Wednesday 22 November 2017

Get-tough jobless drive to stem €700m waste

Ministers under pressure after damning report

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THOUSANDS of jobless face a much tougher training regime or risk losing the dole in a desperate attempt by the Government to stop €700m-a-year being wasted.

The new rules come after an internal report found that more than half of the €1.2bn spent on job training each year is being wasted on job plans. The current training courses are simply not helping get people back to work and have been dismissed as "weak". They include the community employment schemes, the back-to-education scheme and the Youthreach programme for early school leavers.

Instead, ministers are now under intense political pressure -- with 439,000 people on the dole -- to come up with a plan that will work and end the enormous waste of resources.

Under the new plan to be finalised within weeks, jobseekers will:

- Have to notify the new agency of their work skills and school qualifications before they get any dole payments.

- Have their dole reduced or cut off entirely if they refuse to turn up for interviews or job placements.

- Have to take longer and more intensive courses provided to replace those currently considered irrelevant.

- Have to take a job or training placement offer within 12 months.

Four ministers are directly linked to the jobs area and will ask Taoiseach Enda Kenny to give the new plan his backing within weeks amid growing criticism of the Government's handling of the crisis.

Adding to the pressure is the internal report from the Department of Public Expenditure that shows that community employment schemes, which include after-schools clubs, community networks and drug rehabilitation projects, do not help people get a job. It recommended that the pace of the reforms to get people back to work "should be accelerated" and that dole payments should be "conditional" on people co-operating with the new system.

The "Pathways to Work" plan has been worked out between Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn with input from several other government ministers. It is due to be signed off on by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore in the coming weeks.

The new plan will incorporate two new agencies. The National Employment and Entitlements Service will bring together staff from the Department of Social Protection and FAS employment advisers for the first time. There will be a computerised "profiling" system which will record the details of those out of work and they will quickly be offered relevant training.


They will then be referred on to the new training agency Solas, which will replace FAS once legislation is passed. According to a government source, preparations for launching the new agency are "well advanced". And the source said it would have far better market intelligence so that the unemployed would be provided with training that will get them jobs. In the past, FAS was criticised for putting unemployed workers on courses that were unsuited to their needs -- but achieved the aim of getting them off the live register.

And the needless duplication of training courses -- with VECs in nearby areas offering the same options to people -- is due to be eliminated when Solas gets up and running.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton is also going to launch his "Jobs Agenda" in the coming weeks, but this will be more focused on helping businesses to create jobs. It will include a Partial Loan Credit Scheme to help businesses denied credit by the banks and a €10m "microfinance" scheme.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed that his Government's target was still to create 100,000 new jobs by the end of its term in office in 2016. He has said that he and his Cabinet are working "day and night" to get people off the dole.

But the Government is due to face a private members' motion tabled by Sinn Fein in the Dail this week opposing its cuts to community employment schemes.

Irish Independent

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