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.