Saturday 24 February 2018

We need to be tougher on reform plans

Anne Marie Walsh

PUBLIC sector reform is a mysterious subject. Yet it is something many of us feel we have a stake in, especially since we have tightened our purse strings and are more fussy about how our taxes are spent.

There is no doubt that big public sector savings have been achieved since the Government coffers first lay bare.

The workforce has shrunk by 30,000, pay was cut, and state workers make bigger contributions towards pensions.

Obsolete work practices like privilege days and 'bank time' have been axed. Holiday and sick leave have been standardised.

But it is difficult to find out what has been achieved on other reforms under the Croke Park and Haddington Road deals.

They include 'extensive redeployment', longer opening hours in public offices, and opening up job competitions to the private sector.

This is because we rely on the reports of ministers and spin doctors, or consultants who depend on public service managers' accounts to draw conclusions.

These reports are usually 'glowing', as they focus on what has been achieved. Most of the time, there is little or no mention of what has not.

What does not inspire confidence is the incredible lack of information those in charge of reform in the Department of Public Expenditure actually have.

Minister Howlin – although no stranger to government – has admitted he knew nothing about some jaw-dropping examples of 'low-hanging fruit' brought to light by the media, such as massive payouts to retiring senior civil servants and local government managers' holiday leave entitlements.

To be fair to Minister Howlin, he came up with his own reform plan that could save us a lot of money.

But the problem is his new targets are not reported on with the old ones, so it is difficult to work out where we stand.

What's needed is a tougher approach from Mr Howlin and a report by an author who is not worried about hurting anyone's feelings. If there are obstacles to reform, it should spell out what or who these are, before wasting a rainforest of paper on the subject.

The public deserves to know if they are getting value for money.

Irish Independent

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