Friday 18 October 2019

Watchdog to tackle public-sector allowances after failed Howlin cull

Ed Carty

THE Government's spending watchdog is to examine public-sector allowances after a failed review succeeded in abolishing just one.

With Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin admitting defeat in a planned expenses clean-up, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has offered to do the job.

PAC chairman John McGuinness said it already intends to call for a special hospital consultant pre-retirement bonus to be binned.

"The Committee of Public Accounts can do a very good job for the taxpayer by putting all allowance payments under public scrutiny, and that is what we intend to do on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Mr McGuinness said he would allow the committee to question the heads of public bodies on the payment of allowances.

It is seeking information from accounting officers on the extent of allowances paid to staff, the rate, their value and the date they commenced.

The move follows Mr Howlin's report on the contentious allowance and expenses system.

He had planned to cut the bill by €75m this year but admitted failure, claiming only one of 1,100 allowances for existing staff could be scrapped - a €218 representational allowance for staff attending European Union meetings. That saved €3.5m.

Instead, he targeted the scrapping of a third of all allowances for new entrants.

Unions have been angered over the manner of the review, with some representatives suggesting that ministers have been unable to agree on scrapping allowances.

Impact, the largest public sector union, said no union was consulted or asked for input.

"Early this year, Impact told the department that it would trigger the Croke Park third-party adjudication process if it believed there was a case to be made against any management decision to discontinue any allowance that applied to Impact members," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: "The outcome of the review will provide management and unions on a sectoral basis the opportunity to identify and agree approaches to be taken in relation to the review/modification/abolition of allowances."

The teaching unions ASTI and the INTO insist their allowances are core pay while the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said their allowances are for specific additional duties for additional specialist qualification.

Tom Geraghty, head of the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU), claimed the issue of allowances had been skewed.

Mr McGuinness said the PAC will look at the process involved in the Government's allowance review. He said some need to become core pay while others will have to be proven to be justified.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is awaiting reports from ministers tomorrow with suggestions for new and accelerated savings, efficiencies and cost-cutting measures.

This will be followed next week with a meeting of the Croke Park implementation body to consider savings ideas.

An upcoming PAC report is to recommend an end to the one-year's salary bonus for consultants in lieu of overtime they worked in their career.

The committee's annual report will be published on September 27.

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