New economic council is really just a subcommittee
Gatherings of senior management can lead to a sense of exclusion among other managers
THE WORKINGS of Cabinet government are seldom analysed in our political system so Stephen Collins’s feature yesterday on the Economic Management Council was particularly welcome.
The council, made up of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure, meets once a week to co-ordinate economic policy.
One can see why, given the incoherence on economic policy exhibited by the last government, the current Coalition is anxious to talk up the significance of the Economic Management Council.
As one would expect, the four Ministers who are members would be anxious to emphasise the centrality of their roles. This administration also comes with a cohort of new senior civil servants, some of whom are proving as adept as their political masters at talking to the media.
Talking up the role of the council is double-edged. Large organisations sometimes find that structured gatherings of very senior management, while designed to enable greater co-ordination, can lead instead to a sense of exclusion among other managers.
The concept of party leaders and the Minster for Finance meeting regularly is welcome, although it is not new to this Government. Similarly, the attendance of secretaries general of relevant departments or senior advisers at Cabinet subcommittees is not new.
The concept of the politicians on such a committee wishing to meet without the administrators or advisers is also not novel, although one hopes that in this Government as political colleagues they get to do so very frequently without having to give their get-togethers such a grandiose title. These gatherings are in reality no more than a subcommittee of a Cabinet economic subcommittee. This Government again exhibits its fetish for grand-sounding committee titles by calling this economic subcommittee an Economic Management Council.
As with all senior committees the exclusions are more telling than the inclusions. An Economic Management Council that does not include the Minister for Jobs is a curious thing; it would be like a Cabinet war council without the Minister for Defence.
We are told this committee is overseeing the implementation of the EU-IMF bailout yet it deliberates on these matters without the big spending Ministers. It is to be presumed, for example, that the overrun in health expenditure was the subject of discussion at the council meetings before the recess. As Minister for Health, and, indeed, deputy leader of Fine Gael, should not James Reilly be party to any senior discussions on this?
One can also see why Joan Burton, deputy leader of the Labour Party and Minister for Social Protection, whose department is likely to be the theatre for the next round of expenditure battles, might resent such matters being dealt with before Cabinet discussions, at cross-party meetings which she and her secretary general do not get to attend.