Wednesday 26 October 2016

Public service needs an injection of youth

Published 04/10/2013 | 05:00

'Age and treachery will always overcome youth and enthusiasm' was one of the sayings from the television programme 'The Office'. Whether treachery is afoot in the corridors of power is a matter of speculation, but the reasonably youthful Secretary General of the Department of Public Enterprise and Reform, Robert Watt, certainly put the subject of age on the agenda yesterday when he told an Oireachtas committee that 45pc of public servants are over the age of 50, while just 4pc are under the age of 30.

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Mr Watt believes that the situation "reflects a planning failure" and few would disagree with that observation.

The age demographic of public servants in the local authorities is believed to be even higher.

It has to be a worrying situation in such a fast-moving, technologically driven era that the profile of those running the country is skewed in such a way. Of course, older people can and do embrace technology, but it is also important that there are people working in government who understand youth culture in its broadest form – after all, they are the future.

There are probably many and varied reasons for the disturbing situation that has now arisen in the public service.

During the boom era the hierarchical structure of the civil service may not have proved attractive to people with ambition, especially when they were seeing the fortunes made by their peers in sectors associated with property and finance.

Benchmarking was intended to remedy this, but instead it became a mere mechanism for politicians and public servants to pay themselves more while accepting little of the responsibility that devolves to those in the private sector.

Now that the public service and its pension provisions have become an attractive employment possibility again, there is, unfortunately, a moratorium on employment.

Large organisations, such as the civil service, need a mix of age, experience, youth and enthusiasm as well as many other qualities. An imbalance in any of these areas can lead to a distortion in policy.

It is quite clear that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Irish Independent

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