Kilkenny and Carlow’s vocational education committees (VECs) are set to be merged – and a number of jobs will be lost in the process – but the feeling locally is that it could have been a lot worse.
The announcement of the planned merger was made by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn last week as part of a Department of Education plan to reduce the overall number of VECs to 16.
The previous Government’s proposal to cut the number of VECs had suggested that Kilkenny be merged with both Carlow and Kildare.
“From a Kilkenny perspective we are delighted, because we are just merging with one other county,” said Cllr Mary Hilda Cavanagh (FG), chairwoman of the Kilkenny VEC. For example Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim are being merged, she said, “and it’s a long way from Achill Island to the top of Leitrim”.
Unlike the merger of Galway and Roscommon, which will have a large population base, “we will be one of the smallest VECs in the country,” Cllr Cavanagh noted.
The merger does raise questions of job losses, potential service cuts and the issue of where the Carlow-Kilkeny VEC headquarters will be located, however.
Regarding the headquarters location, Cllr Cavanagh said: “I heard my colleague Denis Foley (chairman of Carlow VEC) saying that the headquarters would be located in Carlow, but no decision has been made on that. That will be up to the minister.”
Although the Carlow VEC owns its own building, Kilkenny VEC is just a few years into a long-term lease that wouldn’t be easy to get out of, she said.
It has been suggested that the merger will result in the loss of 16 jobs, but Cllr Cavanagh didn’t have an exact figure. She said she expected that staff who resigned or retired from their posts would not be replaced.
Cllr Cavanagh said the merger was not likely to be detrimental to the services and courses offered by the local VEC, particularly because “Carlow-Kilkenny as a unit is small enough that there will be someone on the committee to fight for every area”. “I don’t see the services being diluted,” she said.
When the merger takes place, there will be just one board of management covering both counties, but that shouldn’t be a problem as long as it is geographically representative, she said.
“The set of mergers approved by the Government today is far more appropriate and serves the country better,” said Deputy John Paul Phelan (FG), adding that the previous proposal “made absolutely no sense whatsoever”.
“Creating a new entity which would have stretched from the edge of Dublin to the Waterford coastline was simply not on,” Deputy Phelan said.