Joe Saunders, CEO of the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) representing Ireland’s 49 Local Development Companies (LDCs) today (Wednesday) called for the rollout of a nationwide Local Employment Service through LDCs as well as reforms to eligibility under Tús, the Rural Social (RSS) and Community Employment (CE) Schemes.

Addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Social Protection Rural & Community Development & the Islands, Mr Saunders said; “Given the uncertainty in the labour market, the high numbers requiring activation over the next two years and the capacity available to the state through Local Development Companies, now is not the time to embark on a realignment of existing LES operational areas as is being proposed with the introduction of a dual strand procurement process that will fundamentally disrupt activation services when they are needed most.

What ILDN proposes is:
• All Local Development Companies that do not have an existing LES would pilot an LES-type service, reflective of the Covid-19 context and changing Socio Economic profile.
• In this period, existing LDCs with LES contracts will continue to deliver the current LES service but provide enhanced services.

This proposal offers an agile and affordable response to the inevitable high demand for employment services –
• There is integration with existing rural employment and inclusion services.
• There is no requirement to develop infrastructure ab initio.
• There is no disruption to existing services from realignment of operational areas or loss of skilled staff.”

Commenting on Tús, RSS & CE Mr Saunders added; “We believe it will be critical to allow for maximum participation in important schemes such as Tús, Community Employment & the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) in the years ahead.

“The Tús programme has seen reduced numbers prior to the pandemic and exacerbated by it. A number of reforms to eligibility criteria, length of time on scheme and crucially improved referral processes are needed to ensure that this programme stays at the heart of the state’s activation options and continues to serve those most in need of valuable work experience prior to fuller re-entry to the labour market.

“The RSS in particular faces a critical juncture and it faces inevitable decline if impending impacts of eligibility rules are not addressed. The 6- year rule introduced in 2017 is about to kick in and if left in place will remove 38% of the Scheme’s 3000+ participants in a 3-year period. Together with the 13% who will leave at retirement age, this means over half of the Scheme will be removed. This represents a cliff age for rural communities in work undertaken, experience and leadership lost, a reduction in biodiversity in pushing landowners off the land and their replacement by monoculture practices. ILDN urges the Government to review this rule ahead of Budget 2022 and bring forward reforms to protect participation in this important scheme.

“Eligibility reform is needed to ensure that this important scheme survives. In our submission to the Committee we have laid out a number of potential reforms to all three schemes which we believe would be of benefit. “