Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Questions (70)

Carol Nolan


70. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she plans to continue using the services provided by Turas Nua and Seetec for the operation of the JobPath scheme; if she will consider alternative service providers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26483/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Social)

Does the Minister plan to continue using the services provided by Turas Nua and Seetec for the operation of the JobPath scheme? Will she consider using alternative service providers? Will she make a statement on this matter?

I thank Deputy Nolan for raising this issue.

JobPath provides employment assistance and advice to the long-term unemployed on behalf of my Department. The current JobPath contracts were due to expire at the end of last year. Last October, however, in addition to contract renewals to the local employment services, job clubs and EmployAbility, I announced an extension of referrals to the JobPath service for a further 12 months until the end of 2021. While new referrals will cease at the end of December, there will be a run-off period to enable existing clients to complete their engagement with the service. These measures were taken in order to ensure that the public employment service had sufficient capacity to support those impacted by the pandemic with access to employment services throughout 2021.

In light of these circumstances, I deemed it prudent not only to retain but to expand the existing capacity of our public employment services. We will expand the footprint of local employment-type services into several new geographical areas where a local employment service does not currently exist. We are also expanding the capacity of Intreo centres to provide employment services and supports, with the assignment of an additional 100 job coaches this year. As the current contracts for all contracted employment services, including JobPath, expire at the end of 2021, my Department is currently developing requests for tender to ensure that high-quality employment services, with sufficient capacity to support all those who need our assistance in securing employment, are openly procured in a manner that is compatible with EU and national procurement rules.

I thank the Minister for her response and her clarity in confirming that the JobPath scheme will be extended. However, I draw her attention to the fact that there are more problems than solutions with JobPath. One big problem many people have with it is whether it represents value for money. We can say for certain that the total amount paid to Turas Nua and Seetec for the operation of the JobPath scheme for the period 2015 to date is €247.9 million. How can we honestly say that that represents value for money? Have any assessments been carried out in this regard? Have any comparisons been made with other jurisdictions? I know this is used in the UK but I am referring to jurisdictions apart from the UK and what they are doing to achieve value for money. I am concerned. The breakdown for every year is as follows. In 2015, €1.2 million-----

We will come back to you, Deputy. You are out of time.

To be clear, JobPath is not a job placement service. The providers are contracted to provide employment assistance and to support jobseekers. It is important to say that a review of JobPath has been carried out and that the OECD evaluation, which is completely independent, showed that, overall, those who participate on JobPath have better employment outcomes and earnings than those who are not supported by JobPath. Customer satisfaction is independently assessed by regular surveys and remains high. The number of complaints is low. I think it amounts to about 1% of more than 280,000 participants. If Deputies have examples of concern, I ask them to bring those specific cases to my attention and I will have them looked at. I am happy to make improvements.

When I asked about the value for money assessment, I was not talking about a review of how people were placed and so forth. I have questions about that too because many constituents in my office have made complaints. I have showed them how to do so through the formal process. That was a number of years ago and it is going on still. My question is whether the review looked at the money that is being spent because to me it seems colossal. The breakdown for each year is as follows: in 2015, €1.2 million; in 2016, €25.2 million; in 2017, €57.4 million; in 2018, €71.7 million; in 2019, €58.6 million; and in 2020, €33.8 million. This is a staggering sum of money, particularly when one considers that Turas Nua in particular has been the subject of continuing criticism and controversy, unfortunately.

The figures the Deputy refers to relate to services provided to more than 295,000 jobseekers. As I said, their success rate in getting and keeping jobs is better than with some of the other services. Now is not the time to cut employment support services of any kind. We face record unemployment as a result of the pandemic. There are currently 363,000 people on the PUP and another 177,000 on the live register. There are a number of different approaches to this. There are the local employment services, JobPath and the Intreo offices. As we face challenges and as the restrictions are lifted and people get back to work, I believe there will be challenges for those who do not get their jobs back. We need to support them in every single way we can to help them find employment that is suited to them. As I said, now is not the time to reduce the service levels. We are expanding the local employment services into a number of new geographical areas.