Monday 18 December 2017

Howlin falls way short of public sector savings target

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has come under fire to defend “spurious” savings figures he promised would be achieved under the Haddington Road Agreement.

Numerous leading agencies — including the Health Service Executive (HSE) and An Garda Siochana — have confirmed they will not achieve the stated savings targets set out by Mr Howlin and his department this year.

The shortfall is likely to impact on October’s Budget, heaping further pressure on the embattled Coalition.

In relation to An Garda Siochana, Haddington Road savings were 40pc below target in 2013 and are expected to be 45pc below target this year.

Following the signing of the agreement last June, gardai were told that they had to find savings of €15m before the end of the year. But the force has said that they were only able to find €9m in savings in 2013.

The Garda estimate for 2014 is that the force will only be able to achieve €16m out of €29m sought by Mr Howlin’s Department this year.

New Health Minister Leo Varadkar has already had to confront the realisation that the HSE is also set to miss its €290m savings target in 2014 by as much as €100m.

The Sunday Independent sought information from a number of employee-heavy departments and agencies about the efficiencies achieved by Haddington Road, but it was not forthcoming.

Fianna Fail has severely criticised Mr Howlin’s “consistent refusal” to give an exact breakdown of where the savings were to be achieved.

Sean Fleming, the party’s Public Expenditure and Reform spokesman, said Mr Howlin’s savings targets are “spurious, completely unrealistic and unachievable”.

“The Haddington Road agreement is only delivering €16m out of €30m, which means it is only achieving marginally over half of what we have been told the savings would be,” Mr Fleming told the Sunday Independent.

“That is well over half but a long way short of the actual target.

“Has this been built into the estimate for the year? When the minister announces the estimate on budget day, will this cause difficulty?

“The Department has been asked to find €29m this year and can only achieve €16m. Where will the other €30m be achieved? Will it involve a supplementary estimate?” he asked.

Mr Fleming also obtained information from gardai that targeted savings from staff earning over €65,000 failed to deliver as much as 40pc of the figure laid down by Mr Howlin and his officials.

Garda Finance Director Michael Culhane last week told the Public Accounts Committee that the Garda Inspectorate is currently conducting a review of measures within the force that may identify additional savings.

“If there is a shortfall, we must address it through the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform,” Mr Culhane said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Howlin said that, with approximately two years remaining in the lifetime of the Haddington Road Agreement, more than 75pc (€762m) of the €1bn reduction targeted, has been incorporated into the relevant departmental budgets.

She added: “Haddington Road has also facilitated a reform dividend allowing for the recruitment of extra nurses, guards, teachers, and special needs assistants by way of an increase in public service numbers above previous targets.”

The Public Service

Exchequer Pay Bill will have been reduced by 22pc from €17.5bn gross in 2009 to an estimated €14.6bn gross — or €13.6bn net — by the end of 2014.

Mr Howlin’s spokeswoman added: “It is clear that the Haddington Road Agreement has and will continue to facilitate significant reductions in the Public Service Exchequer Pay Bill, and it is critical that public service management continue to pursue the maximum savings that are enabled by the Agreement.”

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