FÁS reform criticised as 'rebranding exercise'

FÁS reform criticised as 'rebranding exercise'

Plans to revamp State training agency FÁS were today branded a spin job that avoids tackling the problems at the root of the organisation.

Tánaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan said there would be a reformed body in place in the new year that would assume the work of the scandal-hit employment agency.

But Fine Gael said the move can only be regarded as a rebranding exercise as no concrete reform proposals have been outlined.

Fergus O’Dowd, education spokesman, said: “A litany of scandal at the highest levels in FÁS has been exposed over the last few months. Real reform is needed or else the same malpractice will occur again.

“This is especially true as dedicated people within the agency who do good work have been frustrated and undermined by the scandals.

“Unfortunately, Mary Coughlan, Fianna Fail and the Greens don’t see things this way and seem intent to simply rebrand the organisation rather than instigate reform.”

A spokesman for Ms Coughlan said there were no plans to scrap Fas and replace it with a new organisation.

He added the plans centred on refocusing the training aspect of the organisation.

Earlier this month, it was revealed a private contractor providing training schemes for the agency had been referred to gardaí for suspected fraud.

The organisation has also recommended that gardaí be called in to probe a training company involved in a separate FÁS-linked course.

Concerns revealed last October about the quality of the training qualifications led to FÁS undertaking a review of 304 of its courses across the country.

Ms Coughlan told the Dáil that a revamped organisation would be in place in 2011.

“In addition to the restructuring of the higher level sector, it is my intention that in the new year we will see a renewed and freshly mandated training agency assume the training work of FÁS,” the Tánaiste said.

“Our focus on quality in the past has served us well but we do need to do more.

Mr O’Dowd said the FÁS model of training was outdated, inflexible and does not have the capacity to deal with the spiralling unemployment problem.

Youth Work Ireland welcomed the announcement but called for the resources dedicated to the education and training of young people to be retained and refocused.

Spokesman Michael McLoughlin also said there needed to be a major expansion of places given the spiralling rate of youth unemployment.

“Clearly FÁS had a number of reputational issues over the last few years and a change is needed,” Mr McLoughlin said.

“It is important however that we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater in making this change. There are a number of programmes and a lot of provision that needs to be maintained and indeed expanded.

“Much of the budget of FÁS goes on allowances for trainees and where these are young unemployed this must be maintained.”

Labour’s education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said the restructuring plans lacked detail.

“The lack of clarity in the Tánaiste’s announcement will create uncertainty amongst those who depend on FÁS for retraining and upskilling,” Mr Quinn said.

“At a time of great doubt over the country’s finances, the government should be taking swift and decisive policy decisions with a clear schedule for implementation. The massive unemployment crisis continues to deepen while this government hesitates.”

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