Just 7% of participants in a Northern Ireland New Deal programme went on to sustained employment, a report from the NI Audit Office reveals.
The Preparation for Employment Programme was a work placement scheme that dealt with 60% of people on New Deal who were over 25 and long-term unemployed. The NIAO says more should have been done to increase the number who went on to permanent employment.
In the 2002 to 2007 period evaluated by the NIAO, some 18% of the 35,000 participants in the various New Deal 25+ programmes moved into work. New Deal 25+ was initiated in 1998, since when 74,000 people have participated at a cost of £69m.
There were large variations in performance between providers used to deliver the New Deal programme and the NIAO recommends improved monitoring of contract performance. The report found that almost a quarter of employers participating in New Deal used it as a source of low cost labour.
Participants over 50 were particularly difficult to place into long term work, says the report. Future benefits-to-work programmes should concentrate more on older participants, it suggests. By March 2007, two-thirds of participants had been on New Deal schemes before and some had been on the programme five times or more.
The NIAO recommends benchmarking work support programmes in Northern Ireland with those in Britain and adopting tougher outcome targets. The Department for Employment and Learning has now replaced New Deal 25+ with an improved Steps to Work programme.