Government has only seven months to spend €35m package

THE Government has just seven months in which to spend the latest money approved under the European Globalisation Fund.

Despite having lodged an application in June 2010 for supports for more than 9,000 workers made redundant in the construction sector, it was early last month before the European Commission gave its consent to provide €35 million.

But the scheme’s rules dictate that spending on retraining workers is only eligible for co-financing under the EGF up to 24 months after the announcement of job losses.

The EGF will cover up to 65% of what a national government spends on retraining, guidance and other initiatives to help redundant workers back to employability and work.

The commission issued a statement last month to say it regretted that Ireland only had seven months left for the implementation of the fund for redundant construction workers, of whom almost 6,000 have been deemed eligible.

The Department of Education said that, while the final approval of the European Council and European Parliament was still awaited on the €35m package, it has been providing supports to the affected workers since July 2009. These have included guidance, training, further education courses supports for apprentices on and off the job, as well as third-level programmes, costing an estimated €22m to date.

A spokesperson said: “A further suite of guidance, training and upskilling proposals is being prepared and all persons eligible for new EGF related supports will be contacted individually.”

The department said Ireland has consistently highlighted the procedural difficulties inherent in the EGF application and approval process. It requires EU states to frontload programmes significantly in advance of the approval of applications and the subsequent release of EU co-financing.

Minister of State Ciarán Cannon has met with the EU Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner László Andor to stress the need for significant changes to the administration of the EGF. The department said Mr Andor and his officials said they would consider the concerns as part of an imminent review of the EGF process.

The construction sector application was the first of a sectoral nature — distinct from funding for ex-workers of a single company — and the department said there were delays extracting data from considerable and complex national statistics.

“There was also a need for the commission to consider fully this data and to respond with further queries and clarification requests,” said a spokesperson.

“This process resulted in the time lapse in providing a finalised list of companies until later in 2011.”

The Irish Examiner reported earlier this month that a similar sectoral application was being considered in respect of workers made redundant in the banking and financial services sectors.

The department is also preparing to seek EGF assistance to retrain former employees of TalkTalk in Waterford, which made all 575 workers redundant when it closed last month.

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