On Wednesday 28th January 2004, the Seanad heard a Fine Gael motion on the Community Employment scheme. Responding to this motion, I said that it “begs some more profound questions with regard to the role of FÁS. As the promoter of these schemes, FÁS should be the subject of far greater examination.” However, it is never subject to examinations in this House because it would be a dangerous matter for politicians to criticise State agencies or bodies which bring money and resources to their communities.
The reality is that FÁS is a sort of slush fund to provide grants for employment creation. It was created by the State with the worthy objective of reducing long-term unemployment.
But while long-term unemployment has been reduced over a short period of years from 5% to 1.5%, the size of FÁS and the numbers employed by it have increased. It is an empire. It produces good for many small communities; nobody can quarrel with that. It also does wonderful work in promoting jobs and activities for people with disabilities. However, it has a budget of €859 million per annum! Much could be done with that amount of money.
I have read the annual report but I can find no detail of where all this money goes. The 2002 annual report was only lodged in the House several months after the year end last year and we have not yet received the 2003 report. It is difficult to find out what the organisation is doing from reading the report.
The statement of the chairman, Mr. Brian Geoghegan, is almost entirely aspirational. It does not explain what the organisation will do but states it will review strategy. FÁS has been reviewing its strategy since kingdom come because it does not have one! It has money, and the support of politicians and communities that want its assistance. It is there to resolve the problem of the long-term unemployed but that problem is to a large extent resolved. The empire, however, continues to grow. I quote the chairman:
The first year of the new FÁS Strategy 2002-2005 brought many internal changes with an increased focus on planning, innovation and greater responses to the needs of our clients. FÁS, through its management and employees, embraced a new partnership approach to organisational development involving national and local structures.
This is rhubarb. The chairman does not know what this agency does. I do not know what it does, nor does anybody else, but it has a great deal of money.
But how can FÁS, which has so much money, run an income and expenditure deficit of €22 million? Why are its staff numbers increasing while the rate of unemployment is being reduced so quickly? Why does it have eight priorities when it is prioritising expenditure? FÁS should be subject to a very rigid examination of where it is spending its money and what return it is getting from €859 million.
Finally, the board of FÁS is full of people who are in the social partnership junkies net. It is an amazing achievement of political parties to continually place identifiably sympathetic people on the boards of State agencies. Their loyalties and interests can be undeniably traced back to the social partners but not to the job creators.
Where are the representatives of enterprise on the board of FÁS? Enterprise is where real job creation exists. Instead of political hacks, we should have those who can put commercial pressure on this €859 million.