Training provision in Balbriggan is still on the agenda for FÁS

Fine Gael TD for Dublin North Alan Farrell has confirmed that a review will be undertaken by the Minister of State Ciaran Cannon and FÁS in relation to the cessation of FÁS training courses in Balbriggan.
“Last week I raised this matter with the Minister of State for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon TD as a topical issue in the Dáil chamber to highlight that FÁS has continued to reduce training provision in Balbriggan since 2010, despite having 5000 people per month signing on the live register.

“FÁS have indicated that a recent review of services in Dublin North showed that the courses provided in the Balbriggan area have not achieved critical performance measurements or value for money and therefore were not continued.
“I have been informed by the Minister that the FÁS centre in Baldoyle which has the responsibility for Dublin North is currently undergoing a review to identify training requirements that are in line with labour market demand.”
“This is a welcome measure for the long term and I look forward to the reform of training courses in the Dublin North area as recommendations are acted upon in due course, however in light of the current situation in Balbriggan, it was my intention to receive an undertaking from the Minister that he will engage with FÁS officials specifically in relation to Balbriggan. This has been granted and in the Dáil chamber he spoke of his intention to ensure that that there will be training provision in Balbriggan in the future and that nobody in the area who seeks to have a high quality and appropriate level of training will be in any way disadvantaged.
“I intend to ensure that the current withdrawal of training in Balbriggan is a temporary measure and that replacing out dated training courses with new market driven education will remain on the agenda both within FÁS and the Department of Education and Skills.”

Note to editor:

Transcript – Topical Issue Debate – Employment Support Services Thursday 16th February.

Deputy Alan Farrell:

I want to provide the context for this issue. In 2010 some 20 courses were offered to residents of Balbriggan and the surrounding areas in the FÁS facility. In 2011 the number of courses was reduced to 12 and as of last month there is none. In terms of the number of people unemployed in the area, in 2010 that figure was 3,000, in 2011 it was 4,000 and now in 2012, it is almost 5,000, of which some 25% are under 25 years of age. In the most recent and previous census, Balbriggan was the second fastest growing urban centre in the State, just behind Dublin 15. However, it is now in the unfortunate position of having no training courses available for those seeking employment.

I accept what FÁS has said with regard to the effectiveness of the courses in generating employment for participants. At the same time, it is incumbent on the State to do what it can to upskill individuals who, for various reasons but through no fault of their own, find themselves unemployed. Balbriggan is a town of 15,000 people and for that number of its population to be unemployed is shocking. A number of arguments have been made for relocating the courses and for sending Balbriggan residents 30 km to the Baldoyle facility. However, the travel allowance provided to these social welfare recipients is only €20. A single ticket from Balbriggan to Baldoyle is €4.70 and it amounts to €33 per week there and back for attendees. That may not seem like much money to some but it is a significant amount for social welfare recipients attempting to upskill in order to more readily find employment.

What is the rationale behind stopping courses in the Balbriggan facility and will the Minister of State reconsider the decision to discontinue courses there, given the growth in the town and obvious difficulties with employment in the area? A large number of potential students are under 25 and some may not have third level qualifications and use FÁS or SOLAS as an opportunity to upskill. I am interested in the Minister of State’s comments.

Minister Ciaran Cannon in reply:

I thank Deputy Farrell for giving me the opportunity to clarify this very important issue. The organisation of FÁS training is an operational matter for that body but I am pleased to let the Deputy know that I have been informed that officials in FÁS training services have not made a decision to discontinue the provision of training courses in the Balbriggan area.

The FÁS training centre in Baldoyle has responsibility for the operation and administration of contracted training in north Dublin, which includes the Balbriggan area, and in 2011 the training centre conducted a performance review of its training portfolio and provision over the previous two years. This review, in conjunction with the FÁS training strategy and corporate objectives, determined the initial 2012 portfolio and the allocation of training provision within north Dublin, including the Balbriggan area. As I am sure the Deputy can appreciate, in light of the prevailing economic and financial conditions, it is imperative that training courses achieve critical performance measurements and value for money to ensure continuing budget allocation.

The FÁS analysis of the training courses delivered in the Balbriggan area highlighted that in some cases the required training outcomes, particularly placement into employment, were not achieved, and consequently the initial 2012 allocation of training provision in the Balbriggan area has been adjusted. The FÁS training centre in Baldoyle is currently in the process of reviewing the allocation of contracted training provision for 2012 and as part of this process the centre will review training provision within Balbriggan and other areas with a view to identifying training requirements that are in line with labour market demand and which will produce quality outcomes and value for money. The Deputy may already know that in addition to contracted training courses, FÁS currently funds local training initiative projects and the Balbriggan enterprise development group jobs club.

Deputy Alan Farrell in reply:

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I take issue with FÁS making a decision to reduce the training facilities by 100% upon completing an investigation into the effectiveness of the courses it provides. Given that the assessment was done over the past two years, when we lost the most jobs in this State, I would have thought some consideration would be given to that fact. I am disappointed, although there is a chink of light in the indication that FÁS will continuously review training provision within Balbriggan and other areas. As I noted at the start, in 2010 there were 20 courses, and that was reduced by almost 50% to 12 courses in 2011. Now there is none and the unemployment rate has increased substantially in the area.

I accept the Minister of State’s indication that it is the responsibility of FÁS to make such decisions but I plead with him to have a conversation with officials in that body and convey to them my sentiments and those of a number of residents in the area who have been in touch with me. There have been two headlines in local media about this issue and one of the comments, to which I have already alluded, is that Balbriggan residents can access FÁS services in Baldoyle directly by mainline rail within the travel allowance available. That is true but the allowance is just over half of what would be required in order to attend the facility. Will the Minister of State convey these facts to FÁS with a view to reviewing the decision?

Minister Ciaran Cannon in reply:

I will undertake to convey the Deputy’s sentiments to FÁS as it carries out the review of training provision in north Dublin in general. As I indicated, there has been no decision by FÁS to discontinue all training courses in the Balbriggan area. The review of the FÁS contracted training provision for 2012 within Balbriggan and other areas will highlight the relevant training requirements that will provide timely and effective outcomes for participants and deliver value for money for FÁS training services.

We must acknowledge that there have been past difficulties with the quality of courses delivered by FÁS and the outcomes for participants. In particular, there have been difficulties with placement rates at the end of these courses. We must ask ourselves, not alone for the north Dublin case but for the entire country, if we intend to continue training provision for the sake of it or if we will carry out an in-depth and forensic analysis of the kind of training being provided. Will we assess whether the training is appropriate to the needs of the learner or client, as well as the needs of enterprise in each specific area? FÁS is undertaking to answer these questions to ensure that the training being provided is appropriate to the needs of the learner and enterprise in general. I am confident that when the review is complete, there will be training provision in Balbriggan and nobody in the area who seeks to have a high quality and appropriate level of training will be in any way disadvantaged.