The Community Services Programme was set up to provide local services and create employment opportunities for disadvantaged people. After 13 years, we’re about to find out if it’s working.

The Department of Rural and Community Development is undertaking a review of one of the country’s most important development programmes, the Community Services Programme(CSP).

Set up in 2006 as the successor to the Social Economy Programme, the CSP is now being formally reviewed for the first time.

Currently, there are more than 400 projects funded under the CSP, and the number of projects has grown since the programme became the department’s responsibility last January.

CSP supports community companies and co-operatives involved in everything from community radio and meals-on-wheels, to tourism ventures and more.

The funding allocation for the programme in 2018 was €44m. Out of that, projects receive funding as a contribution to the cost of a manager and a specified number of full-time equivalent positions.

Through funding these projects, the programme aims “to provide local social, economic and environmental services through a social enterprise model”.

An independent body will carry out the review – which will take approximately six months to complete – on the department’s behalf. The review will inform decisions on the future shape and structure of the programme and will examine “the value added to services being delivered to vulnerable communities that would not be delivered otherwise”.

“A formal review will ensure the programme is more closely aligned with current department and government policy, and better placed to meet community needs,” said the department.

Scope influenced by public

The department recently carried out an early consultation on the scope of the review. The public were given the opportunity to have a say in the topics and issues the review should focus on. A report on this was published earlier this month (January).

“The department is now proceeding to tender to engage a third-party review body. The formal review is expected to commence in February,” said the department.

A steering group will be established to oversee the review and to provide strategic oversight and direction.

This group will comprise an independent chair, a single representative from the department, a representative from Pobal, a representative for social enterprise, community representatives and an independent external advisor (with academic or other expertise).

The 2018 picture

In 2018, approximately €44m in funding was provided under the CSP, supporting over 400 projects.

Many of the projects run community halls. Many more provide services that would not otherwise be delivered, such as meals on wheels. A third strand of funding goes towards supporting projects that help unemployed people from disadvantaged or stigmatised communities into employment. The programme specifically seeks to support Travellers, ex-prisoners, recovering drug misusers and people with disabilities.

Qualifying projects must follow a social enterprise model, with CSP contributing towards staff costs.

Currently, the CSP provides €19,033 per full-time equivalent worker and €32,000 per manager.

In 2018, the programme directly co-funded approximately 1,650 full-time equivalents and 300 manager positions.

CSP projects are most often found in disadvantaged communities where public and private sector services are lacking.

The programme is managed by Pobal on behalf of the Department of Rural and Community Development.