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More for less but nobody noticed

The publication of an ESRI report showing that people noticed no improvement in the quality of many public services between 2003 and 2007, despite a €6bn increase in the amount being spent on those services over the same period, highlights the scale of the challenge facing Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin.

The ESRI 'Quality of public services: Irish public perceptions and implications for renewal' report surveyed popular attitudes to public services between 2003 and 2007, at a time when government spending on such services was rising rapidly.

However, for many of the most important public services including health, public transport and services to the elderly, public satisfaction was well below the average recorded for similar surveys conducted in other European countries.

Even more worryingly, not alone does the satisfaction of the Irish public with the quality of some public services, particularly health, lag behind the European average, public satisfaction with such services also seems to be declining in absolute terms.

Public satisfaction with the pension system also declined between 2003 and 2007.

The good news is that some Irish public services, most notably education, recorded significant increases in public satisfaction between 2003 and 2007.

Not surprisingly, public satisfaction with the Irish education system is also well above the European average.

In many respects the quality of public services report measures results from a bygone era.

Since then the Celtic Tiger, and the abundant tax revenue that seemed to make everything possible, has vanished. With Ireland now in the midst of the worst economic downturn since independence 90 years ago, the new mantra is more for less.

In future our public services must squeeze ever more results from constantly decreasing resources.

The good news is that the current government, by appointing a minister with specific responsibility for public sector reform, seems to get this.

The bad news is that public sector trade union leaders, if the current debate on the future of the Croke Park deal is any guide, don't. For the public sector trade union bosses it would appear as if the clock stopped sometime in mid-2007.

By failing to adapt to altered circumstances they are failing their rank and file members. Most ordinary public sector workers realise that the country is bust and that things have to change.

They want to be part of the solution rather than of the problem. It is only by doing so that they can continue to provide the Irish people with the high-quality public services that we have a right to expect.

Irish Independent