Switch from ACE to Worktrack

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 30 September 2002.

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Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin 3:15, 30 September 2002

10. asked the Minister for Employment and Learning how much funding was allocated in the switch from ACE to Worktrack; and to make a statement on any improvement in efficiency.

(AQO 224/02)

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

ACE was closed and Worktrack introduced in the 1999-2000 financial year. In that year just over £11 million was expended on ACE and £1·6 million on Worktrack. Worktrack’s allocation in the present financial year is £9·4 million. At the end of Worktrack’s first full year of operation, its performance, with regard to participants taking up sustained employment, was about the same as that of ACE. However, as Worktrack is a six-month programme, while ACE lasted a year or more, there is a considerable gain in efficiency, and I am looking at ways of raising the performance levels.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

Does the Minister agree that the work done by ACE is not being reflected in Worktrack? Indeed, there may be confusion about the transition from ACE to Worktrack. The systems that people were accustomed to in ACE do not seem to be reflected in Worktrack.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

Unemployment in Northern Ireland fell from the start of the 1990s, and by the end of 1997 it was below the average level for the European Union. The greater number of people finding jobs and the continuing fall in unemployment, combined with the introduction of New Deal, made it necessary to re-examine the ACE programme.

ACE was introduced during a period of relatively high unemployment. The programme provided temporary employment opportunities for the long-term unemployed in projects of community benefit for up to 12 months, and could be extended to 18 months in the case of disabled persons. However, since New Deal is now the Government’s main instrument to help the unemployed to get back to work, Worktrack complements that approach by providing temporary employment opportunities of up to 26 weeks in advance of New Deal thresholds.

Photo of Dr Joe Hendron Dr Joe Hendron Social Democratic and Labour Party

I appreciate the Minister’s comments about the switch from ACE to Worktrack, and about the improvements in efficiency. Will the Minister assure us that areas such as west Belfast, where many hundreds of young people are unemployed, will benefit from that improvement?

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

Earlier this year, independent consultants evaluated the Worktrack programme and found that there was a continuing need for it. Several recommendations on improving its effectiveness were made, including the increased use of private and public sector organisations to provide a wider range of job placements. My Department is considering those recommendations. From information gathered by the task force on employability and long-term unemployment, we learned that examining the barriers to employment would help us to tailor our programmes more successfully.

Photo of Jim Wilson Jim Wilson UUP

Questions 15 and 17, in the names of Mr Mick Murphy and Ms Sue Ramsey respectively, have been withdrawn.