Saturday 16 December 2017

Senior civil servant wants it to be easier to sack public sector staff

Robert Watt
Robert Watt
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

One of the most senior civil servants in Ireland has said that it should be made easier to sack public sector workers who under-perform.

The secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), Robert Watt, proposed that the public service should adopt the practices already used in the private sector – "in effect, writing a cheque to move somebody out".

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, he issued a stark warning to workers that while the public sector does have a disciplinary code, "the challenge is to ensure that HR managers and managers have effective tools to ensure that people who aren't performing are subject to those procedures".

He said those procedures should include dismissal. The scheme could target middle and top management who fail to perform.

"We know in the private sector, particularly when it comes to senior leaders when there are issues around performance, that people are exited out and that usually comes in the form of a payment or a package.

"That's done in a way which respects confidentiality, so that people don't know exactly why somebody left or the conditions of their departure," he said.

Mr Watt, the most senior civil servant in the department which oversees public reform, said he would welcome a debate about whether that type of approach would be appropriate in the public sector.

"So if we do see somebody who has not necessarily broken disciplinary procedures in some way but is not performing the way we'd like, that perhaps you could have a conversation and say, 'Look, we're going to buy out the remainder of your contract,'" he said.

He also said the public service should not be seen as representing a "job for life" and that greater mobility within the system is needed.

Mr Watt added: "I think we do need a much more fluid system, a more mobile system, much more mobility of people coming into the system and moving out, we need to attract much more people at middle management and senior level, not just at the entry grade."

In January, an independent panel produced a report on civil service reform which was commissioned by DPER, and Minister Howlin's response to its recommendations is due to be published in September.

Mr Watt indicated that it may include the proposals he has outlined.

Irish Independent

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