The Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Ms. Mary Coughlan, T.D., today (Tuesday, 7 December 2010) said that Budget 2011 is a budget that recognises the critical role of the education and skills sector to Ireland’s future prospects. She said that while difficult choices had to be made to identify savings across her Department’s remit, the Government had gone as far as it could to protect front line education services in 2011.
“Achieving savings in the education and skills budget is never without difficulty, this is particularly so at a time of growing demographics in our schools and increased demand on our education and skills services. It is clear however that in the context of the unprecedented level of expenditure saving required this year, this Government has chosen to go as far as it can to protect front line education services. We have also chosen to implement savings measures in such a way as to limit their impact on families, and in particular those families that are less well off.”
The 2011 allocation for current expenditure, including from the National Training Fund, will be €8.726 billion while the allocation for capital expenditure will be €491 million. The education measures in the plan account for current expenditure savings next year of some €175 million. Allocations from the National Training Fund will also be reduced and will require more efficient use of resources for training and employment programmes. The 2011 allocation for the Department represents a reduction of €207 million over the equivalent allocation for 2010, the difference arising mainly in relation to capital expenditure.
The savings being implemented in 2011 are spread across the education and skills sector and include the school transport scheme, reductions in public sector numbers, student supports and FÁS training allowances. The specific details of the measures are set out in the attached note.
The Tánaiste emphasised that in making savings decisions that resulted in new or additional charges in the education system, she had been particularly conscious of the impact those charges would have on families where two or more dependents availed of a service. “Family caps will take effect on school transport charges. Families with two or more dependents at third level, or that are marginally over the income levels for higher education grant support, will be protected from the full impact of the introduction of the Student Contribution. In addition, students from less well off families will be protected from the new charge for PLC courses.”
In addition to third level education places, further education, training and activation measures will continue to be critical as the Government priorities re-skilling and up-skilling those in search of employment. The Tánaiste confirmed that in excess of 173,000 further education places and over 100,000 FÁS training places are being provided for in 2011. She also confirmed the introduction a new Skills Development and Internship Programme and an expansion in the number of places available on the Work Placement Programme.
The Tánaiste said that while her Department’s allocation for capital expenditure for 2011 reflected the reduced allocation for such expenditure overall, she was confident that the funding available would allow demographic needs to be met and to provide for continued improvement to the stock of educational capital, particularly given falling land values and tender prices.
Concluding, the Tánaiste said that the budget would restore confidence by demonstrating that Ireland is prepared to tackle its public finances deficit head-on, yet is doing so in such as way as not to damage the key drivers of growth, such as State investment in education and skills.