Saturday 20 January 2018

Fear of bullying claims hits public-sector reform

Senior officials express grave doubts over viability of Croke Park deal


Public-sector reform is impossible because managers "fear" they will not be "backed up" and could be accused of bullying if they try to tackle underperformance, top civil servants have said.

Confidential Department of Finance documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show senior officials have expressed grave doubts over the viability of the Croke Park deal.

These documents come amid fresh concern that the agreement is not delivering and follow comments by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar that compulsory redundancies must form part of any new Croke Park deal.

The documents provide a startling insight into the mindset at the top of the civil service. According to the documents, senior officials sought to defend the lack of reform within the system and the resistance shown by managers because of "a fear of being accused of bullying".

"Willingness of managers to award low ratings is low. Managers feel that they will not be backed up if they address underperformance and fear that they may be accused of bullying, which has happened in the past," the documents state.

Speaking following the publication of the second review on the Croke Park deal, Minister Brendan Howlin said that pockets of resistance remain at management level in sections of the public sector.

While he welcomed the findings of the agreement's implementation body, which found it had saved almost €1.5bn in two years, Mr Howlin called on lower and middle management to "identify any barriers" to ensure reform does take place.

"Managers haven't embraced reform as enthusiastically as I would have liked . . . I want people to go further," he said. "We've a lot more to do. Will there be resistance? Of course there will be resistance. People don't like change. Some embrace it with more enthusiasm than others and some will resist it."

But it is clear from the comments in the released documents that chronic failures in tracking and monitoring performance management hampered attempts to improve the work rates of officials.

"The level of compliance with, and effectiveness of, performance management was not adequate," the officials claimed.

There was also an admission that within the Department of Finance, there are "very few levers it can use to ensure compliance with the Croke Park Agreement other than Budget allocation", the documents state.

The comments casting doubt on the viability of Croke Park were made in a series of meetings conducted during a review of the Department of Finance, conducted by Canadian civil servant Rob Wright.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan's department resisted the release of the documents concerned for more than a year but following an appeal they were handed over in the past month.

The comments were recorded during a meeting with a group of senior department officials which included Ciaran Connolly, a now retired secretary general in Finance and Michael Errity and Brendan Duffy, both assistant secretaries within the department.

They were interviewed by Mr Wright and his team, including economist Pat McArdle, and Carmel Keane of the Department of Finance.

Sunday Independent

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