Friday 23 February 2018

The key reforms and what's really being delivered


Anne-Marie Walsh

PUBLIC-service reform plans are crying out for clarity. It is hard to keep up with all the documents that have been issued promising us "more for less" and a lean, mean public-sector machine.

We have had a series of action plans, followed by updated action plans, followed by reports on the Croke Park agreement.

Just when you might have felt you couldn't take any more, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin hauled another list of commandments yesterday.

To complicate matters further, the report of the body charged with overseeing the Croke Park deal, the Implementation Body, issued its latest report on the same day.

But there was little attempt to integrate the aims of the two documents to give a full picture of exactly what reforms we can expect, and when.

Where real action has been taken -- as in Mr Howlin's plans to bring in a uniform annual leave system -- this deserves applause. But we heard little that was new and no attention was drawn to changes that seem to have fallen by the wayside.

We have looked at some key reforms and tried to work out what has been delivered.

1 The Public Service Workforce

Promise: Cut the workforce to 282,500 by 2015, delivering savings of over €2.5bn.

Progress: The numbers reduction agreed with the troika is well ahead of target, but we don't know to what extent incentivised exit schemes will be offered, or how much they will cost.

Fears are growing that frontline services are being devastated by the "blunt instrument" being used to cut numbers by not replacing those who retire.

At the same time, the Government will have to find jobs for staff from axed quangos because it has guaranteed there will be no compulsory redundancies.

Marks: 7/10

2 The Working Week in Local Authorities

Promise: Standardise it by a deadline last April.

Progress: This has been parked. Local authority management said it had passed the issue to Mr Howlin's department, but now it appears to be back with the Implementation Body.

Half of staff are still on average working weeks of 33 hours and 45 minutes.

Marks: 0/10

3 Annual Leave and Privilege Days

Promise: Standardise leave and abolish privilege days.

Progress: Mr Howlin finally took the bull by the horns yesterday, although it is unclear if unions will accept his plans to cap leave at 32 days.

We do not know what impact the plan to compensate staff with extra holidays will have on services, given that the government does not know how many staff are entitled to it.

It appears that civil servants will hold onto privilege days, which have been converted into annual leave -- although secretaries general's holidays will be cut by a day.

Marks: 6/10

4 Sick Leave

Promise: A 10pc reduction in sick leave in the civil service.

Progress: Yesterday's progress report by the Implementation Body says the Department of Public Expenditure is working with HR managers to reform sick leave, but does not provide figures for achievements.

The department of Finance said an assessment will not be possible until it has end-of-year data.

Marks: 2/10

5 Redeployment

Promise:Extensive relocation of employees to understaffed areas of the public and civil service.

Progress: Difficult to assess. The Department of Finance does not have an overall figure for the numbers of staff who have relocated. Many examples have been given -- including "the elimination of a surplus of 200 teachers with an estimated full year saving of €12m".

But it is questionable whether the redeployment that has taken place deserves to be described as "extensive", given that uniform terms and conditions for staff are only beginning to be worked out.

Marks: 5/10

Irish Independent

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