Opposing Privatisation of Local Employment Services

The government needs to reverse its plans to tender for contractors to run the city’s local employment services, said a motion agreed by councillors on the Dublin City Council economic development committee on Tuesday.

The local employment services help people, including those who are long-term unemployed, to get work-ready and rejoin the workforce.

Dublin City Council has four local development companies, which run local employment services and jobs clubs based in Finglas, Crumlin, the north inner-city and Ballyfermot.

The Department of Social Protection plans to change the funding structure and go out to tender for contractors to run those services starting next year.

“This decision would have a devastating effect on already vulnerable communities,” said independent Councillor Sophie Nicoullaud, who tabled the motion.

The local development committees take a long-term approach to helping people, she said.

Private companies will undercut existing established services, she says. “This is the opposite of social protection.”

Disadvantaged communities like Cherry Orchard, which she represents, will be pushed further into poverty and away from employment opportunities, she said.

The motion calls on the government to set up a citizens’ assembly-style forum “to identify and create a model of employment services that is person and community focussed”.

Organisations representing Travellers, migrants, and the unemployed should be consulted, says a report to accompany the motion.

Councillors unanimously backed the call. This is an “extremely serious issue”, said Labour Councillor Mary Freehill.

It takes time and effort to build up relationships with people who may have issues and to support them back into employment, she said. “Our social services are very, very seriously diminished.”

“We are one of the few counties that actually have privatised poverty programmes,” said Odran Reid, an economics and community development lecturer in TU Dublin who sits on the committee. “Tendering for the sake of tendering is an incredible waste of time.”

Said Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha: “You really have to ask what is the motivation behind the drive for privatisation.”

The Minister for Social Protection, Fine Gael’s Heather Humphreys, said in the Dáil in April that she isn’t privatising the service. She is expanding it to areas that currently don’t have employment supports, she said.

She expects existing local development companies to apply for the contracts, she said, and that the changes would bring greater flexibility to providers.

The councillors agreed that the committee should write to the minister to express their concerns and to ask the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, and the Lord Mayor to do the same.

Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney and Fianna Fáil Councillor Claire O’Connor also said that they would raise the issue within their parties, which are in government.

A New Vision for Dublin

Dublin City Council is hiring consultants to help them create a new vision for the city.

It has contracted OCO Global, and its spin-off company Utopia, which has “expertise in place management, regeneration and place marketing”, said Mary Mac Sweeney, deputy head of economic development and enterprise in the council.

A council spokesperson said that the cost of the consultant’s contract is “commercially sensitive”, and so they would not disclose it.

The consultation will “look at transformation towards creating a city that is more just, more resilient and more sustainable”, she said, at Tuesday’s economic development committee meeting.

Discussions will look at how to improve urban data, understanding city density and structural conditions and enhancing social protection, says a report to councillors.

Strategies for a “green and blue recovery” and recognising enterprise engagement will also be examined, it says.

The consultant’s report will be available to the committee at its next meeting, which is scheduled for November, says Mac Sweeney.

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, the current Lord Mayor, asked how this vision would fit in with the city development plan, which councillors and council staff are currently working on.

“For me our development plan is the vision going forward for the next five or six years, for our city,” she says.

Said Mac Sweeney: “This is running alongside all of the extensive work that is happening with reviewing the city development plan.”

Officials working on the new vision will talk with staff working on the development plan, she says, so it will feed into that.

The report to councillors said the vision would be “resident-centric”.

Will the “external stakeholders” include environmental groups, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and NGOs? Gilliland asked, at the meeting.

A council spokesperson said: “The consultants will be talking to representatives of the Public Participation Network, elected members, businesses and business representative organisations and to managers in Dublin City Council as part of the process.”

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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