Thursday 19 September 2019

'Poor' public service blasted for perks and wage hikes

Brendan Keenan and Fionnan Sheahan

IRELAND'S public sector pay bill has ballooned by almost 90pc in seven years, new figures reveal.

But despite soaring wages and the hiring of 100,000 extra workers, international experts studying our public service have been told it is overstaffed, overpaid and is dragging down the economy.

The figures are contained in a damning submission by the small business group ISME to analysts at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).

It says just one in five of firms they surveyed thought Irish public services were good, while one in three described them as "poor".

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has asked the OECD to produce a report on the public service by the end of the year.

Its brief is "to benchmark the public service in Ireland against other comparable countries and make recommendations regarding future directions for public service reform".

The move came as the benchmarking committee prepares to say whether public servants should get another round of pay increases on top of their national awards, annual increments and special rises and performance bonuses.

In its submission, ISME claimed that average public sector pay had increased by 47pc since 2000, while private sector pay had gone up by 38pc in the same period.

The recruitment of another 100,000 public sector workers means the total rise in public sector pay costs was 87pc.

"In every aspect of performance, quality, efficiencies and value for money, the public sector in Ireland has failed miserably, and in the process denies the public the service to which it is entitled," ISME said.

Mr Ahern said during the election campaign that there was public concern about the level of public service, and this was one reason he had asked for the OECD study.

Downgraded

Last month Peter McLoone, the general secretary of the biggest public sector union, said the public sector would have to improve its standing with the public or risk being downgraded.

Fine Gael last night backed ISME's conclusions on the public sector.

Finance spokesman Richard Bruton said despite receiving a massive boost in expenditure in recent years, the public sector had failed to deliver better services. "The health service budget has quadrupled in the past decade, but is still not delivering," he told the Irish Independent.

"Ultimately there is a genuine issue of political leadership that you set targets, demand performance. And you don't pay benchmarking unless you get delivery in these areas, you don't pay bonuses to senior management unless targets are met.

"But all of these have been treated as perks." The Government last night refused to comment on ISME's submission.

The findings of the submission contrast strongly with a separate business survey commissioned by the Taoiseach's department on customer satisfaction with Government departments and offices.

It found that 69pc of people found the Civil Service to be at least fairly efficient.

However, ISME has complained that despite higher pay, better pensions and job security, public sector workers had given nothing in terms of industrial relations or more flexible working.

It called for the immediate end to the management bonus scheme, on the grounds that every manager who applies gets the bonus, and all get roughly the same amount. "It is nothing more than an income top-up."

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