Thursday, 30 May 2019

Questions (11)

Willie O'Dea


11. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of plans for the local employment service, LES, including the tender process for the service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22984/19]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Employment)

As the Minister will be aware, the Indecon report reviewed the LES and jobs clubs and made a number of recommendations that we have already discussed at some length. I tabled this question in order to obtain an update on the position.

The LES and job clubs contracts are reviewed on an annual basis to ensure they are fit for purpose in the context of the Irish labour market, as well as providing value for money for taxpayers.

Indecon, in its reviews of LES and job clubs published in January recommended that the Department consider the introduction of multi-annual contracts and a competitive procurement process for future provision of these services. The Department has also received legal advice to the effect that renewing the LES and job clubs contracts annually without any movement towards competitive procurement is no longer sustainable.

Accordingly, a new process for procuring the public employment services currently provided by the LES and job clubs is in the early stages of development. My officials are working to design a procurement model that will balance the need for value for money for taxpayers with the importance of preserving high-quality employment advisory and counselling services. Officials will engage with and consult practitioners and stakeholders to gather their views on an appropriate tender design.

I am on the record in recognising the valuable work performed by the LES and job clubs and it is my view that the tender criteria should give due recognition to track records in delivering high-quality, locally-based services. That is really important.

It is in everyone's' interests, including jobseekers, service providers and the State, to ensure, insofar as is possible, that experienced employment service providers with a strong community ethos continue to form a core part of this and previous government's strategy for the delivery of employment assistance services.

Does the Minister accept that, with a public procurement process, the playing pitch is not even in terms of the State sector, as represented by the LES and jobs clubs, and the private sector? What steps will the Minister take to ensure the LES which she acknowledges is doing a marvellous job, with which we all agree, will be in a position to compete on equal terms with any bids that may be received from the private sector?

Given that we have not yet designed the tender process, I do not know how Deputy O'Dea can make the assumption that it will be unfair or that the playing field will not be level. The design of the tender process, involving officials in my Department and the stakeholders, is currently in the very early stages. When that design is completed, we will publish it.

Is the Minister aware that there is strong legal opinion to the effect that EU law on state aid indicates that the State can provide this type of service without having the requirement for public procurement? There is legal opinion which holds that actions by the Government which protect services of general interest do not require to be put out to public tender. General interest services include services provided directly for the person such as social assistance services, employment and training services and so on. That seems to run directly contrary to the legal advice available to the Minister. Will she publish the legal advice that she received which compels her to put these services out for public procurement?

The Deputy already knows the answer to his last question. Lawyers are a bit like doctors in that they all have differences of opinion. The legal advice that I have been given is contrary to the advice referred to by Deputy O'Dea. As a dutiful Minister, I will adhere to the legal advice that has been given to me.

Did that advice come from the Attorney General?

That is who gives us our legal advice.

The next question is also from Deputy O'Dea. It is his lucky morning.

It is my lucky day.

We are on a roll.