Scrap the bonus

Wed, Dec 11, 2013, 05:00

The civil service performance bonus system should be abolished or radically changed. At a time when health services are being cut and public entitlements withdrawn, there is no justification for making additional payments to incompetent or underperforming officials. The performance of fewer than one per cent of civil servants was ranked as “unacceptable” or “needing improvement” by their bosses last year. Within the private sector, that underperformance figure can reach as high as thirty per cent.

This is not a new problem. Last year, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin threatened to impose sanctions on senior civil servants who failed to take a more active role in managing their underperforming staff. What happened? The level of reported underperformance actually dropped. Managers are obviously unprepared to apply private sector standards because of the unpopularity that would arise from denying annual increments to members of their staff.

Introduced as part of a modernising programme some decades ago, the system was particulary unsuited to the civil service where promotion is largely by way of Buggins Turn and the profit motive does not apply. Revised in 2004 because of intense public criticism, it quickly reverted to a top-up system under which ninety-seven per cent of some 30,000 civil servants received annual, performance-related pay raises. Two years ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General reported that increments were even being paid in advance of performance assessments. The cost amounted to €40m a year.

As the Government struggles to secure projected savings and the Troika raises the prospect of a difficult budget next year, there can be no justification for rewarding laziness or incompetence within a group of already advantaged workers.The creation of a more efficient and responsive workforce with rigorous performance standards is in everybody’s interests, including those of hard-working civil servants.

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