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Saturday 17 February 2018

Civil servants to lose own offices


Senior civil servants are to lose their entitlement to their own offices under a radical plan being brought to Government.

The Sunday Independent can reveal that ministers Brian Hayes and Brendan Howlin are to bring a memo to Cabinet to increase the powers of the Office of Public Works (OPW) which will enable them to force staff in other departments to move location.

"Traditionally we have had to cajole people to move. Now we will have the power to make them move, and have two or three agencies in the one building sharing services," Mr Hayes said.

Included in Mr Hayes's memo, which will allow him adopt a "carrot and stick" approach with other departments, is a plan to end the entitlement of civil servants, over a certain grade, to their own offices.

They will in future have to work in open-plan offices alongside their colleagues, which Mr Hayes believes is a more efficient setup.

"The days of closed offices for Sir Humphrey types are over," Mr Hayes said. "The right to a single cellular office will be abolished in favour of open-plan offices, which are vastly more efficient."

He said that, in the past, moves were held up because there wasn't enough car parking spaces for senior management, but such inflexibilities can no longer be tolerated.

Unions yesterday poured cold water on the proposals, saying they are willing to engage in the reform process but such reforms have to be done in line with the Croke Park deal.

Mr Hayes said this "highly significant memo" will go to Cabinet within the next few weeks.

It is also planned that redundant garda stations and other unused State buildings are to be considered for use as primary care centres, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The news comes as almost 80 stations around the country have already closed, and there are concerns about the cost of maintaining such abandoned buildings. Some high-profile stations in Dublin, such as Harcourt Terrace and Dalkey, are among those already shut.

Mr Hayes, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, which manages the State's property portfolio, said he does not have the money to fund the ongoing management of empty buildings.

"We have a number of buildings which are not being used, so if they are suitable I will be recommending that they are used for things like primary care centres. There is no point building more stock when we have unused buildings in our possession," he told the Sunday Independent.

Since the recent controversy over primary care centres involving Health Minister James Reilly, who was accused of stroke politics by Roisin Shortall, his former junior minister, doubt has been raised over the viability of a large number of the centres on the list.

"Managing the State portfolio is a lot like playing chess, with some pieces not willing to move. There is about 100 empty buildings at present out of a stock of 2,200. We need to ensure that we are not wasting taxpayers' money by building new buildings when we could easily make use of what we already have," Mr Hayes said.

Sunday Independent

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