Almost 50% EU retraining fund to be returned

THE Government will have to hand back nearly half of the almost €40 million it has been offered by the EU to retrain thousands of redundant workers.

The Department of Education had been approved to spend up to €38.22m on courses and assisting former workers at Dell in Limerick, Waterford Crystal and SR Technics in Dublin up to this month. But low uptake on training programmes mean it has only paid out €9.4m.

The fund is separate from the €35m allocated for ex-construction workers.

While the department has still to receive or assess requests for payment from training agencies who have run courses, the Irish Examiner has learned that officials estimate just €20m it received under the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) will be spent. The estimate dates to the end of the last government’s term in February.

But the Department of Education has told the Irish Examiner it is not possible to provide a current estimate, so it is unclear if expectations are now lower or better. However, the €9.4m paid so far is lower than the €11m the department estimated had been spent by training agencies when Education Minister Ruairi Quinn took office in March.

“In terms of estimating the total final expenditure on any of the three completed EGF programmes it is not possible to do so with certainty at this time,” a spokesperson said.

“A number of payment claims from various service providers are currently either being processed or are still awaited by the department.”

The department said that problems have consistently been highlighted to the EU around procedural difficulties in the EGF application and approval process. This requires governments to frontload funding of training programmes significantly in advance of applications being approved and EU funds being released.

The department is finalising spending statements and awaiting claims from a number of service providers in relation to the Dell fund of almost €23m, even though it only covers courses and other services up to last June. But with a final report on that application due to the European Commission by December 28, only €6.5m has so far been paid out and the estimated final spend last February was just €13m or just over half the allowed spending for the 2,400 redundant workers.

The situation is more promising in respect of the Waterford Crystal fund of just under €4m, with €3m expected to be used for almost 600 ex-workers. The fund covers training over a two-year period up to last August and, with a final report due to the EU by February, €1.6m has already been paid out.

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