Grading the Government – three years on, how has it performed?

Alternative assessment of Labour and Fine Gael’s Programme for Government

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore present their progress report at a press conference at Government Buildings this afternoon. Photograph: RTE.ie

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore present their progress report at a press conference at Government Buildings this afternoon. Photograph: RTE.ie

Tue, Mar 4, 2014, 13:22

A little like the Iraqi elections during Saddam Hussein’s reign with an 100 per cent turnout and 100 per cent voter approval, the Coalition has become adept at publishing scorecards on its performance in office in which it awards itself gold stars and all kinds of ‘gaiscaí­’ without even showing the slightest blush of modesty.

It is not that the Government has not achieved. It has had some signal success, not least with the exit of the Troika, the deal on the promissory note and the steady improvement in employment figures.

But there are well over 200 targets on the Programme for Government and quite a few of the aims have veered off course, or have been abandoned completely.

Not that you would know it when Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore stand up and give their yearly assessment on how the Programme for Government is progressing. You have to look very very hard (and sometimes in other documents) to find the goals that did not quite make the grade or which were quietly dropped.

From the Government’s perspective, the media strategy harks back to the Pravda headlines during the Soviet era. Then they cheered up the comrades with news that tractor production in Minsk and Volgograd had reached record outputs for the 15th year running. And when you checked every other factory and collective farm through the USSR, astonishingly they too were achieving record output too, for the 15th year running.

As a counterpoint to this, here is our alternative assessment of how the Programme for Government has performed in the first three years of the Coalitions’ term.

A lot done.....

GOAL: We will seek a reduced interest rate [on the Troika loan of €67.5bn]. OUTCOME: An early failure. And a complete one at that. Merkel and Sarkozy said no. Then Greek loan was restructured with lower interest rate, Ireland benefitted as a programme country. A lucky break.

GOAL: We will avoid further downgrades to our sovereign credit ratings by increasing capital spend into banks. OUTCOME: The banks were recapitalised very early in the new Government term. Credit ratings have fallen significantly since 2011. Success.

GOAL: We will remain committed to a smaller banking system. OUTCOME: Two pillar banks created.

GOAL: We will replace emergency lending to our banks. OUTCOME: In February 2013, promissory note was replaced by a longer-term solution. A big success though may not add up to sum of parts in long term.

GOAL: Jobs Fund. OUTCOME: Originally was going to be a jobs budget but was then modified to a ‘fund’. Promised within 100 days and announced within 100 days. Cuts in VAT, a lowering of PRSI, a reverse in the cut to the minimum wage. Its budget is €2 billion over four years, partly funded by a controversial raid on private pension funds. Promised 13,000 jobs and an additional 15,000 places in training. A study on the VAT reductions in tourism which cost €150m per annum showed 6,200 additional jobs in the sector but couldn’t say if any or all were attributable to jobs fund. Reduction in VAT has been shown to have benefitted tourism and was retained in the October 2013 budget. Generally, the Government has turned a corner on jobs creating 61,000 places in the past year.

GOAL: New graduate, apprentice, intern, and education schemes with 60,000 new places that weren’t available before. OUTCOME: Many new schemes but some of them directly replace old schemes (JobsPlus announced last summer being a case in point). There is a range of schemes including Momentum; and Springboard. Some have been more successful than others. Well over 20,000 internships have been taken up in the Jobsbridge scheme. On the other hand, less than 100 people have taken places on the Gateway training scheme — the Government had hoped the uptake would be over 1,500 through local authorities. Success depends on how it is counted (and there are many ways) but the goal of 60,000 new places might be attained.

GOAL: We will replace FÁS with a new National Employment and Entitlement Service, and replace by a single delivery unit in Social Protection including one stop shops. OUTCOME: Has happened. The Intreo one-stop shops have been a big success for the Government. By the end of 2013, 43 Intreo offices had opened offering a range of employment services and advice as well as welfare payments. Plans to expand the network in 2014.

GOAL: We will fast track the substantial reforms needed for our bankruptcy legislation. OUTCOME: Achieved through the Personal Insolvency Bill which reduced the term for discharge of bankruptcy from 12 to three years (or eight year for those whose circumstances improve).

GOAL: We will reform the joint labour committee structures. OUTCOME: A Troika demand. Largely achieved though only after the old system was struck down by the courts.

GOAL: A temporary partial credit guarantee scheme for job-creating firms. OUTCOME: 75 per cent loan guarantee from government. Planned €150m of additional lending per annum. Came into being in late 2012. A very low take-up and was being reviewed by Government.

GOAL: We will construct a €100m microfinance start-up fund. OUTCOME: Funding of over €90m but again low uptake to date. Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton disclosed that only €2.37m funding allotted in 2013 creating 338 jobs..

GOAL: We will abolish the €3 travel tax. OUTCOME: Didn’t happen initially. Was contingent on Ryanair and Aer Lingus reopening routes. Minister for Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar said they would not play ball. But then in October 2013 Budget it was announced it would be scrapped because of new routes being opened. So tax will become zero rated in April this year. Better late than never.

GOAL: Sale of €2bn in State assets. OUTCOME: All that wrangling with the Troika over using 50 per cent of proceeds for jobs investment rather than debt write-down now moot. Sale of National Lottery and of the Bord Gáis business has netted the Exchequer about €1.5 billion. A partial success although Government pulled back from selling off assets in Coillte, Aer Lingus, and the ESB.

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