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Work Placement Programmes

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 28 January 2014

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Ceisteanna (106)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


106. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding the planned JobPath programme, including the expected start-up and annual costs; the approximate portion of these costs that will go to profits for private companies; and if the existing local employment services will see any reduction in their funding from her Department in parallel with the implementation of the JobPath programme. [3954/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Social)

I am trying to ascertain whether the Minister is aware of concerns that her tendering for the outsourcing of the new job placement scheme, JobPath, will undermine existing underfunded community-based and not-for-profit local employment services.

The local employment service, LES, is a valuable part of publicly funded employment services. Total LES funding for 2014, at €19.1 million, has been maintained at the same level as last year. In recent months the Department has modernised its approach to working with unemployed jobseekers through the roll-out of Intreo. Under the Intreo approach, the Department provides employment activation services to unemployed jobseekers using a mix of its own case officers and the contracted capacity provided by the LES and by other employment services throughout the country. In that context, I refer to employment services that are involved in specific work with the Department in the Border, midlands and western, BMW, region in respect of assisting those with disabilities to obtain appropriate training and employment experience. During the roll-out of Intreo, the Department has significantly increased the number of its own staff allocated to work, in particular, with newly unemployed jobseekers. Having taken note of recommendations by the OECD among others, the Department intends to increase its contracted capacity to intensify the level of support provided to jobseekers who are long-term unemployed. Towards this end, the JobPath tender is designed to procure capacity, using a payment-by-results model, to supplement and augment the Department’s core capacity and that of the LES. We will continue our contractual arrangements with LES providers following the introduction of JobPath. LES providers and others in the voluntary or community sectors are also free to participate in JobPath. This will give them an opportunity to expand and enhance their services into the future.

The request for tenders in respect of JobPath issued on 12 December 2013, with a closing date of 28 February 2014. Taking account of the time required for the tender evaluation process, it is expected that contracts will be awarded in April or May of this year. It is expected that successful tenderers will require approximately six months to set up operations following contract award. On that basis, I expect that JobPath should commence some operations towards the end of this year.

Like many people, I am ideologically opposed to the outsourcing and privatisation of social protection services. Evidence from overseas suggests that this has been an expensive failure in other states. For those who are furthest from the labour market and for existing not-for-profit activation infrastructure, it has been a disaster. I am requesting, for a number of reasons, that the Minister halt the tendering process. In the time allotted to me now, I will focus on the impact on the existing community-based activation infrastructure.

Is the Minister aware of concerns to the effect that local development companies, the LES, the partnerships and jobs clubs, all of which have a community focus and a social ethos, will be forced to compete against both each other and multinational companies? Is she further aware of fears that they will be obliged to become subcontractors to those profit-focused multinational companies or face extinction? The Minister has claimed, and has just reiterated, that her intention is for JobPath to complement existing services. However, she failed to outline clearly her intentions regarding the future role of those services once JobPath is established and begins to deal with the same client base as that allocated to the LES at present. That would be both a contradiction and a duplication. Will the Minister address the concerns of those who operate the services to which I refer?

It is difficult to please Sinn Féin because at times it seems the party does not want anybody to return to work. Now it appears to be concerned about the provision of additional services. In both the tendering and information processes, a wide range of organisations - some for-profit, some not-for-profit, some community, some LES and some, as the Deputy described, locally based - all sent representatives to the various meetings that were held. As I understand it, many of them expressed an interest in becoming involved in the process. I encourage them to do so.

Since the LES became part of the Department, not only have those involved continued their work but that work has been recognised as a core and important aspect of the Department's public employment services.

Whereas it might be argued that the local employment services, LES, were not in the past given significant attention by the Department of Social Protection, under my watch they have a very important role to play. The Deputy should not play down that role by suggesting that the work of the local employment services is not regarded as valuable. I wish to put on the record of the House that the work is regarded as very valuable.

As is usual in her replies to questions, the Minister has misrepresented what I said. It is obvious that she also misunderstands the concept of the tender which is payment by results. None of the community-based organisations has the funding required to enable them to spend months or years helping people who are very difficult to place. They are required to wait for payment from the Department. The system would undermine local employment services and Irish Congress of Trade Unions groups who are dependent on what is currently scarce funding. I have never said that we should undermine the community employment services, the local employment services or those of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I have encouraged the enhancement of such services and I regard the use of the Intreo offices as being the proper direction. However, to privatise a service at the same time when the Minister is expanding a departmental service, as well as existing community and not-for-profit organisations doing this work, is duplication and a waste of money. I urge the Minister to withdraw the tender and to deal with the situation by means of the existing structures rather than putting money into private hands where it should not go.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh is probably making a political charge. I have found Sinn Féin to be very negative on the issue of employment creation. It is shocking, in my view. Our objective is to get people back to work. My Department and I have brought together into the Department formerly disparate organisations such as community employment and the local employment services to make them a core part of the public employment services. As such they are involved in very important work with those people who are very difficult to reach who have been unemployed for a very long time and whose pathway back to work may be through a combination of community employment, a return to education or further education and work experience. This approach has been central and for the Deputy to suggest otherwise is misleading, in my view.