That Seanad Éireann recognises:
- the significant involvement of private, profit making companies in the operation of JobPath where tax payers’ money is used;
- that the method and manner in which candidates are chosen for inclusion on JobPath very often includes people who are not long-term unemployed;
- that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection does not publish the individual fees paid to the providers because of commercial sensitivity, and that this is unacceptable where tax payers’ money is involved;
- that JobPath is also having a detrimental impact on other job activation schemes – Local Employment Service referrals are down across the State and there are issues filling Community Employment Scheme places;
- that training and preparation of JobPath participants is inadequate and poorly focused; and
- that many of the personal advisors working for JobPath are not adequately trained;
and calls for:
- the immediate suspension of any further referrals to the JobPath scheme;
- transparency of the contract between the Government and these private companies that deliver a public service; and
- increased funding to other back to employment schemes such as the Rural Social Scheme, the Community Employment Scheme and the Local Employment Service.
I thank the Minister of State for her attendance. I am disappointed that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, is not present to discuss this important matter.
Tonight's motion on JobPath comes from a major engagement with jobseekers currently on this scheme which was undertaken by my colleagues, Deputies Denise Mitchell and John Brady, as well as the numerous attempts that I, along with my colleagues in the Seanad, have made to get answers on the scheme. While carrying out our examination we have been contacted by numerous people who are very concerned with JobPath but afraid to officially complain due to fear of losing their benefits. Sinn Féin is fully supportive of local employment schemes and other initiatives that help long-term unemployed. I have previously worked in delivering back to work enterprise schemes, so I know the supports and services that are necessary to enable people to avail of opportunities and to fulfil their potential. I have seen the lives of certain individuals changed forever after receiving the correct supports, services and opportunities. I approach the issue of JobPath from a genuine position of support for many other schemes and services that enable people and provide them with a pathway to employment and enterprise. I and my colleagues in Sinn Féin care about people getting back to work in a way that is sustainable and which benefits the local community as much as possible.
I know from the answer to a parliamentary question from my party colleague that the Minister has read the JobPath Exposed report. She states that it is merely anecdotal and that she is satisfied that the results of the internal JobPath satisfaction survey are an accurate reflection. I wish it was. Does the Minister really think that we would give up our Private Members' business time in the Seanad if we did not have evidence to support our analysis? I am afraid that the report was prepared to fit into the narrative that the best decision was made at the time around JobPath. It is my firm belief that those who agreed to this contract, and indeed those who prepared the tender for the contract which excluded organisations and companies with a turnover of less than €20 million, now have to justify this decision. Many local and Irish companies were excluded from the scheme because of this. Perhaps the Minister of State could tell us who made the decision and why it was made. Was it a financial decision? Was a cost benefit analysis carried out?
When I worked in the area of delivering services and supports one of the main criteria from all Departments was the avoidance of duplication. Can the Minister of State explain why the Government thought it was necessary to privatise this service, displacing existing services and engaging British companies where there was no EU procurement or legal obligation to put such service out to tender? Why are participants on JobPath forced to bypass their local employment offices to go to appointments which are miles away and not accessible by public transport? I sent an example of this from Achill. We are constantly told that Ireland currently has full employment, but the Minister of State probably knows that in Achill the unemployment rate is 21%. It is not the case that we have full employment there. Participants in JobPath there are being asked to bypass the local employment service and travel 20 or 30 miles, in an area where there is no proper public transport, just to fulfil an appointment.
This motion seeks that JobPath will cease, and furthermore we want the scheme to be referred to the Committee for Public Accounts. We have not done this lightly. We have done it because we cannot get the answers that we need. We cannot get answers around the original contract. I do not accept that there is commercial sensitivity. We cannot hid behind commercial sensitivity where taxpayer's money is being paid to private companies.
Many people have told us about being referred to JobPath when they were not long-term employed. I understand it was within the remit of JobPath that people had to be long-term unemployed. One person said he or she had been referred to JobPath having been out of work for just 26 days. Many referrals were of individuals who had one or two part-time jobs and young teachers who had recently qualified and were under pressure to find positions within weeks of finding out they had qualified. Many newly qualified teachers who cannot find work immediately or need to stay at home rely on substitute work for a few months. One respondent complained that substitute teachers were on call and, therefore, there were weeks when they were working full time. A teacher questioned how they were supposed to hold down two jobs and keep two employers happy while also attending JobPath. All of these cases point to one thing - that JobPath is causing serious problems for individuals. All of the individuals concerned are not long-term unemployed. Many of them want to access community employment, Tús and rural social schemes in their own areas. Those running these schemes want participants and this is what suits them, yet they are barred from such participation and told they have to participate in the JobPath progamme. When they engage with it, they are almost owned for 12 months and told what to do and where to go, even in situations where it does not suit them. People with mental health difficulties and many vulnerabilities are forced into these positions, which leads me to believe they are revenue generators for a private company. It is not right and it is having a devastating effect on individuals and the schemes being provided.
I ask the Minister of State to clarify what the budget for the local employment service is in 2017 and was in 2016. I know from the answers to questions we put to the Taoiseach when he was Minister that he estimated that JobPath would cost €65 million in 2017. Over the lifetime of the contract which seems to be top secret, we estimate that it will cost in the region of €350 million. That is a significant amount of money to pay to a private company.
Why is Intreo not referring people to support services already being provided by the State? Why are people being referred directly to JobPath? Is it to make up the numbers? How many people has the State guaranteed to send to JobPath on a yearly basis? What will happen if the number of referrals required is not sent? Given the information vacuum, we can only suppose that there are some clauses in the contract which state a certain number of people have to be referred. If this number is not referred, there must be penalty clauses. Many questions need to be asked and I hope the Minister of State will have the answer to some of them. If we had received answers to them, we could have conducted an analysis of the information and there might not have been a need for a referral to the Committee of Public Accounts. In the absence of full information, however, that is the only road left open to us, unless we can get a guarantee from the Minister of State that JobPath will be closed. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.