Senator Daly: I also welcome the Minister of State. My motion concerns the seeking of funding for the women’s network organisation, not only in my county but also throughout the country.
It provides vital services to women, often in rural locations, who feel isolated in some instances and are looking for support and information on access to services. The networks do that work excellently, but cannot do so without proper funding. They have been starved of funding for a number of years. As a result, vulnerable women have been left even more vulnerable and isolated. That should not be the case, since the measure of any society is how it looks after its most vulnerable citizens. I hope the Minister of State will have some positive news for these organisations about ensuring that their funding will be of a standard that allows them to deliver services that are vital to many.
Minister Phelan: I thank Senator Daly for raising this important issue. My Department’s local and community development programme, LCDP, is the largest social inclusion intervention of its kind in the State. The current programme officially ended at the end of 2013, having operated for four years with funding of €281 million over that period. It is being implemented on a transitional basis for 2014, with a budget of €48 million, pending the roll-out of the new social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, in April 2015. The SICAP is one of my key priorities and its budget for next year will be decided in the 2015 Estimates process. The programme’s target groups are children and families from disadvantaged areas, lone parents, new communities, including refugees and asylum seekers, people living in disadvantaged communities, people with disabilities, the Roma community and the unemployed. As the Senator stated, these people are from disadvantaged areas that, in come cases, are also very rural.
In accordance with the public spending code, legal advice and good practice internationally, and in order to ensure the optimum delivery of services to clients, the programme is subject to a public procurement process, which is currently under way. Stage 1, expressions of interest, has been completed. Stage 2, invitation to tender, got under way on 20 October and involves the successful applicants from stage 1 being invited to apply to one or more local community development committees in local authority areas to deliver the programme. Contracts for SICAP will be determined following the outcome of the procurement process.
The public procurement process is a competitive process that is open to local development companies, other not-for-profit community groups, commercial firms and national organisations that can deliver the services to be tendered for under the new programme. In stage 1, joint applications were encouraged, and organisations of varying sizes – for example, smaller organisations working in consortia with larger ones – were invited to submit joint applications. That said, I understand that some small groups, such as the groups under the remit of the National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks, NCCWN, faced a number of challenges in competing in the stage 1 process. The results of the stage were released on 24 September and I can confirm that none of the NCCWN groups expressed an interest either as lead applicants or as part of a consortium.
The Department is now considering the implications of that for the NCCWN and will liaise with other relevant Departments to find a workable solution. I can confirm that interim LCDP funding, based on a small budgetary reduction in the order of 6.5% on 2014 levels, will be provided to the NCCWN up to the end of March 2015.
Senator Daly: I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive reply and for engaging with the network on the issue of funding.