Uncertain future for Westmeath Community Development

It has a turnover of €4.75m and gives out an average of €1m per year in LEADER funding but the future of Westmeath Community Development is uncertain.

Moves set in train by Environment Minister Phil Hogan could see some of the local organisation’s roles taken over by the local authority, Westmeath County Council.

At the council’s meeting last month, Joe Potter said that the Putting People First proposals could present challenges for the organization.

“We probably wouldn’t be able to maintain our level of activity or staff,” he said, adding that there is more to the partnership than the administration of grants.

“Anyone could do that,” he said, but pointed out that their staff have particular expertise in a variety of areas.

The organisation employs around 300 people and 240 people are employed under schemes such as Tús community work scheme.

Westmeath Community Development has helped 1,171 unemployed people access services and most of those were referred by the Department of Social Protection.

One hundred and four people got a job following their involvement with the partnership, he said and by the end of last year 122 people had established a business with their help on the Back to Work scheme.

By the end of October this year, a further 101 people had achieved the same success.

LEADER is one of 20 projects run by Westmeath Community Development and it accounts for 25 per cent of their funding and activity.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Potter said aspects of the future are up in the air, and that Westmeath Community Development hopes to continue to play a big role.

“If people looked at it objectively and saw what’s going on I don’t think there is necessarily a duplication of staff because I think there’s a role for everyone. You couldn’t have too many people on the ground working in community development and rural development,” he said.

“If things were coordinated just a bit better, there is a role for everyone,” he said when asked if his organisation will lose staff under the proposed changes.

“We all agree as citizens that there needs to be more accountability and coordination in the way services are delivered but I think there is a risk that some of the skills and abilities of people who worked in local development for several years could be lost if things aren’t handled properly,” he added.

County manager Barry Kehoe said however, that there is nothing to fear. “The key point is to get resources into the county, then decide what to do with them,” he said, adding that Westmeath Community Development’s role will develop over time.

He told councillors that the alignment exercise aims to minimize overlaps in the delivery of services.

In the meantime, the council and the partnership await further guidance from the Minister.


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