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Money Advice and Budgeting Service and Citizen Information Centres: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins] The list, which is not exclusive, includes small schools, Garda stations, banks, credit unions, GP outreach services, public health clinics, Bus Éireann rural transport services, the regional veterinary laboratories, post offices and the Leader companies. All those services in both rural and urban communities are being hollowed out and centralised in larger towns and cities. That is an agenda which has people very worried. It would be very foolish of the Minister to proceed with the agenda he is proposing in terms of the citizens information centres and MABS because people are worried. They have lived through the experience in terms of the list I have just outlined to the Minister of State. They are fearful. Why take services away from people and centralise them in big towns in cities? It does not make sense. I appeal to the Minister, on behalf of my constituents in County Limerick, to reverse his decision, pause for reflection and do the right thing.

Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank Deputies for their contributions. I listened with interest to the points raised both here in the Chamber and earlier in the office. The debate shows the esteem in which the Citizens Information Board, CIB, and its service delivery partners, the Citizens Information service, CIS, and the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, are held by all sides, rightly so.

Earlier, the Deputies heard the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, set out in detail the context within which the decision to restructure the governance arrangements for service delivery partners was taken by the board of the CIB. As there is a danger with a debate like this that the important points can be overlooked, I will reiterate what the Minister said in his earlier statement. He said that the changes are being made at company board level only; the changes are required to improve the existing governance structure; the changes are necessary to assist the CIB in the fulfilment of its statutory obligations, its compliance with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies and its implementation of recommendations from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General; and that the changes will bring CIS and MABS organisations more into line with modern public service governance guidelines and requirements where significant State funding is involved.

There have been many references to the provision of local services by local people. It is suggested there will be a loss of independence and impartiality within a more consolidated model. There is no foundation whatsoever to such claims. Front-line services will continue to operate as they do currently, meeting the needs of those who seek information, advice and advocacy, regardless of the changes implemented at board level. It is also worth mentioning that the board of the CIB is not made up of faceless bureaucrats but rather comprises people who represent vulnerable people and groups, who have a sense of community ethos and who represent people with disabilities, mental health problems, victims of abuse and those with advocacy needs. The board also has representation from the CIS and MABS.

Based on their employment and professional backgrounds, it is obvious that these people work with the most vulnerable in our society and hold the citizen at the centre of their focus. It is therefore unthinkable that such people would introduce a measure that would be detrimental to the services provided by the CIS and MABS or that would negatively impact on the people who depend on those services. On the contrary, it is for those same reasons that the board of the CIB wants, more than anything, to improve the effectiveness and efficiencies of the CIS and MABS services by redirecting resources away from unnecessary company administration and back towards front-line service delivery for users.

There has been much mention of the role of community-based volunteers involved in the development of the CIS and MABS. That said, it is critical to remember that these services are paid for exclusively by the State. Every aspect, activity and initiative is Exchequer funded. This House, and its various committees, have made it abundantly clear that publicly funded bodies are held to the highest possible standards in their discharge of public moneys and require such bodies to comply with best practice as set out in the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. The members of the board of the CIB take those obligations very seriously.

That is the context within which the board of CIB made its decision to undertake this restructuring. The board is convinced, after a lengthy deliberative process, that this restructuring will facilitate its executive in fulfilling its governance and accountability obligations and at the same time will provide an opportunity to reduce the administrative burden on individual CIS and MABS companies. That, in turn, should allow employees and volunteers to refocus on front-line delivery, ensuring consistent quality of provision and enhancing and extending services over time.

I remind Deputies that the board of the CIB has assured the Minister that on foot of this decision there will be no job losses. MABS and CIS employees will transfer to the newly established companies. There will be no closure of any services or no change to the location of services. There will be no change to the terms and conditions of serving staff during the lifetime of the restructuring project, and, most importantly, there will be no disruption to CIS and MABS services for those who use them.

The CIB’s aim is simply to improve the governance arrangements by implementing a reduced structure of 16 regional companies to replace the current unwieldy 93 company structure for the sound reasons that the Deputies have heard.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy Jackie Cahill is sharing time with two or three of his colleagues.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill Having listened to the Minister of State's contribution, it baffles me how this Government has such a disconnect with both urban and rural communities. There are many issues in the Department of Social Protection that need improvement, rationalisation and greater efficiency. These two companies are not in that group.

During the recent recession, MABS and the CIS played a huge part in helping people who had fallen on hard times, including people in mortgage arrears. I refer to the local influence and knowledge those companies can bring to bear in helping local people. Regionalisation has not worked in a number of spheres. Why try to change these organisations that are working so well in their local communities? The voluntary aspect is core to these two organisations. Could that survive regionalisation? It is very difficult to understand how the Government can see that working. This is a bottom-up service that is working and the proposal is to make it a top-down structure. Unfortunately, our experience of that kind of rationalisation is not good.

The Minister has the power to stop this regionalisation. The volunteers in these organisations are convinced that it will hamper the services they provide for local communities. In my county of Tipperary I see the significant service provided by these two organisations. I got a huge number of calls over the weekend from volunteer workers in MABS and the CIS who believe this rationalisation will damage the service they provide. It is irrational to proceed with this rationalisation when all the people working in the service believe it will hinder the services they provide to their communities.

The Minister heard strong arguments being made from the Opposition benches. I plead with the Government to listen to the communities at both urban and rural level and not to implement these proposals.

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony I am acutely aware of the incredibly important work that the CIS and MABS do. The fantastic individuals in both organisations provide invaluable information, advice and a lifeline to people to manage and overcome their debts. It is not just a helping hand. It is a real, genuine lifesaving service, much more than we will ever know. As some of my colleagues have said previously, I also recognise that there is room for improvement in terms of efficiency and effectiveness and I am not opposed to change and reform when it makes sense. However, the restructuring plan with regard to MABS and the CIS does not make sense.

MABS and the CIS are part of the local community. They are located in towns the length and breadth of the country for a reason. They are deeply rooted in every community where they are present. In my constituency of Cork South-West I personally know people who have accessed the services of MABS in Dumanway and Citizens Information in Bantry.

To regionalise these services would be simply outrageous. The Minister has the power under the Citizens Information Act of 2007 to issue a directive to cease this proposed regionalisation immediately. It would be an honourable thing to do as so many have voiced concerns. People have not done so to be difficult. They have done so because they want a clear understanding of and contribution to what is happening. It is essential that all stakeholders are provided an opportunity to engage.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, stated previously that during the restructuring programme - I stress during the restructuring programme - there will be no change to services or delivery locations and no job losses. However, in dropping from 93 individual companies to 16, there is absolutely no way that huge changes will not happen. The Minister should be focusing on protecting people and their lives.

People throughout the country have suffered immensely.

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