Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Questions (5, 6, 7)

Niall Collins

Question:

21Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection the progress she has made in the implementation of the pathways to work plan; if private contractors will be employed by her Department in its implementation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34973/12]

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Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

34Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social Protection the date on which the new national employment and entitlements service will be fully rolled out; the key functions of the new agency;; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34334/12]

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Dessie Ellis

Question:

43Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide an update on the roll-out of National Employment and Entitlements Service and pathways to work in the context of increasingly stretched Departmental resources. [34951/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Social Protection)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 34 and 43 together.

The Department is establishing the new national employment and entitlements service, NEES, which is central to the realisation of the Government's Pathways to Work policy. As set out in the NEES project plan, published on the Department's website, the development of the NEES is a multi-annual programme to the end of 2014.

The first step in establishing the NEES was integrating staff from FÁS, the community welfare services and the Department of Social Protection. The integration which involved the transfer of almost 2,000 staff was completed on schedule in January this year. The new body will facilitate the delivery of a one-stop-shop service to clients and greatly simplify the process. Previously clients had to apply to three organisations for welfare and employment services. The delivery of a one-stop-shop service is being piloted in four of the Department's offices and will be extended to a further ten offices by the end of the year. Under these pilot schemes clients can receive a single decision on their welfare entitlements. They are assessed to determine their employment services requirements and, following assessment, attend a group interview with subsequent one-to-one interviews. Clients who do not engage with the process are placed on a penalty rate of payment.

The delivery of such a personalised case management service is a resource-intensive process and as the service is rolled out, the Department intends to deploy more staff to this activity. The staff will be redeployed from other functions in the Department and the wider public service. The Department also intends to evaluate the potential to increase the role of the voluntary and not-for-profit sector, in particular the Local Employment Service Network, LESN. Moreover, because of the need to address the unemployment crisis and develop flexibility, the Department is examining the potential of contracting with private sector providers as a means of supplementing its own resources in some case management and activation services. In this regard, the Department is exploring several international models of private sector provision, including the not-for-profit and voluntary sectors, as well as for-profit organisations. Any arrangements in this regard will be made within the framework of the Croke Park agreement.

How much money is to be spent on staff training and redeployment? The Minister suggests the private sector will fill some of the gaps in expertise. Has this been costed and, if so, how much money is to be provided? Does the Minister stand by her initial projection at this late stage of the year that 75,000 long-term unemployed persons will be in employment by 2015?

The targets set out in Pathways to Work are to be achieved in the period up to 2014. This is a major change. The first part of the year was spent taking in the new staff and integrating the three strands of staff, that is, the original Department of Social Protection staff; the former FÁS staff who, on 1 January, became civil servants and the former community welfare service staff who, on 1 October, became civil servants. We have been working on the integration and rolling out the project in four offices on a pilot basis in Sligo, Arklow, King's Inns Street and Tallaght, Dublin.

In terms of targets, we have put in place the engagement procedures whereby people are profiled for employment and education history and a prediction is made about whether they will be able to find a job. All of this is taking place according to plan. The group engagements are all happening as set out and I am pleased to report that all targets in terms of establishment of the scheme are being achieved.

I realise time is limited and that it is difficult to get to the nub of the question. Will the Minister indicate how much money has been spent on staff training and redeployment? How much will be spent on private contractors, should they be provided? The Minister has indicated she is seriously considering this option.

We are examining options for private contractors. I referred to the local employment services. These are local companies which provide services on a one-to-one basis and offer an interesting and good model. These are not-for-profit bodies funded by the Department. They were formerly funded by FÁS. The annual spend on these programmes is approximately €20 million. There are other not-for-profit organisations such as Rehab which has been involved in Ireland and abroad in providing activation services. We are examining best practice in a range of countries, especially countries in Scandinavia and others such as New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and France. At this stage we have no detailed budgetary estimates. We are examining the options and the pros and cons of the experience of a range of countries.