we have criteria such as those surrounding lease arrangements is to ensure we do not put public moneys into facilities that could later be sold or discarded. That is something we are trying to ensure. The question is where does one draw the line. We are open to reviewing all of these factors and I am happy to pass that example back to the officials within the Department to examine the specific circumstances to see if we can do things better in the next programme.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.