08 February 2017

In a topical issue debate last night, Labour spokesperson on social protection Willie Penrose called for the local independent structures of the 51 Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) companies to be maintained.

There are plans underway to merge voluntary local Boards for the Money and Advice Budgeting Service, and Citizens Information service into regional boards removing an entire tier of volunteers with expert local knowledge.

Deputy Penrose said:

“In 2009, when the Citizens Information Board took over responsibility for MABS unequivocal commitments were given that it would be a separate and distinct service within the Citizens Information Board.

“MABS companies were to remain independent with their own voluntary boards of management providing crucial local services.

“There are 51 MABS companies with 42 Citizens Information services all operating efficiently and effectively at the coalface, dealing with individuals and families who come with the full spectrum of problems and difficulties, especially mortgage issues.

“The proposed restructuring of the local confederation of MABS towards a regional set-up, which would involve six to eight regional offices being established, would be a retrograde step and should be rejected outright.

“I do not accept the excuse put forward for restructuring, namely, the difficulty of managing the 94 boards. The Citizens Information Board employs 74 staff and regularly uses consultants when required.

“Originally, only four staff were dealing with MABS when it was established by the Department of Social Welfare. I have no doubt the employees and voluntary boards of management are prepared to play a constructive role in addressing any issues the Minister or Citizens Information Board has about their operations.

“However, nobody has spoken directly to them about this.

“It is not clear why six to eight regional companies are being established and how much it will they cost?

“It would be interesting to cost them against the voluntary boards whose members come from various voluntary, State and semi-State organisations, bringing great experience. Some of them are retired and giving their time and effort voluntarily.

“What would be the management cost of the new regional companies and who would supervise the allocation process?

“The essence of MABS is about direct access at local levels to the communities it serves. Managing remotely has its own difficulties, hurdles and perspectives.

“I have spoken to several personnel involved and all they have heard are these global assertions and utterances that the current situation and structures need to be reformed from a governance viewpoint.

“I call on the Minister for Social Protection not to go ahead with these shortsighted changes, and to exercise his powers under Section 9 of the Citizens Information Act 2007 to halt this process.”

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