Sunday 22 October 2017

Kenny to take over reform at Welfare and Health

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is taking personal charge of pushing through reforms in both Health and Social Protection.

Mr Kenny is ramping up pressure on the two most divisive ministers in Cabinet, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Health Minister James Reilly, by taking a hands-on approach to slow-moving reforms being undertaken in their departments.

The move is a sign of concern about the pace of delivery of key changes in the biggest spending departments.

Dr Reilly is the source of contention between the coalition parties and Ms Burton's level of implementation of policies is viewed with scepticism by cabinet colleagues. Mr Kenny will be bringing in a system of close monitoring from his own department on key policy areas in social welfare and health.

The Taoiseach is going to use the model, drawn up by Jobs Minister Richard Bruton for the Action Plan for Jobs, to ensure a range of departments and agencies implement policies on time. The system is described by officials as "the troika without AJ Chopra".

"We want to replicate it," a senior government source said.

A department secretary general is understood to have said the monitoring system was "the best vehicle for implementing government policy I've seen, apart from the troika".

The next two areas identified for the intensive monitoring are labour market activation in the Department of Social Protection and the future health strategy, leading up to the introduction of Universal Health Insurance, in the Department of Health.

Specific deadlines are set for implementing policies and there is constant pressure to ensure no slippage.

"You make a list. You put people in charge. You set timetables. You stick to the them. It's hardly rocket science," a source familiar with the process said.

"Once you are signed up to a deadline, that's the Bible. You create a stick to beat yourself with."

Mr Kenny chairs progress meetings where ministers are grilled if they are not meeting targets. "It certainly got the system moving. There have been a couple of hot and heavy cabinet committees. You do get things turned out. If there is huge displeasure shown by the Taoiseach, it does get things turned around.

"The senior civil servants are sitting at the back of the room watching this grilling and how it impacts on them. The tone is always set in the first few meetings," a government source said.

In the Action Plan for Jobs monitoring last year, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte is understood to have fallen foul of Mr Kenny for not having made enough progress in some goals under his department's remit.

But ministers and civil servants alike have been impressed by the way the monitoring has ensured policy implementation hasn't been allowed to slide.

"The process for rolling the Action Plan for Jobs out is fairly unique. It hasn't been done before – the overseeing of the implementation and the setting of deadlines.

"It gives a unique reach into other government departments. It has been successful in that regard and having a whole- government approach to the jobs agenda. We want to replicate it," a senior government source said.

Ms Burton's level of progress on reforms in her area has irked her cabinet colleagues, particularly on the Fine Gael side.

A report on child benefit said Revenue had information on the income of nine out of 10 households. Yet she has argued that means-testing of some benefits is not feasible.

The idea in mind in health is to scrutinise the work of the programme managers put in place by the minister.

Mr Kenny has invested a lot of political capital in Dr Reilly, who is a constant annoyance to the Labour Party.

But the crisis-ridden Health Minister appears safe in his position as Mr Kenny is so loyal and the Labour Party won't move on him.

Irish Independent

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