I propose to take Questions Nos. 554 and 577 together.
The Community Employment (CE) Scheme is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a temporary, fixed term basis.
In general, the period of participation on CE is for one year. However, CE participants who are working towards a major award or industry qualification can seek to extend participation by up to a further two years. A significant number of CE participants each year avail of an extension in order to continue training and obtain qualifications or major awards.
During the recent Covid-19 emergency, my Department continued to provide the necessary funding for CE schemes while also introducing a number of contingency measures. These measures included the extension of all existing CE participant contracts for the duration of the emergency enabling many CE schemes and their CE participants to continue to deliver their range of services to the community.
In keeping with the “Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol”, the recruitment of new CE participants by CE sponsoring bodies recommenced in early July. Those CE participants who had their contracts extended during the emergency period have been finishing up on their CE schemes on a phased basis over recent months.
The priority for my Department is to ensure that all employment and activation programmes have the best outcomes for participants. Places on these work programmes will continue to be made available to support those who are long term unemployed and furthest removed from the labour market, while maintaining the role of CE as an active labour market programme.
While I understand that sponsoring bodies may wish to extend a CE participant's time on a CE scheme or CE participants themselves may wish to extend their time on a CE scheme, the Deputy will appreciate that such extensions would have a detrimental effect on other long-term unemployed candidates wishing to avail of the opportunities afforded by CE.