My Department is now at an advanced stage in the first phase of a two-phase procurement of new employment services, following extensive consultations with existing service providers over the last number of years. I can assure the Deputy that the new service is not a privatisation of employment services. Instead, it is a shift to competitive procurement as required by good governance and the State’s legal obligations.
The possibility of retaining the current LES model, which was developed decades ago, with annual contracts under a closed procurement process, is not an option. My Department has been given clear legal advice from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and the Attorney General that this process is not in keeping with our procurement obligations and there needs to be competitive procurement for future public employment services. In addition, my Department is responsible for ensuring good governance of employment service provision, which requires greater oversight and enhanced visibility of service provision.
My Department cannot ignore this legal advice. Nonetheless, my officials are striving to ensure that the new model does not create any barriers to the community and voluntary sectors or inhibit their ability to submit a high-standard tender for future services. For example, the Regional Employment Service model prioritises the provision of quality employment services and significant marks are awarded in the evaluation to community linkages and social value.
The RFTs for Phase two will issue prior to year-end and my Department has written to service providers outlining the revised timelines. Learnings from the Phase one procurement will be factored into the finalisation of the Phase two procurement process and my Department will continue to engage in ongoing dialogue with the various service providers and representative groups and will engage with them further, as appropriate, before finalising the RFTs for Phase two.