Wednesday 20 September 2017

Plan for FAS to be shared by departments 'is a shambles'

Shane Phelan, Patricia McDonagh and Fiach Kelly

RADICAL plans to transfer responsibility for FAS to two different government departments were branded "a shambles" last night after Taoiseach Brian Cowen admitted the move would be held up until new legislation could be drafted.

Mr Cowen also indicated government officials had only sat down to consult with FAS about the controversial changes yesterday, more than 24 hours after they were announced in the Dail.

Under the Government's plan, the State training agency will have to answer to two ministers instead of one.

Responsibility for FAS's employment services is being transferred to the Department of Social Protection and responsibility for its training arm is moving to the Department of Education.

The revelation about the delay in implementing the split led to claims from opposition TDs that the Government was "making it up as it goes along".

Labour described the plans as "slap-dash", while Fine Gael said they were "a shambles" and would actually lead to less accountability rather than increasing oversight.

Sharp

The matter prompted sharp exchanges in the Dail, with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore declaring: "The Taoiseach does not have a clue."

Press officers at three government departments were all unable to provide any information as to how and when responsibility for FAS would be transferred away from the Department of Enterprise.

"Details in relation to new arrangements at FAS are being finalised by officials in the relevant departments," a spokesman for the Department of Enterprise said.

The director general of FAS, Paul O'Toole, also appeared to have been left in the dark over how the changes will work.

He sent a memo to FAS staff yesterday saying he was "awaiting further clarification".

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan said responsibility for FAS would remain with the Department of Enterprise until the legislative changes could be made.

The Government will have to amend the Labour Services Act to allow the changeover.

The same act was only just altered last January so the FAS board could be slimmed down following a series of spending and procurement scandals at the agency.

Opposition TDs claimed the confusion surrounding the plan showed it hadn't been thought through.

"I think it is extremely slap-dash and is incredibly worrying for people who are unemployed right now," Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said.

"At the very least if an overhaul of FAS was on the cards, you would think that a discussion paper or a document outlining the proposals would have been circulated.

"But instead an announcement was made with no detailed substance behind it."

Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar described the situation as "a farce".

The buck

He said it made no sense to have more than one minister with oversight of the agency as it would lead to "an endless cycle of passing the buck".

Despite the criticism, Mr Cowen insisted the services provided by FAS would be better after the changes had been made.

However, he would not reveal how long it would take to implement the changes.

Mr Cowen would only state the "legislation will be required in due course".

"One does not re-arrange the FAS organisation overnight or over four weeks," he said.

Mr Cowen added: "In the first instance and as of today, we need to sit down with the FAS operation.

"Two-thirds of its operations deal with placements and all of that area will be dealt with in the Department of Social Protection to get people working together to provide a better service for the people who need it.

"Similarly, skills policy will be dealt with in the Department of Education and Skills.

"The corporate accountability issues remain with the department [of enterprise] until such time as there is legislation that will change it."

Irish Independent

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