Roe Valley Education Forum in Limavady say jobs will be saved if they are given the green light to deliver the successor to ‘Steps to Work’.
In an in-depth interview with the Sentinel this week, General Manager of Roe Valley Education Forum (RVEF) Diane Rathfield said that whilst it is likely fewer than half-a-dozen staff are to be made redundant, larger numbers of staff will still be in employment if their ongoing efforts to secure a new contract to help the unemployed find work are successful.
Ms Rathfield explained that economic circumstances forced the RVEF’s hand in terms of the jobs at their Community Services Department, but that the local firm are well placed and ideally suited to deliver the successor to the Department of Employment and Learning’s (DEL) ‘Steps to Work’ programme in Limavady.
Steps to Work ends in May, she said, adding that negotiations are ongoing between larger-scale prime contractors bidding directly for the DEL contracts and firms such as the Roe Valley Education Forum for subcontracts.
In a wide-ranging interview, Ms Rathfield explained that there are “no further redundancies expected” and praised the “exceptional work” of the staff at the Roe Valley Education Forum. She said: ““You’re aware of Roe Valley Education Forum does. We are employed to help people find work.
“To put things into context, Roe Valley Education Forum is here since 1998. We have various departments within the organisation. We have Community Services, which was formed to support the people that come on to the programme that want to do environmental type placements. Those environmental type placements could be things like gardening - that kind of outdoor type, more hands on practical approach.
“As a result of the programme finishing - so Steps to Work has run since 2008. It has been a fantastic programme but DEL (Department for Employment and Learning) have decided to recreate the programme, to recreate the employment initiative at the end of Steps 2 Work and it will be called Steps to Success. The Steps to Work programme will finish on May 31 as far as Roe Valley Education Forum is concerned. This meant that our income from the Steps to Work programme will drastically be impacted by that. The Community Services department that had relied on Steps to Work income to keep going, to pay the supervisors who were supervising the guys that were put out there on placement - we won’t derive that income any more, once the Steps to Work programme goes.
“The Executive Committee here looked at this - there are eight members made up from different sectors of the community. We took this first to the committee at a strategic planning event in October, the financial information to support the decrease and the downturn in the revenue that had been derived from that was given to them and they started thinking about what we were going to do.
“The decision wasn’t taken to close the Community Services department until the Executive made that decision in March. The consultation about the wind-down about the potential for closures was January. We had to start meaningful consultations in January because we could see the downturn from last October. We started the consultation in January at which time all the Community Services staff were presented with that information - they were told what was happening when they were presented with that financial information. They could see quite clearly the downturn. The numbers were drastic.
“At one time, in 2012, which would have been our peak time - around 2011/2012 - we had 50 placements. They all derived an income. By 2013/14 we were down to 15 placements so you can see yourself the business perspective on that. That was because a lot of the people had decided to do other placements because there was no job in community services at the end of it. It’s a client driven programme.”
“At the end of the Steps to Work programme is a re-tendering process for the Steps 2 Success programme. Asked whether the re-tendering process is something which may impact on larger numbers of staff, outside of just the Community Services Department where redundancies are already likely, Ms Rathfield replied: “I think that may be where a misconception came from with this figure of 20 further staff. We, like any other organisation that is currently delivering Steps to Work are trying to place ourselves with people who have got through the first stage, so into the invitiation to tender stage.
“We have been creating contact with those potential lead contractors, prime contractors, to ensure that we can remain as part of the delivery of the new programme in Limavady - because we are known, we are trusted, the community comes to us for other reasons. They come to us for other programmes that we run as well, so we feel that we are best placed to carry on delivering that, so for that reason as General Manager I have been out there trying to forge these relationships with the big prime contractors who are through to the next stage of bidding.
“We have really highly trained staff, trained specifically on programmes for the unemployed. We have enhanced mentors, we have assessors, we have people that trained on welfare advice. We’re ready to hit the ground running. Whichever ‘prime’ wins this contract area we would hope to be involved so that we can carry on delivering the best service to the people of the Limavady Borough. We are not looking to build empires. We just want to deliver what we have delivered very well in very difficult times over the last number of years. In fact, 16 years if you take it back as far as we have been open.
“There are no further redundancies expected from Roe Valley Education Forum. We expect and hope to place ourselves to be able to deliver the future programme in Limavady and this Borough. I would be hoping to secure the jobs that I have here. I don’t want to be in a position where I am making people that are doing exceptional work redundant.”