| 8°C Dublin

Scrapped 'price watchdog' to spend €360,000 on PR

A STATE agency earmarked for abolition by the end of the year plans to spend €360,000 on a public relations contract over the next three years.

The National Consumer Agency has sought companies to provide the service, despite the fact it will be amalgamated with the Competition Authority in the next two months.

The move comes after Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said that more than 100 so-called quangos would be rationalised, abolished or amalgamated with other state agencies by the end of this year.

However, plans to merge another 120 bodies will not take place until at least the end of 2013, he admitted.

The commitment for a cull of the agencies was a key promise of Fine Gael in the run-up to last year's general election, and is contained in the Programme for Government.

While some agencies were now sharing back-office staff such as payroll, IT and finance, some mergers have been delayed or abandoned because of other factors.

For example, plans to abolish the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board has been deferred pending a decision on the location for the National Children's Hospital.

Other mergers have been abandoned, including plans to merge the Road Safety Authority with the Railway Safety Commission and Maritime Safety Directorate into a single transport safety body.

The Government has also decided not to proceed with the absorption of the National Cancer Registry into the Department of Health.

The slow rate of progress was defended by government sources, who said a lot of progress had been made. Savings of up to €20m were targetted this year, which would be achieved, they insisted.

"The overall objective is to reduce duplication, it's not going to yield significant savings," a source said.

Landscape

"The government hasn't decided not to proceed with them (other mergers), but more work is required.

"Agencies have been told to share back-office services and cut costs, but it's a question of prioritisation.

"You've built a landscape of agencies. We're trying to disentangle a scheme that's built up over 25 years."

The 48 rationalisation measures set out in the Public Service Reform Plan as outlined by Mr Howlin last November covered 102 individual bodies, including 17 VECs and 35 city and county enterprise boards, which will go at the end of the year.

Others include merging Forfas, an advisory board for enterprise and science, with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; and amalgamating the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Crawford Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Ireland.

Ministers have been asked to conduct a further 24 'critical reviews' that will affect 116 agencies. All will be merged with other agencies or into government departments by the end of next year, including the National Competitiveness Council, Shannon Development and the Chester Beatty Library.

Ten other measures will not go ahead, including the Department of Agriculture taking responsibility for Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the merging of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Local Government Audit Service.

Any agency earmarked to go this year will not receive any funding for 2013 unless there is an agreed rationalisation programme.

This includes the National Consumer Agency (NCA).

The tender documents say it expects to be merged with the Competition Authority during the term of the contract, and the successful bidder should "offer flexibility".

The NCA was not available for comment.

Irish Independent