PLANS to reduce the number of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) by about a third and make them more efficient will be brought to Government within three weeks by Tánaiste Mary Coughlan.
Despite strong opposition from the 33 city and county VECs, whose members include Fianna Fáil and other councillors, the Education Minister will propose amalgamating a number of neighbouring bodies in line with proposals from last year’s An Bord Snip Nua report on public service spending reforms.
She told the Irish Examiner that a strong element of public representation will be maintained on VECs, but the plans are in line with the need to reduce the cost of running public services.
The VECs’ boards include more than 300 councillors nominated by the local city or county council, as well as representatives of staff, parents and the community. The 2010 budget for the VEC sector is more than €900 million but they are already being required to reduce staff numbers by up to 10% from March 2009 levels by the end of 2012.
An Bord Snip Nua, chaired by economist Colm McCarthy, suggested €3 million a year in costs could be saved by cutting the number of VECs from 33 to 22 through amalgamations and the minister’s plans are likely to include the same level of reduction.
“I have made a decision, I will be bringing it to Government hopefully in the first week of October,” she said.
However, she will not be giving details at this week’s annual congress of the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA), the umbrella body for the VECs, which she will address tomorrow.
“I want to bring it to a situation whereby I can streamline them (VECs) into fewer committees and VECs,” the Tánaiste said.
The move will require legislation and probably take at least a year to achieve. But Ms Coughlan said the changes will lead to greater efficiencies and improved services for the VEC students and other customers.
As well as responsibility for 240 vocational schools and community colleges, the VECs run further education colleges, adult education services, Youthreach and other programmes for early school-leavers and people with low educational qualifications. They are also taking a role in primary education as a number of pilot community national schools have opened under the patronage of Co Dublin, Co Kildare and Co Meath VECs in the last two years.
IVEA general secretary Michael Moriarty said regionalisation of public services has never worked in this country, as is evidenced by the replacement of the health boards with the Health Service Executive.
“There has been no significant improvement in delivery of health services as a result. Public representatives, who make up a little over half of any VEC, are the voice of the local community but that voice will be diluted if we move to a multi-county model,” he said.
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