Bruton to announce plans to wind down Forfás

Mon, Jul 16, 2012, 01:00

THE PROCESS to abolish one of the highest-profile State agencies will begin today when the Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton announces plans to integrate Forfás into his department.

The agency, established in 1994, provides policy advice, research and support to the major State bodies with responsibility for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation.

It also has a number of other diverse functions, including property management.

It was one of 48 agencies earmarked for abolition or merger during 2012 under the Government’s so-called “quango cull” announced last November.

Mr Bruton, in an interview with The Irish Times, said Forfás will transfer intact into his department and its research function will constitute the core of a new strategic policy division within the department.

Some 37 people are employed in the research division of Forfás, of whom 15 are economists. He expects the process to be complete by the end of the year.

“This will give us an in-house capability to evaluate policy and direction. It will greatly strengthen our capacity,” he said.

The process of winding down Forfás will result in a slimmed-down board of three people, plus the transfer of its research unit into the department.

An implementation group will manage the timing and arrangements of the process. Other functions will be transferred from the autumn onwards. The agency’s chief executive, Martin Shanahan, has already taken charge of the department’s and Government’s employment-generating policy, the Action Plan for Jobs, which promises 100,000 new jobs by 2016.

“Forfás was outside the department acting as an umbrella research and policy evaluation body. I always had the belief we need to have such a strong, enterprise-focused unit within the department.

“There has been a rapid change in the economic environment. The department became a bit too detached.

“This gives us the capability of driving new ideas. Forfás was producing high-quality reports but it was frustrating that the reports were good – for example its work for the National Competitiveness Council – but implementation was weak. Having it in-house will tackle what they call the ‘implementation deficit disorder’,” he said.

Forfás has also played a key role in major policy development in recent years through its participation in the innovation taskforce and other key advisory projects. Recent reports have identified skills gaps which could act as a drag on export performance. These include deficits in language and sales skills plus difficulties in recruiting expert staff. Several recent papers have also expressed concern that Ireland has lagged behind other countries in advanced broadband policy and performance.

There is a view that since Mary Harney’s time as minister the Department of Enterprise has lost ground to the Department of Finance. The strengthening of the department’s evidence-based policy functions, in addition to the centrality of the jobs plan to Government, will be seen as closing that hierarchical gap, said a source.

There are other consolidation projects under way in the department, including the abolition of all 35 county enterprise boards and the merging of five employment and industrial relations bodies into two.