Rebranding of VEC questioned

A PORTLAOISE councillor has questioned the benefit of Laois VEC changing to an Education and Training Board (ETB) to stuedents and trainees.

A PORTLAOISE councillor has questioned the benefit of Laois VEC changing to an Education and Training Board (ETB) to stuedents and trainees.

Cllr Willie Aird was speaking at this month’s meeting of Laois VEC. The establishment of 16 ETBs will take place in January when they replace the 33 VECs around the country.

“What is the education system going to achieve? What is the benefit to students? It might be better for local government but what does it mean to people using the services on the ground?”, asked the Fine Gael councillor.

He said that reading the relevent documents, he was not convinced that users are going to benefit at all. “I find it difficult. St Canices was working, the people were there and now we have to incubate them into the system. Did we not learn from the HSE?”

His sentiments were echoed by Councillor Pat Bowe.

“We are in for a very interesting time and a very sever time of work for the VEC. The reduction in VEC boards is drastic, and I do have reservations about the transparency of it”.

Cllr Bowe said that the standard of education in Laois has risen drastically in the past five to ten years, noting that the county now has third level education.

“I’m living in fear that we may lose the personal touch. The staff are doing a great job but they’re not robots. If it’s working, don’t fix it. There should be more information”, he added.

Speaking in response, Laois VEC CEO Anne O’ Keefe said that she has been having frequent meetings with the department that there is a lot of support among CEOs and the department.

“The boards will be more efficient and cost effective. There will be only one CEO and AEO. They have depleted our resources. There will be 18 people on the new committee including 10 councillors, two staff representatives, two parent representatives, and four community nominees”.

These board members will be split between Laois and Offaly, meaning only nine people will be representing the county. Ms O Keefe told the committee that the department expects to save €3 million with the changes. “It is an unprecedented change and it is a very big job of work. There is a huge volume of work to be done in the next 10 weeks. Everything may not be in place but major aspects should be in place”, she said.

Councillor Mary Sweeney encouraged the committee to be positive. “We have to be optimistic. The whole idea is to reform and there’s no choice at the moment. It is a wait and see thing. We’ll know in five or ten years”.