30. Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for the future of the local employment service and jobs club; and if she will make a statement on the matter. (Question 50709/17 asked on 29 Nov 2017)

Deputy Willie O’Dea: There is growing concern that the local employment service and jobs clubs are being increasingly marginalised by JobPath. I seek an assurance that the local employment service has a future, and that it will not be abolished or privatised.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Ireland’s Public Employment Service is managed by my Department and delivered by its Intreo service as well as by contracted private companies such as JobPath, Local Employment Service, LES, and job club providers.

For 2017, as in 2016, my Department contracted with 22 private contractors for the provision of the LES in 25 locations and with 44 contractors for the provision of jobs clubs in four locations.

The importance my Department places on the role of LES and jobs clubs is reflected in the work undertaken to develop and enhance the services through contracts that were entered into for 2017.

Jobs clubs are intended for unemployed jobseekers that are identified as job ready. All participants on the formal workshops and CV preparation must be referred by the Department or LES.

The increased capacity provided through Intreo and JobPath and the reduction of the live register means the LES can now focus on offering an enhanced service to jobseekers. In line with best practice, and OECD benchmarks, smaller caseloads are key to the provision of the type of one-to-one intensive support and assistance that jobseekers benefit the most from, particularly the long-term unemployed.

The funding and total value of these contracts for the provision of the services has been continually maintained over the years, both through periods of economic downturn and in more recent years during a period where we have seen a welcome reduction in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, from a peak of 15.2% to 6.0%.

The LES and jobs clubs contracts are for a maximum of one year, January to December inclusive, and I can now advise the Deputy that we are committed to the provision of those services. The contract bid process for 2018 is underway and it is anticipated that there will be no changes, apart from the enhanced services. The volume of money and the number of people providing the service will be no different than heretofore.

Deputy Willie O’Dea: I thank the Minister for that assurance. She will be aware that the local employment service deals with people other than those on the live register. It deals with walk-in clients and people who are genuinely seeking employment but who are not on the live register, for whatever reason. The Minister will agree that it is important to provide a public employment service for everybody seeking employment, irrespective of whether they are on the live register.

Will the Minister comment on the status of the Indecon report on the local employment service? Has she received the report and when is it proposed to publish it?

Deputy Regina Doherty: I have had the pleasure of meeting organisers and participants from two JobsPlus and jobs clubs. I did this just to be nosey and see exactly what was happening first hand. The reception I got from those in receipt of the services was exceptionally good. By their own accounts, the services are exceptionally valuable. There is real value in the service. I want to confirm to the Deputy and the House that I and the Department recognise that and there is no change to those services.

I can confirm that the total contract value last year was just over €20 million for the LES and just over €6 million for jobs clubs, and I do not expect there to be any change next year. While there may be a reduction in the numbers of participants in the centres, we can have more bang for our buck in terms of giving an enhanced service to those availing of it.

I have not received the INDECON report on the LES and I will inquire today as to when it will be ready. As soon as I know, I will revert to the Deputy directly or indirectly.

Deputy Willie O’Dea: My understanding is that one of the criteria for jobs clubs or the LES is to place 30% of participants in full-time jobs. Would the Minister agree that, in view of the drop in unemployment and the fact that the LES generally deals with people at the furthest distance from the labour market who, for one reason or another, find it very difficult to get long-term employment, that this is rather onerous and should be changed to include people placed in part-time jobs? Many people will initially get part-time employment.

Deputy Regina Doherty: I know why the Deputy is saying that, but the answer is “No” because we will not reduce our ambition to provide people with assistance in getting full-time jobs. The 30% figure is a target. It is not set in stone. If a service reaches 28.5% we will not cut the legs off it. The LES and every single jobs club does extremely valuable work.

In some cases, services have been reconfigured or clubs have been merged because of a reduction in numbers, but not because there has been a reduction in the value of the money, commitment or services provided by the contract and Department. It is simply about reorganisation. There is no club which does not have the ability to come and make a case if it does not reach the minimum target in terms of why, where, when and what it will do to make sure it meets it next year. It is not about reducing standards. We are committed to working together to make sure that we address clubs where there are particular difficulties. That does not really happen because the commitment and ambition of the LES and all jobs clubs are to help people who are jobs ready to match the skills they have with the jobs which are available.

The system is working and some LES centres have a jobs finding rate far in excess of 30%. The Deputy may know of one particular case. We are always willing to talk if changes are required. It would be silly for us to make a change to the ambition of what was set down.