Civil servants may transfer to private sector


CIVIL SERVANTS will be allowed to transfer to the private sector for a year in a bid to bring new skills and expertise to Government departments.

The measure, recently approved by Cabinet, also includes changes to the career break system for the State’s 30,000 civil servants. The changes were outlined by the secretary general to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, in a speech to the MacGill summer school in Glenties yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the department confirmed the career break scheme will be revised to allow civil servants to take up paid employment in Ireland for up to three years.

“In addition, a scheme to permit one-year exchanges of staff between the Civil Service and the private sector will be put in place on a pilot basis and reviewed after two years.”

An exchange programme will be put in place to facilitate the movement of middle-management civil servants to private sector bodies, the department said. Private sector staff will be placed in departments and public sector offices for up to a year.

The department said that, now more than ever, it was imperative the Civil Service workforce be fit for purpose and capable of driving sustainable reform over the medium to longer term.

“This initiative should help to build capacity across the Civil Service by improving the skills base of staff with a view to improving the overall effectiveness of the Civil Service,” a spokeswoman said.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin anticipated “considerable interest” in the programme from Government departments seeking to fill skills gaps.

He also anticipated keen interest from the private sector.

The programme will be run on a pilot basis for a year and then reviewed.

The restriction on civil servants taking up outside employment while on a career break will be relaxed to allow them to work for up to three years.

Meanwhile, Mr Watt told the summer school “significant progress” had been made in reforming the public service without taking frontline staff out of the system.

He 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 2009-2015.

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 International Monetary Fund to finance public services and pay people’s wages, pensions and 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.

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.

Mr Watt said a culture had existed for a long time to “put someone in a corner” where they were underperforming, or to put them on special projects and forget about them. That needed to change.

Patricia King, vice-president of Siptu, said the Irish public service was not the “bloated monster” some would claim it to be, and that the management tools were “neither appropriate nor adequate” to meet the current challenges.