Scheme costing €14,000 per job could be 'mini FÁS scandal in making' - O'Dea
A scheme to help long-term unemployed people back to work - which has cost €84m to date, with a further €50m planned spend in 2018 - has been heavily criticised and dubbed "a mini FÁS scandal in the making".
But the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has strongly defended the JobPath scheme as "cost-effective" and vital to ensure that a minority of people are not permanently excluded from the chance to earn their living.
Fianna Fáil's social protection spokesman, Willie O'Dea, said the scheme had so far cost almost €14,000 in taxpayers' money for each job created.
Only one-in-five people, numbering just over 6,000, who participated in the scheme have got full-time work, said Mr O'Dea, and in an era of full employment the process was obstructing people's own efforts to get a proper job.
"I am receiving a lot of complaints about this and I am concerned that it is not the best use of taxpayers' money in an era of effective full employment," Mr O'Dea said.
He said the scheme, which is operated by two standalone contractors, could be implemented by the department's own Local Employment Service offices.
The Limerick TD argued that given the level of funding - with €54m spent in 2017 and a similar sum budgeted for 2018 - it risked repeating past errors.
"I have concerns that we could be looking at a 'mini FÁS scandal' in the making," he said.
He added that the scheme was impeding people's own efforts to change existing temporary or part-time work into fully fledged jobs and obstructing people from getting onto Community Employment Schemes.
Officials at the Social Protection Department said the current unemployment rate of 6pc meant that 235,000 people were out of work. Of these, 96,000 are unemployed for a year or more and it is these that JobPath has been designed to help.
It began in 2015 with a spend of €1.2m, a budget of €25m for 2016 and over €50m each for last year and this year.
But one senior official has insisted that the scheme is closely monitored and has yielded promising results. The official also rejected Mr O'Dea's argument that the department itself could directly operate a comparable service more cheaply. He said the use of contractors was a cost-effective option and safeguards were built in to ensure the jobs achieved were lasting and real.
"Contractors are paid an initial registration fee and then a fee for a job sustainment. They are not paid when a person gets a job, but when the job is sustained," the official said.
The Social Protection Department said the €14,000 per job cost cited by Mr O'Dea did not reflect the real results achieved.
Officials said if the scheme was impeding people from getting other work, then such cases must be brought to the department's attention.