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Sunday 21 April 2019

Finance department inefficient and its officials 'stressed out'

Senan Molony, Deputy Political Editor

INDEPENDENT consultants hired by the Department of Finance to assess its operations have branded it inefficient because of stress and complain that it is lacking in clear communications.

The Institute of Public Administration (IPA), in a hard-hitting new report on the capacity of the Department, appears to single out Minister Brian Lenihan's most senior mandarins for criticism.

In a summary of findings from its internal consultation with staff, the IPA authors say they were told by civil servants of "a need for greater leadership and direction from the top".

There is a need for quick transmission of the official Department view "on a range of issues", in order to avoid a situation whereby its various divisions adopt different positions in conflict with each other, the newly delivered report says.

"The Department should be involved in improving organisational development across the civil service," the IPA recommends, such as by promoting good practice in relation to how efficiently and effectively resources are used.

But the consultants warn that the Department's current relationship with other government departments is "very complex and uncertain".

Concern

In a chastening commentary that will concern Mr Lenihan, it bluntly declares: "There appears to be a lack of clear direction in this regard."

On the one hand, staff are being encouraged to trust other wings of government by allowing autonomy for other departments. But other signals are that they should adopt a strict oversight role.

Certain sections of the Department of Finance "felt very stretched" and unable to devote time to policy areas because of their monitoring and sanctioning role, the IPA report says. This situation was made worse by a sense among staff that at times they were doing the work of other departments, whose proposals, costings and estimates were inadequate, the consultants advised.

Stressed staff reported that very close 'shadowing' of other departments was required because their submissions to Finance were not up to scratch.

The IPA declares: "The Department needs to become more strategic in its actions. At present it is too task-oriented, too driven by current pressures and too reactive."

The report notes that many people work very hard in the Department, but says this leaves it vulnerable. "If someone gets sick it can seriously impact on workloads. Work complexity is growing all the time."

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