Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
After several years of asking for the costs associated with JobPath, Turas Nua and Seetec and constantly being told that because of commercial sensitivity the figures could not be released, the figures were eventually given to the Committee of Public Accounts. Do these costs represent value for money? Will the Minister comment on the overall costs?
JobPath is a case management service that provides employment counselling and advice to long-term unemployed jobseekers with a view to improving their prospects of securing sustained employment. It complements the case management services already provided by the Department's staff via Intreo and other contracted providers such as the local employment service. JobPath operates on a payment by results basis with expenditure determined by the number of jobseekers in respect of whom a personal progression plan is prepared and subsequently, and perhaps more importantly, the number of those who secure and sustain employment. All the set-up and operating costs are borne by the service providers. The Department only incurs expenditure when a customer starts his or her engagement with the service, at which point the service provider may submit a claim for a registration fee. No further expenditure is incurred unless the client secures full-time employment for a sustained period of initially not less than 13 weeks and which results in the closure of their jobseeker's allowance claim. Notwithstanding that, and to protect the interests of the State, the fees paid to the service providers are subject to downward adjustment only based on the level of employment in the wider economy. A discount was applied to all fees payable in 2017 and 2018 and it is expected the same discount will be applied in 2019.
The provision of essential case managed employment services to long-term unemployed jobseekers costs money regardless of how, or through which medium, those services are provided. The total average cost per jobseeker using the service to date is €780. This cost is well below the average cost incurred in other similar contracted services in the State.
In terms of outcomes, the first report on the econometric evaluation of JobPath will be issued at the end of January. Preliminary results from the evaluation indicate the overall impact has been positive, particularly for those with the greatest duration of unemployment. The data confirm internal data published by the Department and also reflect the positive customer feedback from independent customer satisfaction research we undertook last year. Taking the outcomes with the lower average cost, I am satisfied that JobPath is delivering value for money.
The Minister referred to the low cost of operating the scheme. We know €149 million has been given to private companies, Seetec and Turas Nua, since 2015 and 195,000 people have been referred. For each one of those people, an initial registration fee of €311 was paid to one or other of these two companies. I do not consider that value for money. We know that over 15,000 people have been referred a second time and the registration fee has been paid a second time. I do not consider that value for money. It is a double payment. The figures say it all. A total of 17,100 people have been in sustained employment for 52 weeks or more. I do not see how, having spent €149 million, the Minister can say this is value for money. I will ask the question again. It is like Groundhog Day with the Minister. She tries to justify the huge expense and we know the scheme is simply not working. Can she stand over what she says is value for money? The people, including me, do not think so.
It is interesting that Sinn Féin knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. I reiterate that the average cost to the State for the tens of thousands of people who have gone through JobPath is €780 per person. That is the average payment. The average cost per person for other contracted services we use is significantly higher and there is never a peep out of the Deputy about it. More important, the average cost to the State of a person staying on the live register - apart from the psychological, emotional and well-being cost to that individual - is more than €12,000. The Deputy is asking me to take issue with an average cost of €780 to get somebody back into full-time sustained employment rather than leave that person on the live register. Is that what he is asking me? If so, we will continue to be at odds on this matter.
There is evidence that Turas Nua and Seetec are hounding people who find employment by themselves and trying to claim credit for it so they can get the sustainment payments. That needs to be looked at. When JobPath was first rolled out it was said it was to assist people to secure and sustain full-time employment or self-employment. I received an interesting response from the Minister and the Department yesterday which stated some 43,851 people have commenced employment either on a full-time or part-time basis. We know many people who are employed part-time are referred to JobPath and are hounded to get full-time employment. As the Minister has stated time and again, the issue of underemployment needs to be addressed, yet we are getting responses saying people are ending up in part-time employment. How many of the 43,851 people who have secured some type of employment have ended up in part-time employment? We know there are many people engaged in part-time employment or working as teachers, for example, who because of the nature of their contracts are not permanent and are being hounded by Turas Nua and Seetec. If the Minister sees people ending up in part-time employment as a success, it contradicts the reasons for setting up the scheme.
I remind the Deputy that JobPath is a case management service that provides unemployed and underemployed people with advice and long-term employment assistance to help them improve their prospects of securing full-time work. That is it in a nutshell. There is no hounding or harassing people after they find full-time work in order to get some other further payment. It is simple. It is cased managed and involves an individual expert helping people who are long-term unemployed and have not been lucky enough to find a job for 12 months or more. All the service does is help those people, very successfully, to find long-term, full-time employment. That includes people who are underemployed, namely, those who present on the live register for the days they are not working and indicate that they want to work full-time.
Again, if Deputy Brady has a problem with that, we are going to disagree. The service was established because hundreds of thousands of people were unemployed in this country in 2008 and 2009. Thankfully, we now have the lowest level of unemployment since 2008. The recovery that this country has experienced in recent years is nothing short of a miracle and we were lucky insofar as it was a jobs-led recovery. JobPath has genuinely helped tens of thousands of people back into work which is why Sinn Féin has a problem with it.