Thursday 23 November 2017

Civil servants leaving for private sector jobs, government is warned

Chief civil servant says private sector pay attracting workers

SURVEY: Robert Watt says next government will have to increase civil servants’ pay. Photo: Steve Humphreys
SURVEY: Robert Watt says next government will have to increase civil servants’ pay. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The next government will have to increase public sector pay or risk losing highly-skilled workers to the private sector, one of the country's most senior civil servants has warned.

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform secretary general Robert Watt said talented civil servants are being lured into the private sector by better pay and conditions as the economy improves.

Mr Watt's warnings harks back to the Celtic Tigers years when civil service pay soared under a Fianna Fail led governments due to fears of a brain drain in the public sector.

He said the civil service is still able to attract people of "high quality and very high calibre" but said as the labour market continues to improve it will become more difficult to retain staff.

"We have a lot of talented, very skilled people here and they can find opportunities outside the public service and we are starting to see some movement," Mr Watt said.

"The staff turnover has increased and some people are moving out. It depends on the area. Certain skills are in very high demand - legal, accountancy, economics, statisticians, data analysts. We are seeing the Labour market is having an impact on us and that is going to be a challenge in terms of pay expectations and how we structure our pay into the future," he added.

Mr Watt was speaking following the launch of the first-ever survey of civil servant attitudes.

The survey found more than two-thirds of civil servant believe colleagues who under-perform are not "effectively addressed" by senior management.

Another third believe senior managers are not held accountable for not achieving results and two-in-five said departments do not measure job performance to ensure staff are achieving results.

However, four-in-five civil servants are confident in their ability and skill to carry out their jobs, and 70pc of workers have a "sense of energy, connection and fulfilment" from their work.

But just one-in-five believes their work is valued by the public, and a mere 15pc believe the public respects and appreciates their work.

Mr Watt said the results showed serious challenges for the civil services which need to be addressed by the next government.

"Some of the answers are very positive (and) others are more uncomfortable for us and that's just the way things are so we have to respond to it," Mr Watt said.

"We know we have to do much better to generate a performance culture," he added.

The survey also found almost half of workers do not believe their department has a "clear and fair" promotions process, while 52pc said they do not think they have opportunities for promotion.

More than half believe they are not adequately paid for their role and 55pc believe even if they do perform well, they will not be promoted.

Some 68pc of civil servants do not agree that performance is effectively addressed in their Departments.

Mr Watt said the decentralisation of the civil service is still causing major problems for civil servants. He said the relocating of Dublin-based departments and State agencies to other areas of the country means there are fewer opportunities for civil servants who work in rural locations to earn promotions.

"The original decentralisation programme was a mistake, but it's very hard to back the train into the station because people have moved, set down roots with offices, people have family commitments and it's very hard to recentralise," Mr Watt said.

Sunday Independent

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