Government moves to speed up rate of Croke Park reform
THE GOVERNMENT has strongly signalled its determination to speed up major reforms and savings under the Croke Park agreement, particularly in health and local government.
Following a special meeting on the agreement yesterday, talks with trade unions on reforms in different parts of the public service are expected to begin as early as next week.
There were indications last night that health service management would be seeking a longer working week in some areas. The Department of Education is understood to have also been looking at additional working hours. However, extra hours were not discussed at yesterday’s meeting.
The Government signalled afterwards that “massive reform” of the local government sector would be announced shortly and this would have to be rolled out aggressively.
However the Governments reform plans were dealt a blow last night when its deal with hospital consultants collapsed. It was announced only last month and was flagged as saving up to €200 million annually.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday met the body overseeing the implementation of the Croke Park agreement. Mr Kenny has got Ministers to draw up revised reform plans under the terms of the agreement.
After the meeting, the Government warned that it could only meet its expenditure targets for next year if it could significantly reduce payroll costs. In a statement, a spokesman said the Government was “now facing extraordinarily difficult choices to meet its expenditure targets for the 2013 budget”.
“The Government will only be able to meet these targets if it can significantly reduce payroll costs in 2013 – by fully maximising the potential of the agreement. Reform must take account of preserving frontline services but delays in reform are not acceptable.”
The spokesman said the Government believed the new move to prioritise the elimination of more than 80 allowances for serving staff, which it is seeking to carry out by negotiation, must be brought to a swift conclusion.
He said the Government needed to see numbers of staff reduced at a faster rate than originally envisaged. Mr Howlin would be advancing this initiative over the coming weeks.
He confirmed that the Government would press ahead with plans for further rationalisation of State agencies and would use the Croke Park agreement to ensure swift implementation.
He said the financial challenge in the health service was particularly difficult. Acceleration of progress in relation to areas such as rosters and skill mix was urgently needed.
The statement by the Government spokesman, which was issued prior to the collapse of the deal with hospital consultants, pointed to the agreement on work practice changes for senior doctors as being very important. “The same principle needs to apply across all sectors. In some sectors, such as local government, front-line and outdoor services have taken a big hit, while management layers have been less affected.”
Speaking after the meeting, the general secretary of the trade union Impact, Shay Cody, said the meeting with the Taoiseach and Mr Howlin had been positive.
He said proposals for reforms under the agreement which had been put forward by various Government departments were going to be rolled out by sectoral management in meetings with unions soon.
He said increased working hours had not been raised at the meeting and the question of extending the Croke Park agreement had not been discussed. A Government spokesman said a number of examples of reforms in the various sectors had been raised by way of illustration.