Good start but tough challenges ahead
ANALYSIS:IT IS undoubtedly true that the Government has made a good start in its ambitious plans to reform the public service.
However, it is equally accurate to say that very significant challenges remain.
And all the while the Croke Park agreement, which has underpinned the changes, will continue to come under pressure from critics (inside and outside of Government) as the budgetary pressures increase.
The Government’s strategy for cutting its pay bill has been to focus mainly on reducing the numbers employed rather than the amount paid in salaries – which are protected under the Croke Park deal.
The numbers on the State payroll have fallen by 28,000 since their peak in 2008.
Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said yesterday that another 10,000 are to go before 2015, bringing the number down to 282,500.
While the numbers have fallen dramatically, services to the public have been, by and large, maintained while industrial peace has been preserved.
Howlin maintained that the overall pay bill has fallen by €3.3 billion, even after additional pension costs are taken into account.
As part of its reforms, the Government has also ended the wide variations that existed in annual leave arrangements across the public service.
These included staff in some local authorities having up to 42 days off each year.
Local arrangements for days off for festivals, race meetings, etc, have also been rationalised as part of a new standardised approach.
The reform of sick leave, which was advocated strongly by Howlin over recent months and which will come about following a Labour Court ruling, represents the greatest change in the conditions of employment for serving public service staff in years.
New limits on uncertified sick days will come into force almost immediately. However, sceptics have pointed out the new arrangements for certified sick leave will not be introduced for nearly 18 months.
There is also likely to be more tough talking in the months ahead on the new protocol that will define what should be covered by a new provision for staff with critical illness.
Separately, the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, said yesterday plans for new centralised shared services in areas such as human resources, payroll and pensions would represent one the largest reforms ever in the Civil Service.
The Government is potentially facing major issues in relation to the possible introduction of outsourcing State services and on plans for reforming allowances for staff.
It remains to be seen whether the Government is simply throwing shapes about outsourcing or if it is really serious about the private sector possibly taking over some services. If it is serious, trade unions have already set out their opposition.
Howlin is also likely to face controversy if, as seems likely, his long-awaited reforms of the 800 allowances paid to public service staff only apply to new entrants, with critics of the Croke Park agreement waiting in the wings to allege that he has caved in to the trade unions.