Monday 20 November 2017

No budget set for 'new FAS' as management to stay on

Fionnan Sheahan, Louise Hogan and Luke Byrne

THE Government's newly rebranded state training agency has no specific budget yet and will have the same management as FAS.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn yesterday announced FAS will be disbanded and replaced with a new further education and training authority, called Solas.

Mr Quinn admitted the expenses controversy that caused the resignation of former FAS director general Rody Molloy was probably a "catalyst" behind the break-up of the state training agency.

"This announcement is not in any way to cast aspersions on the good work of the FAS board, VEC (Vocational Education Committee) boards and the staff of FAS and the VECs," he said.

The minister said the role played by FAS would be taken over by the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Education.

Mr Quinn said the new system would allow for a tightening up of the training of the unemployed. Anybody on the dole who refuses to take up a course will lose part of their benefits.

Solas will employ just 300 people and assign the unemployed to courses to be provided by the VEC system and private sector companies.

But the minister could not provide details on:

•The exact budget for Solas.

•The number of training places to be provided.

•How much the taxpayer would save from the move.

•How many staff would be redeployed.

•How many FAS staff would be retrained.

•How much the rebranding of the organisation would cost.

There will be no redundancies and the changeover has yet to be discussed with trade unions representing staff in the organisation.

FAS's training centres will be merged in with the VECs and the number of committees will be reduced from 33 to 16.

The FAS management and board of directors will transfer directly over to Solas.

Controversy

The board of FAS was replaced last year in the wake of the expenses controversy and their terms of office run up to 2015. At the moment, €900m a year is spent on FAS and further education. But the Solas budget is not known yet.

The 2,000 staff in FAS will be kept on and split between Solas, the Department of Social Protection's new one-stop shop for the unemployed -- known as the National Employment and Entitlements Service -- and the VECs working under the Department of Education.

The new training body will move away from teaching skills in the traditional areas such as construction and move toward sectors such as services, computers, medical devices and food.

But the minister's officials could not say how much has been set aside to retrain FAS staff under the new system.

Mr Molloy said that he did not wish to comment when contacted by the Irish Independent.

Asked if he had absolutely nothing to say given his former role in FAS, he said: "No I don't."

Mr Quinn said the role of Solas would be to provide 21st-Century, high-quality further education and training programmes to jobseekers.

"These programmes will be integrated, flexible, value for money and responsive to the needs of learners and the requirements of a changed and changing economy," he said.

"The Government is giving the further education and training sector a clear direction for the future."

Irish Independent

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