Wednesday 20 September 2017

€570,000 pay-off: but secret report reveals civil servant crisis

Top level probe to ‘shame’ key Department of the Taoiseach

Dermot McCarthy: oversaw Department of the Taoiseach for 11 years

THE most senior department in government is to be shamed by a top-level review that found it "failed" to respond to our economic collapse.

A confidential draft report on the performance of the Department of the Taoiseach reveals a crisis of leadership and low morale while former Secretary General Dermot McCarthy was in charge.



The revelation comes just months after Mr McCarthy (57) stepped down with a €570,000 golden parachute and €142,000-a-year pension. The disclosure of the package sparked a backlash against public service pensions.



Now a draft report, seen by the Irish Independent, provides a remarkable insight into the most powerful department in the country, and is a major embarrassment to the senior public servants working there.



Almost half of staff in the department told a review team that it was not well managed in terms of making changes.

It also paints a picture of poor teamwork, lack of communication and strategic thinking.

The performance review report into the Department of the Taoiseach found:

- It failed to develop a strategic response to the economic collapse.

- There was a crisis of leadership.

- Restoring morale was the most serious challenge facing the department.

- Senior management were criticised, but executive officers in the middle tier came off even worse.

- Almost half the staff said change was not well managed.

The findings are expected to spark further investigation and action within the department.

As the country's leading civil servant, Mr McCarthy had overall responsibility for overseeing the government's economic and social policy, as well as policy on the North, European and international affairs. He also acted as former Taoiseach Brian Cowen's chief adviser and attended Cabinet meetings.

However, a review he set in motion before his retirement last July was highly critical of the department's performance under his watch.

The draft report by the Organisational Review Programme (ORP) -- set up to monitor the performance of the public service -- found that the department "failed to develop an overall strategic response to the unprecedented economic collapse".

The ORP completed its findings in October but they have not yet been sent to Cabinet or made available to the public, members of the Oireachtas or the media.

A government spokesman said an action plan would be included with the report before it is circulated to members of the Cabinet.

The draft findings will come as a huge embarrassment to Mr McCarthy. One retired senior civil servant described the stark criticism as an "unprecedented onslaught on civil servants, by civil servants".

Low co-operation within the department was a major cause for concern, the report found.

"Almost half of the staff in the department agree that change is not well managed."

Although the report strongly criticised senior management in the department, the executive officers -- the middle tier of management -- come off worse.

"By grade, the executive officers have the least positive feedback and this may require further investigation," it said.

It found that senior managers agreed with their junior colleagues' criticism of them as ineffective. "This is not what we would typically find in other employee survey results, where senior management tend to rate themselves fairly highly," the report stated.

Criticisms

Other key criticisms included how staff were allocated to certain tasks, and how their performance was managed.

The OPR team retained outside consultants to survey 194 civil servants in the department and received a response from 127 of them -- or 65pc of staff .

A public service performance review was previously conducted by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2008.

However, the government subsequently set up a domestic unit -- comprising a small number of civil servants -- to conduct such reviews. This ORP team now examines government departments to evaluate their performances.



Irish Independent

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