Tuesday 28 March 2017

Cabinet agrees to cut number of VECs by half

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THE number of vocational education committees (VECS), which oversee the running of vocational education in their areas, is to be halved under a radical government plan announced yesterday.

The scale of the overhaul in administrative structures has sent shockwaves through the VEC system, which has been untouched since it was established in the 1930s to manage vocational schools and community colleges.

It involves a reduction in the number of VECs from 33 to 16 -- meaning that, for the first time in 80 years, some counties will no longer have their own VEC.

The VEC in Donegal, home county of Education Minister Mary Coughlan, is one of the few unaffected in the administrative shake-up.

Although long expected, the plan goes well beyond the proposal for 22 VECs in the Bord Snip public service cost-cutting report.

The move has implications for jobs, although compulsory redundancies in the public service are ruled out under the Croke Park pay and productivity agreement.

But it will mean redeployment and non-replacement among 950 administrative staff, including the top-ranking chief executive officers, and about 1,000 ancillary employees.

VECs are predominantly involved in second-level and further education and now also act as patron to five community primary schools. The changes in administrative structures will have no direct impact on teaching staff in VEC schools.

The Cabinet approved the restructuring move yesterday, which Ms Coughlan said was part of the agenda to transform public services.

The change will require legislation, work on which has already begun in the Department of Education and Skills.

Talks will also get under way between the department, the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA), which is the umbrella body for the 33 VECs, and staff unions.

Savings

The merger will result in administrative savings in the VEC system, currently of the order of €42m a year. The extent of savings is unknown, although the Bord Snip recommendation of 22 VECs envisaged saving €3m.

The overhaul was prompted by the low scale of operation of some VECS. At present 20 have an overall budget of less than €30m, with 15 having five or fewer second-level schools. Under the proposed revised structure, the smallest VEC will have a budget of €39m.

As well as a reduced payroll, savings will be achieved through the disposal of accommodation. Among the many politically sensitive decisions to be taken will be the location of VEC headquarters.

IVEA general secretary Michael Moriarty said the proposal entailed much more than a merger of two or more local education authorities, and would mean the blending of institutional staff and cultures, which would be a complex process.

Irish Independent

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