Business Irish

Saturday 16 December 2017

Maeve Dineen: Croke deal leaves some animals more equal than others

Maeve Dineen

In George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' the mighty carthorse Boxer inspires the other animals with his heroic cry of "I will work harder". He gets up at the crack of dawn to do a couple of hours' extra ploughing.

He even refuses to take the day off when he splits his hoof, while his trusted friend Benjamin, the old donkey, proclaims that regardless of the management changes on the farm "life will go on as it has always gone on-- that is, badly."

While 'Animal Farm' portrays poor leadership as the flaw in a revolution (and not the revolution itself), it also shows how potential ignorance and indifference to problems allow horrors to happen again if issues aren't acted upon.

This may seem a long way from the Croke Park Agreement and indeed it is, but the fate of the deal -- and, even more, its delivery in practice -- is central to the success of its eventual outcome.

It is therefore somewhat dispiriting to hear the Financial Regulator is looking to beef up its numbers by a third over the next two years.

True, the Central Bank needs to reform and two reports into its handling of the banking crisis said some sectors within the bank were chronically understaffed. But has it misjudged the mood of the public?

The Croke Park deal was based on the premise that the number of staff in the public sector would be reduced and people would rearrange their rigid work practices.

But the regulator has now placed the recruitment of new highly-skilled risk and supervisory staff at the heart of its reformation plans.

In total, the regulator aims to add 350 employees over the next two years. This will bring total staff numbers at the central bank and the financial regulator to more than 1,400.

What exactly are they all doing when the banking sector that they are watching over is shrinking by the day?

The Bank of Finland -- the equivalent to our Central Bank -- employs just 650 staff and has a much more complex banking system to safeguard. It has also managed to halve its staff numbers since the introduction of the euro, which it says has resulted in "a much smaller IT unit that must manage an increasing volume of systems and data".

By contrast we have almost doubled our staff numbers, many of whom are on an average salary of €80,000 a year.

Ironically, a report into best practice at the Bank of Finland states that its mission statement is: "Do more with less resources."

Sound familiar? Yes it does because we have a national policy that says we must get more with less. We must find ways to provide decent and improving public services with the €55bn a year which is the best that will be available for several years to come.

The Central Bank has the opportunity now to set a great example by getting serious about work practices and radically reinventing itself while maintaining staffing levels.

Whether we like it or not, we must also do more with less resources. The Central Bank is one of the country's main preachers -- the Old Major of 'Animal Farm' -- and like any preacher it should lead the way at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty and job insecurity.

The public sector, under the Croke Park Agreement, has obtained a commitment of no compulsory redundancies. They ensured their pay rates would be insulated from further reduction and obtained protection for premium payments. But the stark economic facts are: exchequer returns for 2010 continue to decline; total tax take this year will be down more than €20bn on two years ago; VAT, stamp duty and employment receipts from construction and property are gone for the foreseeable future; and extra borrowings of €20bn are needed this year just to finance current expenditure.

The Government is spending €2bn more per month on current services than it is receiving in taxation and the difference is being funded by ratcheting up the national debt where the interest costs will devour any future revenue.

The fact remains that top-heavy staffing levels in our bloated bureaucracies are self-evident. Efficiency, productivity and flexibility are long overdue. All animals are equal, remember. But some animals are more equal than others.

Irish Independent

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