The Government could start tackling the culture of waste by clearing out the consultants
At last some realism is entering the public debate on the economy. The prospect of not being able to borrow the cash to pay the day-to-day bills is concentrating the minds of the chattering classes. But we still have some way to go before we make meaningful inroads on the errors and bad habits of the past decade.
In that infamous Morning Ireland interview with our nasally challenged Taoiseach, I found myself just as frustrated with the interviewer, Cathal Mac Coille, as with Brian Cowen. The RTE man kept banging on about the proposed €3bn saving in the upcoming Budget, whereas I wanted to hear Cowen tell us his plans for dealing with the other €17bn budget deficit gap.
Since then the question of the gaping Budget deficit has moved centre stage, but I feel that the country is still not addressing the culture of waste and excess salaries and perks in the public service. Cutbacks are being made in crucial frontline services to the vulnerable people in our society, while the fat cats remain almost untouched.
Our priorities for spending the expensive borrowed cash remain askew. Reading Wasters, written by Shane Ross and Nick Webb, has reinforced the image of an Irish economy run on an orgy of greed without accountability.
Two of the issues that stick out are the roles of consultants to Government departments and of special advisers to politicians and public body bosses.
Instead of getting down and being honest with each other, we are still being fed a diet of spin. Why do we need such a high spend on outside consultancy? Why do politicians need extra special advisers? What are the highly paid civil servants in the departments doing if they cannot offer economic guidelines and advice to their minister? Is there nobody around in our public institutions that can do sums and make a decision?
These issues are at the heart of our national malaise.
My take on consultants is that they are brought in either as a means of postponing a decision or of passing the responsibility of making a decision away from the minister or a public servant. Often the consultant is informed of the conclusion that is expected of them, even before the exercise gets under way.