Monday 14 October 2019

New decentralisation plan to allow civil servants move out of the capital to regions

Budget scheme to ease pressure on housing and boost towns

Past lessons: Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McCreevy’s decentralisation programme was deemed a failure
Past lessons: Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McCreevy’s decentralisation programme was deemed a failure
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A new decentralisation scheme for civil servants is on the table as part of the negotiations for Budget 2020, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The programme could see civil servants from a range of departments base themselves in offices in regional towns rather than Dublin.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is considering more flexible working arrangements as one way of reducing pressure for housing and other services in the capital.

However, ministers will want to ensure this is not seen as a repeat of the decentralisation debacle during Fianna Fáil's time in government.

It is likely that a survey of workers would be carried out before any moves are planned.

OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran confirmed to the Irish Independent he is pushing the initiative as part of the Independent Alliance's involvement in Budget negotiations.

OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran. Photo: Tom Burke
OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran. Photo: Tom Burke

"I think it's definitely something we have to look at. I know people will say, 'Oh, here we go all over again'.

"But no time ago we were scrapping e-voting machines and saying they were a thing of the past, then we have a big long count in the European elections and it's being looked at again," he said.

Fianna Fáil's Charlie McCreevy famously set up a failed decentralisation programme 15 years ago.

It was planned that some 10,300 civil and public service jobs would move to 53 centres across 25 counties. However, only around one-third of that number actually ended up relocating.

Mr Moran said his proposal was for a more targeted scheme. He has suggested that Athlone and Sligo be civil service hubs on the basis that the two towns are targeted for substantial growth in the Government's Ireland 2040 plan.

"While not being critical of government in the past, decentralisation was a case of 'one for everybody in the audience'. We need to have a more focused approach," he said.

The minister said he regularly met workers who were commuting to Dublin for hours every day or else being forced to pay large rents to live in the city.

"We should identify sites and allow wings from different departments build up. It works quite well in my own department, travelling up and down to Trim. We've an office in Claremorris too," said the Westmeath TD.

"We're talking about a housing crisis. A lot of young civil servants are renting in Dublin and would rather be down the country.

"And as I get deeper into my department, I see that we are paying out tens of millions in rent.

"We have to do it, but I'm also conscious that we are tying up huge accommodation space that could be used for companies to invest."

It comes as representatives of Chambers Ireland will today tell the Oireachtas Budget Oversight Committee that the Government needs to address the lack of planning and under-investment in regional cities and towns.

Aidan Doyle, of the Sligo Chamber, will say existing policy is "contributing to the doughnut-ing that happened in larger cities like Dublin and this leads to long commutes and suburban sprawl".

In a statement to the committee, Mr Doyle says: "Life is for living, and our State organisations should be assisting regional cities and towns across the country, including Sligo, to develop and attract new investment as places where people want to work and live."

He calls for Mr Donohoe to give a tax incentive in Budget 2020 for the regeneration of residential and commercial properties in regional towns.

Irish Independent

Also in Business