Cabinet agrees to cut number of VECs


THE NUMBER of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) is to be cut from 33 to 16 under proposals agreed by the Cabinet yesterday.

The cut is even deeper than recommended by the McCarthy report last year. However, the move seems unlikely to deliver any major immediate savings as the Croke Park deal on the public service rules out any compulsory job losses.

The new multi-county VECs will break the link between the local authority and the county-based VEC. For the first time in 80 years, some individual counties will no longer have their own VECs.

The VEC sector has long been identified as a target for potential cost savings, with McCarthy proposing a cut to 22 VECs.

Spending in the vocational sector has increased from €731 million in 2005 to €949 million this year. Some 87 per cent of this is teachers’ pay.

At present, the 33 different VECs – 27 county, five city and one borough – have their own administrative structure. The VECs vary in size, some with more than 20 schools, while others may only have two or three schools in their area.

The Department of Education says the new VEC arrangements will deliver significant savings in the current administrative budget of €42 million.

The savings will occur, the department says, due to salary cost reductions and through the disposal of surplus accommodation. The McCarthy report estimated that a cut to 22 VECs would deliver €3 million in annual savings.

The department says the cut to 16 VECs creates a potential for greater savings, but the ultimate level of savings will depend on the net position after property disposals.

The department also says cuts in the number of chief executive officers will yield significant savings, but that these senior figures cannot be made redundant under the terms of the Croke Park deal. Last night, Minister for Education, Mary Coughlan insisted that the recast VECs would be stronger and better-placed to provide support services.

Schools would also benefit from the rationalisation of supplies and services, the Minister added.

The 16 revised VEC areas are Co Dublin and Dún Laoghaire; city of Dublin; city of Galway and Co Galway; city of Cork; Co Cork; city of Limerick, Co Limerick and Co Kerry; city of Waterford, Co Waterford and Tipperary South; Donegal; Wexford and Wicklow; Carlow, Kilkenny and Kildare; Laois, Offaly and Westmeath; Louth and Meath; Cavan and Monaghan; Mayo and Sligo; Leitrim, Roscommon and Longford; Clare and Tipperary North.

Michael Moriarty of the Irish Vocational Education Association said the decision represented a sad day for all those who had served on VECs since 1930.

It marks the passing of an era of local democratic structures, Mr Moriarty said.

It is hoped, he said, that the Minister’s stated commitment to the vocational education sector indicates that “there is more at play than the cost-cutter’s knife. This may be a good day for efficiency auditors, but it is a bad day for local democracy”.

Labour education spokesman Ruairí Quinn called on the Minister to announce immediately the implementation mechanism “which must be established without delay”, the composition of its board, and the director charged with managing it.

“All stakeholders must be fully consulted on every step that needs to be taken.”

Mr Quinn added: “It is not clear what efficiencies and savings will be obtained from this decision. At all costs Fianna Fáil must not be allowed to create another expensive and grossly overstaffed body as they did with the Health Service Executive.”

“Labour will keep a close watch on this process and ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved as quickly as possible at a reasonable cost.”