AN influential cost-cutting body dubbed "An Bord Snip Nua" was last night charged with finding billions in savings across all Government departments and the public sector.
Officially entitled the "Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes", the four-member committee will have to identify posts that are "not essential" in the public sector.
It will be charged with identifying cuts in spending and staff numbers, quangos that can be merged or abolished and recommend ways of obtaining better value for taxpayers' money.
Crucially, the group will have to reduce and discontinue expenditure programmes with a view to "eliminating the current budget deficit by 2011".
That deficit currently stands at €4.7bn, but could be significantly higher if present trends in the economy continue.
An Bord Snip Nua, which will be headed by UCD economist Colm McCarthy, will also have scope to examine the terms and conditions, tenure and pension entitlements of new recruits to the public service.
Such moves could cause major consternation within the trade union movement but sources last night insisted that the Government was acutely aware of industrial relation issues while also accepting the need to motivate workers.
Next Tuesday, the final three members of the board will be announced, with speculation focusing on former HSE executive Pat McLaughlin, former governor of the Central Bank Maurice O'Connell and CIÉ executive chairman John Lynch for the positions.
From now until next June, when the four-man committee furnishes the Government with its final report, the group will meet in the Department of Finance with department officials and meet with all Government departments in sequence.
No savings targets have been set by the Government in an effort to give the group maximum flexibility and freedom.
The group's recommendations will be considered next summer ahead of the Budget estimates campaign, and will feed into the Government's budget decisions for 2010.
Prior to the final June deadline, the group will update Finance Minister at the end of January and every two months thereafter.