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Draft LTE: Community Development by State Dictat

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 11:29:29 AM EST

Madam, - The Minister (Nov. 9th.) is to be congratulated for responding publicly to the excellent letter by Thomas Erbsloh (November 5th) expressing concern at the proposed rationalisation of the Local Development Social Inclusion Programme (LDSIP) and the Community Development Programme projects (CDP) by his Department.

Unfortunately his response contains much Departmental management speak - for example "My overall aim is to ensure that, from 2010, having regard to the budgetary position, disadvantaged communities will benefit from a more focused programme with clear objectives, simplified and streamlined delivery structures and better-integrated actions, leading to significant administrative savings"

What on earth does he think these programmes have been doing, often with shoe string budgets and relying on a huge amount of voluntary effort to achieve their objectives?

As a voluntary member of the management board of three Charities - two within his constituency providing services to disadvantaged members of his community - I can assure him that clear objectives, streamlined delivery structures, and better integrated actions have been our guiding principles all these years.

Moreover we have also striven to ensure that local communities share a sense of involvement, ownership and pride in these programmes, which is why they have been so successful in improving social conditions and community relations in first place.

The proposed top down rationalisation of these services, without any consultation or regard to the voluntary and community dimension of these services - will simply result in more expensive, bureaucratic and ineffective state quangos providing well paid jobs for administrators, but no community identification, participation and voluntary effort whatsoever.

I have not been giving my professional time voluntarily to these groups just to see them taken over by a state bureaucracy which has become synonymous with cost overruns, inefficiency, inflexibility, and unresponsiveness to real local and community needs.

The notion that Community Development can be carried out without real community participation at all levels is one that only a Department remote from the communities it is meant to serve could have arrived at.


The original letter sparking this conversation was as follows:
Community projects under threat? - The Irish Times - Thu, Nov 05, 2009

Madam, - Minister of State John Curran is planning the alignment of the Community Development Programme (CDP) with the local partnership companies. Following a (behind closed doors) review of the 180 or so projects in the CDP, it is anticipated that a majority will cease to exist, with the remainder to be swallowed-up by their local partnership company.

I understand the junior minister further intends to instruct those remaining CDPs to dissolve their voluntary boards of management to become advisory boards under the partnership - for one year only. The assets of the - then defunct - community groups are also expected to be transferred to the partnership. These community assets are in many cases sports halls, community buildings and drop-in centres developed over years or decades by many volunteers through sponsored walks, table quizzes, race nights, and so on.

At the stroke of a pen, it appears, the junior minister is proposing to commandeer these community properties and transfer their ownership to the quasi-State organisations that partnerships are.

We have heard of unscrupulous employers in the private sector, using the financial crisis to attack workers' rights and conditions, but here we have an agent of the state - the junior minister - under the guise of financial cutbacks attacking the very independent existence of a vibrant community sector, in the face of stated commitments to the autonomy of the sector in government white papers and the active citizenship process.

While the Department of Community, Rural Gaeltacht Affairs, (commonly known as Craggy Island) has the very considerable power to withdraw funding from projects, it is clearly losing the plot in considering instructing autonomous projects to go out of existence. Many of the projects are in existence for longer than the funding coming through the Community Development Programme and many have a wider funding base too.

Of the 180 CDPs about 20 are local Traveller projects. The proposed development is particularly ominous for them, as many local partnership companies have proved to be utterly useless in supporting Traveller issues, when these come up against vested interests on partnership boards.

Along with the sweeping cuts to the Equality Authority some time ago, this is further proof of a targeted attack on participative democracy and dissenting voices representing marginalised communities. - Yours, etc,

THOMAS ERBSLOH,

To which the Minister replied:

Community projects under threat? - The Irish Times - Mon, Nov 09, 2009

Madam, - I wish to respond to Thomas Erbsloh's letter (November 5th) regarding the Government's two main social inclusion and community development programmes - the Local Development Social Inclusion Programme (LDSIP) and the Community Development Programme (CDP).

My view is that a focused programme with a single integrated delivery structure is needed in order to maximise the impact of the local development programme and the Community Development Programme, which serve disadvantaged communities.

My overall aim is to ensure that, from 2010, having regard to the budgetary position, disadvantaged communities will benefit from a more focused programme with clear objectives, simplified and streamlined delivery structures and better-integrated actions, leading to significant administrative savings.

The department is undertaking a review of the Community Development Programme and will shortly have a full report on the findings and recommendations arising from it. The statement made in the letter to The Irish Times claiming that the majority of CDPs will close as a result of the review process is completely inaccurate.

On the contrary, I would reasonably expect the majority of projects to be deemed viable and that they would move into the new integrated programme. However, some Community Development Programmes are not dependent solely on funding provided by the department and may decide to continue in separate existence, outside of the new integrated programme. The department cannot instruct these companies, or indeed any independent legal entity, to close.

The intention is to preserve elements of best practice from the existing CDP/LDSIP programmes in the redesigned model, to minimise structures and to enhance benefits for individuals and communities through significant administrative and overhead savings.

These developments are taking place at a time of extreme budgetary difficulties, the full extent of which will not be known until budget day. - Yours, etc,

JOHN CURRAN TD, 

Minister of State, 

Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, 

To some extent, this is about money, and the extreme budgetary cutbacks which are anticipated in the December Budget. However Community Projects have already been subjected to swingeing cutbacks, to the point where many are barely viable any more. In the meantime state bureaucracy which administers them (and which adds virtually no value to their work) has escaped cutbacks relatively unscathed.

However this is also about a state grab for direct power. Many voluntary and community groups also have an advocacy function whereby they seek to represent the interests of their clients and host communities. This can be irksome for an administration which rations services by availability and popular ignorance of entitlements as enshrined in law.

The most high profile state action in this regard was the closure of the Equality Agency and its absorption by the Department of Justice which had been a frequent focus of its criticism. However local community groups also frequently provide services which compete in greater or lesser degree to (far more expensive) state services, and are thus a priority target for power and budget hungry state bureaucrats.

The fact that the quality and net volume of services delivered to the most disadvantaged in our community would disappear or decline radically as a result of such takeovers has almost no public or political visibility and is what the Minister's reply covers up.

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