CALLS have been made to protect community employment services from privatisation, with Sinn Féin councillors in Cork City Council to put forward a motion urging the council to write to central Government to protect the current not-for-profit, community-based model of local employment services (LES).
The Government intends to replace the current model of local employment centres and job clubs with a new model of regional employment services. This new model proposes that community-led LES have to compete in open requests for tender against private operators.
Councillor Kenneth Collins said the Sinn Féin group would be bringing forward a motion to “urge the council, collectively, to write to central Government and demand an end to the privatisation of the LES”.
LES assists unemployed people to progress towards employment by responding to needs for training, education, and access to employment opportunities.
“Myself, councillor Mick Nugent, councillor Eolan Ryng, and councillor Fiona Kerins will be pushing this motion because we believe that Cork Local Employment Services have very successfully provided an essential public service for over 25 years,” he said.
“The LES is at risk due to a central Government decision to tender for these services, and we feel that we need to stand up for those employed within the services, for the people they have and will help, and for the local communities they form an important part of.”
It comes as Sinn Féin spokesperson on social protection Claire Kerrane yesterday evening brought forward a motion in the Dáil seeking to stop plans to privatise the services.
Commenting ahead of this, Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central Thomas Gould criticised the request for tender, which he said has put forward “a commercialised, profit-driven model of employment services” that “not only threatens the crucial wrap-around supports these organisations currently offer, but which has also locked many existing services out of the tendering process”.
“Shifting to an employment service model which is profit-focused has no proven results and, quite literally, places quantity over quality,” he said.
“The seven community-based partnerships are at the core of their local communities in Blackpool,Churchfield, Knocknaheeny, Mahon, Old Youghal Road, Washington Street, and Togher.
“The proposed changes encourage a ruthless shift to ‘services’ which focus on profit over people.
“This is not the person-centred approach so successfully fostered by the LES and job clubs.”
Solidarity TD for Cork North Central Mick Barry said the “quiet and painstaking work of local employment service workers” had improved the lives of “thousands” of his constituents down through the years.
“I think that the Government’s plans to rip services out of communities, to privatise them and run them on a for-profit model is just backward beyond belief,” he continued.
Speaking in the Dáil in October, Heather Humphreys, rural and community development minister and social protection minister, said the procurement would see a “significant expansion” across the State of employment services for those “furthest from the labour market”.
She added that the procurement process would help to place the services “on a proper contractual footing”.
“The existing services were first contracted for more than 20 years ago and there has been no formal procurement process in the intervening years. This is not in compliance with standards of proper governance.
“In addition, I have advice from the Attorney General’s office that it is not in compliance with Irish or EU procurement rules,” she said.
The minister added that it was likely to be mid-2022 before the new contracts would be in place.