Friday 22 September 2017

O'Keeffe to slash number of VECs by third

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe

John Walshe Education Editor

PLANS to slash the number of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) by more than a third will be brought before the cabinet within weeks, the Irish Independent has learned.

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe is putting the finishing touches to severe cost-cutting measures that will see the number of VECs cut from 33 to around 20.

The move, which will anger some Fianna Fail backbenchers and councillors, had been recommended by Colm McCarthy's Bord Snip Nua report, which said the move would save €3m.

VECs range in size from Co Roscommon's committee, which has a budget of €13m for three small schools and employs 90 teachers, to Dublin city VEC, which has a budget of more than €160m, runs 22 schools and has more than 1,000 teaching staff.

Mr O'Keeffe is virtually certain to merge the city and county committees in Waterford, Limerick and Galway.

Sources last night said he could hardly avoid merging the committees in Cork city and county, which are among the largest in the country.

Problems

However, the move is certain to cause local problems for the Cork North West TD. A number of smaller county VECs will also be amalgamated, a development which has angered the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA), which represents VEC management.

"The cornerstone and strength of the VECs' county-based structure has been their identification with their local communities," IVEA General Secretary Michael Moriarty said. "They employ local people to oversee the administration of national education programmes, implemented in local schools, local community centres and parish halls."

Mr Moriarty said the democratic representation on committees -- local authority members, elected parents, staff and others -- was rooted in the VECs' local communities.

This also acted as an important counterweight to the centralisation "pull" of the Department of Education and Science.

Mr Moriarty asked if it was worthwhile weakening a vital piece of local county and borough educational infrastructure to achieve modest savings.

Monaghan VEC chairman Fianna Fail councillor Seamus Coyle last night said VECs should be given more powers rather than dismantling them.

He said he was "very much opposed" to the possible amalgamation of the Co Monaghan and Co Cavan committees.

However, Fine Gael has backed Mr O'Keeffe's plans.

The party's education spokesman Brian Hayes said the current structure did not make sense.

"Is it really necessary to have a separate CEO and administration for a VEC that has three secondary schools and just 100 teachers, when other VECs have 20 schools and 900 teachers?" he asked.

"Is it not possible to get greater efficiencies and greater economies of scale by working together with a joined-up administration that can deliver more?"

Mr Hayes said Fine Gael wanted to see more services and less administration. "We can achieve that by having fewer VECs and protecting frontline services in the process," he added.

Irish Independent

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