John Shirley: Latest public sector reforms are pussyfooting around real issue - benchmarking and salary levels
At several meetings in recent months, Farm Minister Simon Coveney talked about having to make a net €200m saving within his Department of Agriculture next year to satisfy his Cabinet colleague, Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan. He even asked for suggestions as to where savings could be made.
Farm organisations have expressed surprise at the minister's up-front stance. They believe that Mr Coveney is undermining the sector by conceding ground in advance of the Budget on December 6.
They contend that agriculture, with its potential to support economic recovery, should be nourished rather than pruned.
Since then, the Government has released its capital expenditure plans for the next five years at €168m a year. This is €100m less than this year. Does this cutback mean that half of the proposed €200m saving has already been catered for?
As I write, I listen to radio and TV reports rabbiting on about the Government's plans to reform the Irish public service and how the numbers will be reduced by about 20,000 to around 280,000 by 2015.
These reform proposals contain positives in terms of rationalisations of State agencies, but overall they must be regarded as one big fudge.
Firstly, I question the savings that are outlined. Enticing State employees to take early retirement still leaves the cost to be borne by the public purse.
The only difference is that payment is in the form of pension rather than salary. Secondly, the proposed job cuts are voluntary and do not discriminate to protect the so-called frontline services delivered by teachers, health workers and gardai. Already we are seeing schools losing teachers, despite the fact that there are 70,000 extra children in the education pipeline.