I recall that when the Minister appeared more than a year ago before the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection to speak to us about reforms in this area, many members were positive about the changes proposed.
I did my H.Dip in the local VEC school in Naas, following which I spent a year teaching in the VEC school in Maynooth, which was an enjoyable experience from which I learned a great deal about the workings of the VEC. When my mother passed away, I was co-opted onto the VEC, from which I learned a great deal about the workings of the board. When I was asked in 1999 to again become a member of the board of the VEC, I declined because I believed at that time – perhaps I was a young headless chicken and am now an older headless chicken – that the board did not have any real role in the running of the VEC. For this reason, I welcome the dramatic changes that are proposed, not alone the change proposed by the Minister in this legislation, but the changes in local government proposed by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, which link directly into this legislation.
I would like to speak about two issues, the first of which is the new boards. The legislation stipulates that populations will dictate from where the local authority board members will come. I am thinking in this regard of my own area of Kildare-Wicklow. The Minister might consider also taking into account the number of VEC education facilities in one county versus another county. While the population of each county might be the same, the number of schools in a particular county would be more relevant. I hope the Minister will take that point on board.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Okay.
Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Another issue is the gender of board members. A person nominated to the board of the VEC in Kildare could not take up his position because he was of the wrong gender. This may become an issue in terms of what is provided for in this Bill. I am aware that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, has introduced changes in this regard. However, they will not come into force until after the 2014 local elections. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, when making the regulations, might also address the issue of gender balance on the boards.
The legislation provides board members with more power, which I welcome. Members of local authorities do not realise how much power they have. It is important this is pointed out to them. I have raised with the Department of Education and Skills its awarding, under its tendering process, of contracts to build schools to companies whom the dogs in the street know are going to fail. I welcome that decisions in respect of the borrowing of money must come before the educational training boards. I would welcome positive input from board members in terms of examination of interested parties.
On the question of amalgamation, we previously amalgamated our health boards.
Instead of having 12 slim trim health boards, we had one bloated HSE. I welcome the provision for staff to transfer to training boards or other public service bodies. It is important that what we put together is not like the bloated HSE and that we have slim, trim, fighting education and training boards designed for what is required in their communities without excess staff.
The Bill is excellent and I support it wholeheartedly. I love the reforms being made not only by the Minister for Education and Skills, but also by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.