Adjournment Matters. - Young People's Facilities and Services Fund.

Wednesday, 4 November 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 156 No. 17

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Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello I wish to raise the question of the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund and how we will administer and operate it once it is up and running. The Minister of State will know the background and the amount of money the Government has very generously made available to deal with drug abuse and young people at risk. By and large, the money will be channelled back into disadvantaged areas under a number projects. Various committees, particularly local [1409] development committees, and groups have been trying to put together projects.

There has been much interaction with the City of Dublin VEC in relation to the work being done in Dublin and also with the local partnerships in terms of looking at projects and consulting with people to come up with the best submissions. Most of that work has been done under the aegis of the development groups, the submissions have been presented to the national assessment committee and work is being finalised.

The question which remains is, what criteria will be used to distribute the funds to the various groups? That is an important question because obviously there will be a far greater number of bodies and individuals looking for funding than is available to be spread around. Once the distribution takes place, how will we assess and evaluate its implementation and use? What support mechanisms will be put in place to ensure people who will operate in a voluntary capacity have a degree of professional expertise to back them up and to ensure those in a supervisory role spend the money properly? In the context of the European Union, the question of accountability arises. Accounts will have to be presented and properly audited returns will have to be made indicating where the money has been spent. As I said, most of the services about which are talking will be in the area of youth and, by and large, in the backstops — the deprived and disadvantaged areas in the city.

Clearly some support structure is required. The obvious support, monitoring and accounting structure is the vocational education committees because they have a particular role in relation to the youth services board, Comhairle Le Leas Óige, the body which has been doing most of the work to date. It is a body with a particular remit as regards the provision of grants and services, particularly to young people at risk, in the areas of leisure and recreation. If this is the case, and it would be desirable because it has the network in place, adequate resources should be given to it. It should not be expected to go into the breach without extra personnel and financial resources.

We will have to monitor the implementation of the fund and how money is spent. Accounting can be a very tedious and time consuming function but an important one but it is now essential given what is required of us by the European Union.

What is the Minister of State's thinking on the appropriate body, whether the vocational education committees or the partnerships? Who will be responsible for the operation and supervision of the funds and who will be accountable? How does the Minister intend to go about this? Does he plan to provide extra staff and resources to enable this to be done properly?

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. Treacy): Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey I am glad the Senator has raised this matter as it gives me an opportunity to explain the position as regards the [1410] £30 million Young People's Facilities and Services Fund which was established by the Government earlier this year. In addition to the provision of treatment and rehabilitation services, this Government is committed to focusing on the development of preventative measures as part of its overall drug strategy. A long-term solution to the drug problem must have as its core a strategy of prevention.

The Young People's Facilities and Services Fund is the centrepiece of the Government's programme for young people at risk. The purpose of the fund is to assist in the development of youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities and services, in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop, with a view to attracting young people in those areas, at risk of becoming involved in drugs, into more healthy and productive pursuits. The primary aim of the fund is to support a variety of capital and non-capital projects in disadvantaged areas over the next three years. Some £20 million is being targeted at those areas particularly affected by the heroin problem.

The guidelines for the operation of the fund in the local drug task force areas provide for the establishment of an assessment committee and local development groups in each of the task force areas. The assessment committee is chaired by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and includes representatives from relevant Departments, the national drugs strategy team, the National Youth Council of Ireland and the voluntary and community sectors. The committee will assess all plans on the basis of the criteria established and will make recommendations via the interdepartmental group to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion.

The development groups comprise a representative from the relevant vocational education committee, the local authority and the local drug task force. These groups were charged with preparing a single integrated plan for their areas. Essentially, the development groups were asked to profile the area with a view to identifying the gaps in youth services facilities provision for the target group and to develop a plan which was clearly aimed at meeting identified needs.

The development stage involved consultation with groups and organisations such as the local drug task forces, youth organisations working the area, statutory agencies operating in the area, the local area partnership companies and community development projects. A minimum level of funding of £1 million per local drug task force area over the three years of the fund is being made available subject to the submission of plans that meet the overall objectives of the fund and the eligibility and evaluation criteria set out in the guidelines.

The additional £7 million which is the difference between the £20 million set aside and the £13 million committed to the 13 task force areas will be allocated to projects which clearly meet [1411] identified gaps and needs in the area or across a number of task force areas and meet the objectives and criteria as set out for the fund.

The assessment committee is currently meeting with development groups and has commenced the process of assessing their plans. As soon as the committee is a position to do so, it will make recommendations through the interdepartmental group, to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion as regards the allocation of funding to support the implementation of these plans.

I referred earlier to the funding arrangements in which £20 million is being targeted at the areas particularly affected by the heroin problem. Of the remaining £10 million, funding is being allocated over three years to support a number of initiatives, including projects for children at risk which is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey. Some £1.8 million is being allocated to support strategies in the major urban centres of Waterford, Cork city south, Galway and Limerick aimed at preventing the target group from becoming involved in drugs. Some £0.5 million has been set aside to assist voluntary organisations with a national or regional remit, to deliver education/prevention initiatives to the target group on a global basis.

In the case of the four urban areas, the Cabinet committee on social inclusion decided that the relevant vocational education committees should take the lead in preparing strategies, in consultation with community and voluntary groups and other State initiatives in these areas to meet the objectives of the fund.

Pending the assessment of the plans by the assessment committee, it is not clear what staffing resources will be required to administer the fund. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that this remit will not be the sole responsibility of the Department of Education and Science or agencies under the Department. However, it appears from the role envisaged for statutory agencies under the guidelines that a review of resources available to these agencies is desirable. This matter can be considered when the detailed arrangements regarding the draw down of funds has been clarified by the assessment committee.

The Department of Education and Science is obviously anxious to ensure that the plans are implemented smoothly and that suitable systems are put in place for the monitoring and review of expenditure and compliance with Government accounting procedures.

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