Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Employment Support Services
My matter is similar to that raised by Senator Reilly, although it is more specific. What will be future of local employment services, job clubs and their employees following the establishment of local community development committees? Many of the employees have more than 20 years' experience and they have the expertise, knowledge and wherewithal to carry out the job. Their work complements that of Intreo offices. They offer a fantastic service and they have done tremendous work for the unemployed. They were doing this work long before Intreo offices. I hope the Minister will consider taking local employment services under the umbrella of her Department. This would be cost-neutral because the Department pays the wages of the LES employees. They do the same work as departmental officials. I understand the Minister has taken advice from the Offices of the Chief State Solicitor and the Attorney General regarding the procurement and contractual arrangements for LES providers and job clubs. Is the advice to hand? If so, can the Minister of State share it with the House? What is the future of the services and job clubs? The employees should have stability. They do not know where they stand but they are entitled to know.
I thank the Senator for raising the issue, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection, who is unavailable. She had intended to be here but she sends her apologies because she has had to stand in for the Tánaiste elsewhere.
LESs are an essential component of the employment services offered by the Department to jobseekers. LES providers work closely with the Department in areas and localities throughout the country to provide a much-needed and highly valued service to jobseekers, particularly those who face the greatest challenges in securing employment. The Department values the work of the LES and intends to support and fund their work over coming months and years. In this regard the funding provided for 2014 has been maintained at the same level as in 2013 and the process of renewing contracts with LES providers will be finalised over coming weeks.
JobPath is a programme of employment activation aimed specifically at the long-term unemployed and those most distant from the labour market. The allocation of additional resources to the activation of the long-term unemployed was the focus of an updated Pathways to Work policy statement published in July 2013. Having examined various resourcing options, and taking note of developments in other states and the recommendations of the OECD, among others, the Government decided to contract for additional capacity from providers with expertise and experience in the provision of employment supports or related services.
JobPath provision will not substitute or replace the work of the LESs but will augment and supplement their work and that of the Department's own Intreo centres. In addition, the local development companies, which operate the LESs on behalf of the Department, are free to participate in JobPath, and this may provide a business development opportunity for them. The Department does not intend to cease or change the work performed by the LESs once JobPath is in place.
The successor programme to the current local and community development programme, operated by the local development companies, will be procured in 2015 by the local community development committees, to be established in each local authority in line with the EU procurement directive 2004/18/EC. Accordingly, I am advised by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that it will be necessary to operate a competitive process. This process will be open to local development companies, other not-for-profit community groups in general and commercial firms that can deliver the services under the programme.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply, but I accept that he may not be in a position to speak on this matter in more detail. I will take it up with the Minister for Social Protection again. The employees of the local employment services should be incorporated into the Department of Social Protection because they are doing the exact same work except for deciding on penalties against people who do not take up employment opportunities. They are even paid by the Department. This is valuable expertise which should be brought into the Department of Social Protection.