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Thursday 22 March 2018

Howlin vows to ramp up Croke Park deal reforms

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

THE new minister in charge of reforming the public sector last night vowed to immediately push through the major reforms promised in the Croke Park deal.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, Brendan Howlin was highly critical of the slow progress in implementing the year-old agreement.

And he revealed he would order public-sector managers to ramp up the promised 'transformation' of state services by carrying out detailed reviews that will list the chief obstacles to reform.

Mr Howlin said management would be asked to take the lead in rolling out the deal that protects public servants from pay and pension cuts and compulsory redundancies, and to identify 'surplus' staff.

"It's self-evident that the deal hasn't been driven since it was agreed and it now has to be a priority and we have to see the results," Mr Howlin said.

"I felt coming into the job that reform has been too slow.

"From discussions before the election, I believe there was a willingness from the union side to engage and management has to lead it now and engage in a way that will bring in change.

"I want to see an immediate and comprehensive review of where we are in the Croke Park deal from the departments, what the deficiencies are, and why it has not progressed quicker."

Some reforms promised in the deal, including the elimination of time off given to civil servants to lodge cheques, and the redeployment of public servants to the busy social welfare department, have been achieved.

But other measures, including extra working hours for teachers each week and longer opening hours in public offices, have shown little progress.

Mr Howlin said he would also launch a review of spending in each department and state agency, which would assess whether it represented value for money, and pinpoint where surplus staff existed.

This review of staffing would be carried out in preparation for the Government's plan to cut the number of public servants by up to 25,000 by 2015.

This is 9,000 more staff than the old Fianna Fail/Green government planned to cut over the next three years.

It will be achieved by voluntary redundancies and not replacing those who retire.

The new minister said the 18,000 reduction target set by Labour in the election campaign was a ballpark figure and the review would give a clearer picture of excess staff.

Fine Gael had pushed for a 10pc reduction in the workforce of over 300,000 by 2014.

The compromise in the Programme for Government was a cut of up to 25,000 public servants over a longer timeframe up to 2015. "It is not an exact science," Mr Howlin added.

"The 18,000 reduction is a figure that we looked at across departments in advance to see what could realistically be appropriate, but we will firm up those numbers. What matters for us is to drive the reform agenda in cost terms and we want to move away from a crude numbers game, which was a preoccupation of the past.

"We will ask departments to look critically at everything they're doing and justify it, including quangos and agencies, and identify surplus staff," he said.

However, he said it was too early to comment on whether pay cuts would be refunded to public servants when the first pay review under the Croke Park deal gets under way soon.

Under the agreement, pay cuts can be returned if a pay review body finds "sufficient" savings have been made through reforms.

Labour's manifesto on public sector reform recommended cuts in the number of management grades, but aimed to give them more freedom to manage staff and budgets.

Irish Independent

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