Reform minister faces battle to deliver changes
Coalition plans to cut up to 21,000 jobs
Published 07/03/2011 | 05:00
THE first cabinet minister for public sector reform faces historic obstacles to achieve a real transformation of state services.
Joan Burton, who is tipped to take up the new portfolio, will have to roll out the promises made in the Croke Park deal that was brokered a year ago but has shown little evidence of deep-seated change.
The task will be tougher than the outgoing Government's, as the new Coalition has committed to bigger job cuts across the state workforce.
Its Programme for Government goes well beyond the target set out over the next three years under the €85bn bailout deal agreed by Fianna Fail and the Green Party.
The new Coalition plans to slash up to 9,000 jobs from the public service on top of around 12,000 the outgoing Government was aiming for.
Fine Gael and Labour have announced a reduction of between 18,000 and 21,000 public servants by 2014, followed by another 4,000 departures the following year, while protecting frontline services.
However, the new target of a reduction of up to 25,000 public servants by 2015 is a significant compromise on the 30,000 Fine Gael promised by 2014 in its five-point plan during the election campaign.
Although all the redundancies will be voluntary, the plan could face major resistance from unions as the job losses are likely to require mass redeployment of public servants to fill vacancies.
Under the Croke Park deal, the Government can force public servants to move to other sections of state services, but this power has not been tested.
Fine Gael has already threatened public servants' pay will not be safe if it does not get the staff cuts it wants.
The new minister will also have to show real evidence that the Croke Park deal is delivering the major reforms promised by public servants in return for a guarantee that their pay, pensions and jobs are safe.
In addition, he or she may face a major backlash from the public if refunds of pay cuts are made to public servants under a pay review that is due to start soon, without real evidence of change.
It is difficult to know what has been achieved under the Croke Park agreement as there has still been no official report on progress on its reforms or a figure put on the savings made.
The implementation body that is overseeing the 'transformation' programme will not issue its first comprehensive update until the end of this month.
It has highlighted some reforms that have been achieved on a website.
They include the redeployment of staff to departments trying to cope with the rise in joblessness, the introduction of a longer working day in medical laboratories, and axing of time off given to civil servants to cash cheques.
But government departments and agencies have only just submitted revised sectoral plans for health, education, the civil service, prisons, and gardai, which contain lists of ambitious targets.
The new Programme for Government adds extra aims to the list of reforms, and promises there will be no more "golden handshakes" for public servants who fail to deliver, and a new incentive scheme for staff to improve services.
It also says that it will "empower" public servants by devolving more power. However, it gives little detail on how it will achieve any of these targets.