Millions of euro of unemployed support funds to be returned to Brussels unspent
As documents obtained by Sinn Féin under Freedom of Information indicate the return of millions of euro of unemployed supports to the European Commission, Sinn Féin Dublin Mid-West TD Eoin Ó Broin has called on the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and her Minister for State Damien English to “do everything in their power to ensure that €4.15m European Globalisation Funding programme for redundant Lufthansa Technik workers in Co Dublin is spent by the deadline of September 2016.”
Ó Broin has also called for “urgent reforms of the way the European Globalisation Fund is managed to ensure no funding is returned unspent in future.”
Deputy Ó Broin said:
“The European Globalisation Fund is a European Commission run programme aimed to help get redundant workers back into employment. It also provides funding for young people not in education, training or employment.
“Government applies for funding on behalf of individual named workers who have recently lost their jobs. The European Commission provides 65% of the programme funds which must be spent within two years. The programme funds are intended to provide individualised education and training above and beyond what would ordinarily be available to unemployed people.
“In 2014 the Government applied for European Globalisation Funding for the 424 redundant workers from Lufthansa Technik in Rathcoole Co Dublin. A programme fund of €4.15 million was agreed of which €2.49m would come from the European Commission. The programme deadline is September 2016.
“Since last October I have been trying to discover how much of the €4.15 million had been spent to date and what the estimated final spend for the programme is.
“In reply to a Parliamentary Question submitted by my colleague Pearse Doherty on November 10th 2015 Minister of State Damien English said that ‘it is difficult to accurately forecast the final expenditure’ and that ‘I am not currently is a position to indicate the level of EGF programme expenditure.’
“However documents released to me under Freedom of Information in February this year flatly contradict the Minister of State’s claim. The European Globalisation Fund Unit, a unit within Solas, who administer the programme, keep a spread sheet of actual and estimated expenditure for each programme.
“The most recent expenditure spreadsheet for the Lufthansa Technik programme was produced by the EGF Unit on November 5th 2015, five days prior to Damien English’s Parliamentary Question reply.
“That spreadsheet estimates that the Lufthansa programme will only spend €1.5m of the €4.15m by the closing date of September 2016. This means that only €975,000 of the European Commission’s €2.49m contribution will be spent. The remaining €1.5m will have to be returned to Brussels.
“It is shocking that 63% of this fund will remain unspent according to the Departments own figures. This is money that should be used to provide education and training not only to workers who lost their jobs in Lufthansa Technik but also to hundreds of young people from the Dublin Mid-West and South West areas currently not in education training or employment.
“The spread sheet also highlights which state agency is spending the least amount of their allocated funds. The Education and Training Board have an estimated final expenditure of just 8%. Solas has an estimated expenditure of 11%. The Local Employment Office look set to spend 28% of their allocation and the Higher Education Authority are on target to spend just 46% of their allocation.
“Only the EGF Unit itself looks close to using all of its allocation with an estimated spend of 98%.
“It is unacceptable that the Minister or his Departmental Staff deliberately withheld this information from the Oireachtas. However what is truly shocking is that hundreds of people who should be benefiting from these funds are being denied the opportunity of education and training because of maladministration of the programme and what appears to be political indifference by the Minister.
“Worse still is that the Government has known about these problems since it took office.
“The problems with the EGF were first raised by Sinn Féin in 2011. Pearse Doherty exposed the problems with an EGF application for 9000 named construction workers. During a Topical Issues Debate on 26 October 2011 the then Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn apologised to the workers who were denied the opportunity to access the fund, describing them as ‘victims of maladministration by the Department under the previous Administration’. He also said that it was his Governments ‘responsibility to clear it up.’
“As a result of the maladministration of the construction workers EGF programme up to 40% of the fund was returned unspent to Brussels. However the internal EGF documents secured through Freedom of Information clearly demonstrate that things have gotten worse.
“At this late stage we need the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and her Minister of State Damien English to do everything in their power to ensure that as much of the €4.15m from the Lufthansa Technik programme is spent by the programme deadline of September of this year.
“We also need to see reforms of the way in which the EGF programmes are managed.
“The EGF Unit needs to be expanded as it is currently too small to coordinate multiple multi-million euro programmes. Ministerial pressure needs to be brought to bear on the Education and Training Board, the Local employment Office, Solas and the Higher Education Authority to use the funds that have been made available to them.
“Crucially community based training, employment and youth groups must be given a seat at the EGF table as these are the groups with the most experience working with young people not in education, training and employment.
“There are two other EGF programmes currently running, Andersen in Limerick and PWA International in Dublin. It is highly likely that the problems with the Lufthansa Technik programme are replicated in these programmes. This means that there is a real risk of millions of euros being returned to the European Commission. At a time when so many people remain out of work, particularly young people, the idea of every single cent of this money may not be spent is unacceptable.
“We need an urgent statement from the Minister on this matter outlining what she is going to do to ensure all of the current funding in the three open EGF programmes will be spent and what reforms she intends to put in place to ensure that future EGF programmes do not experience similar problems.”