Fewer than one in five people who were enrolled on the State’s highly criticised back-to-work scheme, JobPath, secured full-time employment, despite the scheme costing €84m.
According to Government documents, seen by the Irish Examiner, just 18% or 6,111 out of 39,603 people selected for the scheme in the year July 2015 to June 2016 secured full-time employment. This means the cost per successful appointment was €13,772.
Leading members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Dáil’s spending watchdog, have expressed “extreme concern” at the lack of success in the scheme.
Social Democrats leader Catherine Murphy said the revelations contained in the documents merit a full investigation.
“I have long had concerns about the quality of the scheme, when you take it with the stories from those who enrolled, but now there are real questions to be asked about the value-for- money aspect,” she told the Irish Examiner.
“These findings require us as a PAC to fully examine the reasons behind the low numbers.”
According to the documents, the cost of the scheme, which was launched by the now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spiked from €1.2m in 2015 to €54m in 2017.
Under Jobpath, private recruitment companies are paid a fee once they secure employment for a long-term unemployed person, defined as someone who has spent a year or longer on the Live Register.
Fees are paid once the individual is in employment after three, six, nine, and 12 months.
Two private companies were selected for the scheme following a tender process. They were Turas Nua, a joint venture between Irish recruitment company FRS Recruitment and the UK-based Working Links, and the British company Seetec.
Demands from the PAC for the release of the full details of fees paid to the companies were rejected by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.
“The fees paid to contractors are commercially sensitive and, as explained during the meeting with the committee, to publish them would also place the State at a disadvantage in agreeing fees with the contractors in the event that new contracts were to be tendered in the future,” the documents state.
However, Ms Murphy and other PAC members have rejected such claims as an excuse to deny full transparency on the scheme.
“We as a committee hear this from departments and to be honest it is being used as a cover to not give us answers to important questions,” she said.
As of the end of December 2017, about 141,000 people had started their engagement period with the JobPath service. The department in its documents said it is important to note that jobseekers may be supported through the service for up to 30 months.
“Given the low number of people who have completed the service relative to the overall numbers referred, and the potential impact of other factors such as jobseeker age, educational qualifications, and prior employment history, this data should be treated with caution,” the documents state.
The most recent cohort report published on the department’s website indicates that 18% of jobseekers who engaged with JobPath between July 2015 and June 2016 entered full-time employment.
“This was 29% above the weighted reference performance rate of 14% which itself was 60% higher than the weighted average employment progression rate for long-term unemployed people,” the department claims.
In addition, a further 4% of clients who engaged with the service entered part- time employment, while 3% entered self-employment, bringing the employment outcomes to 25%, it said.
While the indications are positive, these initial reports are subject to review. A data-gathering exercise has begun to facilitate a full ‘econometric evaluation’ of the service in 2018, the report concludes.
Responding to the figures, Fianna Fáil’s social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said the time has come to wind up the scheme.
“We have had huge concerns about this for a long time, I am deeply annoyed that so much money has been going to line the pockets of private operators.
“Between the low success rate and the amount of money involved, clearly it is time to wind up the scheme because it is simply not working,” he said.
John Brady, Sinn Féin’s spokesman on social protection, criticised Jobpath and called on Mr Varadkar to review a scheme “that essentially is the privatisation of employment services”.
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