Serious questions surround the use of private contractors for JobPath and the huge costs associated with setting up this scheme when Local Employment Services offered similar supports and services. Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar confirmed that the cost of the JobPath Programme in 2017 is €65 million.
For the past number of months, I and Sinn Féin colleagues have been seeking specific answers from Government in relation to the cost and rationale for this scheme. Very simply, I want to know how much this programme will cost the state by the end of the 4/5 year cycle and if there are any break or penalty clauses if the Government decide to terminate the contract before the agreed period. I also want to know the cost to date of the whole tendering process and use of economic research specialists and legal costs.
I am deeply concerned about the involvement of foreign private contractors delivering similar service to that already provided by Local Employment Services in an effort to reduce numbers on the live register. The basic requirement to be even considered eligible to bid for a contract to provide the JobPath programme was that the company have a minimum turnover of €20 million per year, which excluded many local Irish companies and voluntary organisations from the scheme.
The Government can no longer hide behind the ‘commercially sensitive’ smoke screen. More and more Government services are being delivered by private companies. Does this mean that there can be no transparency where private contractors are involved? This is just not acceptable.
Local Employment Services which have served communities well are now in direct competition with multinational companies which generate huge profits annually. With these companies driven by profit and wanting to ensure that the full payment can be drawn down, there is a danger that the long term, harder to reach, unemployed are overlooked in favour of those who are more ready to slip back into certain employment sectors.
I am also concerned that outlying rural areas will be abandoned in the drive for profit maximisation and in the name of efficiency, effectiveness, and value for money. There is also the issue of those selected for JobPath are being forced to travel miles to access services that are provided for in local LES Offices. This represents a waste of public money.
The scheme operates on the basis that 60,000 referrals per annum will be made to these private companies. So, referrals that would normally be made to Local Employment Offices are now being redirected to satisfy the commitment made in these flawed contracts. We the public are paying for a service that is duplicating a service that is already being provided.
These concerns I have reflect the frustration that many people have communicated to me over the months. I have been contacted by people in the sixties living in remote rural areas without transport, awaiting hip operations who have been ordered to attend JobPath appointments 30 miles from where they live. I am concerned that the current makeup of the scheme goes against those in rural areas, those with existing mental health problems and with the eventual cost to the State for the benefit of private companies that will simply up and leave as soon as their profit is made from this scheme. I will use every avenue open to me to get answers to the questions I have repeatedly asked. My fear is that we could end up with another monster like Irish Water.