Saturday 16 December 2017

Taxpayer footing €2bn bill for special public-sector allowances


Special allowances and overtime pay in the public sector are estimated to have cost the State close to €2bn last year.

The allowances -- paid in addition to basic salary -- cover a staggering variety of activities, including allowances for 'acting up' to the duties of a more senior grade, on-call allowances, shift allowances, foreign service allowances and 'scene-of-crime' allowances.

Among the major beneficiaries was the programme manager to former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Joe Lennon, who was paid €83,391 in 2010 for what has been described as "higher, special or additional duties".

According to a spokesman, Mr Lennon was on secondment from another government department.

"The allowance he received made up the difference between his salary in his substantive grade as a civil servant in his parent department and the remuneration provided for in his contract in this department, which was set at a higher civil-service grade level in accordance with his duties. The officer's remuneration in 2009 included a payment of €56,913 in respect of arrears from a period in 2008 when the full allowance was not paid. He also took a voluntary 10 per cent reduction in salary in 2009, ie €22,192."

The Taoiseach's department alone spent a total of €382,000 on extra allowances in 2010, with 12 officials getting €10,000 or more each.

Over at the Department of Transport, one individual was paid €54,222 in special allowances, with €1.4m paid out in total for extra allowances and 105 officers benefiting from payments of €10,000 or more each.

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation paid €763,000 to 114 people in allowances, including €56,316 to one individual on secondment to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

But the biggest spender on allowances was the HSE, with a bill of €124m for allowances, €177m for overtime, €73m in night-duty allowance, €190m on weekend work and €55m for on-call allowance-- which comes to over €600m in total.

One individual in the HSE was paid a staggering €186,004 in allowances. The maximum individual payment for overtime was €135,100, while €111,675 was paid to just one individual for on-call allowance and €104,460 was paid to one individual in "other" allowances.

In 2007, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee called for a service-wide review of allowances after it found that 1,060 members of the Defence Forces continued to be paid an allowance for border duties, even though the basis for that allowance had not applied since 2002. In 2010, the committee questioned the continued payment of a rent allowance to all gardai, in the context of the recommendation in the Colm McCarthy Report (Bord Snip Nua) that savings of €50m should be made in respect of allowances paid to gardai.

In a report published in July of this year, the committee noted: "The rationale for payment of allowances, such as rent allowances, no longer appear to apply and, while these allowances have tended to become an integral part of pay and conditions in the public service, steps should be taken to stop payments to new members and have payments to existing job holders bought out."

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin's plans to cut the overtime and allowances bill by five per cent and 10 per cent respectively is expected to produce savings of €115m in 2012. Delivering his Budget speech on December 5, Mr Howlin said: "I expect all public service bodies to address inefficiencies in their systems, and achieve additional cost savings, through the introduction of new working arrangements, including new rosters where applicable."

However, with numbers employed in the public service falling by more than 20,000 since 2008 and projected to fall by a further 6,000 next year, including many retiring from senior grades, it is likely that the public sector will pay more in 'acting up' and other higher-duty allowances for the foreseeable future.

Sunday Independent

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