Taken from today’s Sunday Business Post “FAS Under Further Pressure”.
Following an examination of several CE and JI projects, FAS have uncovered evidence that CE Sponsor Groups have being misusing monies that have been allocated for CE projects.
These concerns were raised by Paul O’Toole FAS Director General in a letter to the Public Accounts Committee. In particular FAS highlighted concerns about CE projects which has an annual budget expenditure of €392 million.
Community Employment is a scheme that offers long-term unemployed and vulnerable people temporary placements in community-based projects so that they can develop skills and obtain the experience of work. The scheme is sponsored by community based voluntary groups and public not for profit organisations. Under the Scheme each sponsor group must develop a separate limited company for the CE Project and have a separate bank account for dispensing the FAS funds.
The areas of concern that were identified by FAS included excessive insurance premiums, landlord’s electricity bills, excessive audit fees and large claims for maintenance and cleaning materials.
The letter also makes reference to the “top-ups” to wages of CE supervisors by other State bodies which essentially mean’s that the supervisor post is being double funded by another State body to provide the exact same service and within the same number of hours.
Forfas has also raised concerns about the operation of CE projects which itself recommended changes as part of a wider overhaul of job training programmes. It concluded that employment programmes offered by FAS were not designed to deliver or meet the changing labour market needs of our society. It questioned the underlying purpose of CE in light of figures that showed that while 7,736 persons participated in the scheme in 2008, costing €126,000 for each person, only 44% of the persons who completed the scheme obtained employment or went onto further education. Forfas stated that FAS needs to decide whether CE was designed to get people back into work or whether it was a community programme with inherent disincentives to people taking jobs in the open labour market.
From my own experience I would have grave concerns about this scheme. I have seen projects being established where CE funds that were drawn down from the bank account were used for the sponsor organisation and for non-CE related activities. In other instances, monies from the CE account were paid not only to a false address but also to a third person who was nominated by the person who did actually carry out the work. In other words, CE sponsors were deliberately falsifying accounts and facilitating tax avoidance. Other CE sponsor groups not only failed to provide and submit detailed company accounts to the CRO but they also farmed out CE workers to for-profit companies. I would be questioning whether these CE sponsor organisations were obtaining financial kickbacks from providing for-profit organisations with free labour.
Few of the CE workers on the schemes that I have experience of ever transgressed into full-time employment or further training. After finishing on the scheme many participants just went back into the welfare benefits system with officials and doctors in the Department of Social Protection never really checking if a person was capable of working for a minimum of 19.5 hours in the previous year, how come now after they ceased the scheme they then suddenly become "unfit for work" again...and why cant they even work the same P/T hours? Despite having spent one year on the scheme and training monies totalling €500 having being allocated by FAS for participants to participate in a training or education course, few participants that I have experience of ever participated in any course or education and nor was it encouraged by the CE supervisor. So what happened to the training monies that FAS allocated for each worker?
The major disincentive of CE and indeed JI was the double payment arrangement where in addition to being paid a CE salary, many participants also retained their full rate welfare entitlement together with their medical cards. Participants regularly boasted about how well financially they were doing under the scheme, certainly better than people who went to college and got non-CE paid employment, and in many instances these participants also supplemented their CE and welfare payments with cash in hand black market jobs which coincidently they continued to do when they went back into the welfare benefits system. Ironically and in total contradiction with the general aims of the scheme, many of these participants also said quite openly and early-on that they had no intention whatsoever of getting a job when the scheme ceases because as they put it getting a paid job would not be worth their while because from their point of view they would automatically loose all their welfare entitlements! And while these people had no intention of ever moving onto getting a paid non-CE job, they also took a place and the opportunity from a person who might genuinely want to get a job and benefit from the scheme.
Other issues relate to the recruitment process for these type of projects. In one instance a CE supervisor position for a newly established project was publically advertised by the sponsor group as is the requirement for any publically funded post. However, shortly after advertising and prior to the closing date for receipt of completed applications, the directors of this particular sponsor group and an unnamed FAS Development Worker mutually agreed on the person who would be definitely short-listed and be appointing to the post. That named person is currently the CE Supervisor in this particular project.