'Significant' progress in reforms
Significant progress has been made in reforming the public service without taking frontline staff out of the system, the senior civil servant in charge of delivering the reforms has said.
Secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt said most public servants were not managers, but were people providing such frontline services.
Speaking at the MacGill summer school in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Watt said the public sector pay bill was expected to fall by €3.8 billion, or €3.3 billion net of expected increases in public pensions costs, in the period 2009 to 2015. This was a "very significant" reduction, he said. Public service staff numbers would be reduced by about 12 per cent to 282,500 in 2015 from a peak of 320,000 in 2008.
Mr Watt said no one could escape the challenges we faced as a country to restore the public finances to a sustainable footing. Good progress had been made, but we remained reliant on funding from the EU and IMF to fund public services, pay people's wages, pensions and social welfare benefits.
"We must consolidate public spending but it cannot be a case of cutting funding across the board. The demand for public services is greater than ever," he said. He highlighted a number of reforms designed to reduce costs, including moves towards shared services across government departments in areas such as payroll and IT.
There were also plans to change the public service pension scheme to ensure people retired based on a 'career average' salary, changes to sick leave entitlements and the standardisation of annual leave. He said new roster arrangements would also ensure more gardaí were available for frontline duty at peak hours.
Mr Watt said he absolutely accepted the challenges to leadership and management within the system.
He said that to be blunt, there were people in the system who were not up for the challenge. Responding to questions from the floor, Mr Watt said there were management deficits and gaps and that underperformance had not been adequately addressed.
He said there needed to be a more devolved approach where people had responsibility for making decisions, but where they did so within a framework of accountability. "We need to do much better," he said.
Mr Watt said a culture had existed for a long time to "put someone in a corner" where they were underpeforming, or to put them on special projects and forget about them." That needed to change.
Patricia King, vice president of Siptu, said she did not believe anyone working in the system with whom she had engaged on a daily basis could help but recognise that there was a serious managerial difficulty in the public service because people were being challenged now to manage as they had never managed before.