FG plans civil service reforms

 

A slimmed-down civil service, a new cabinet minister for public sector reform and the abolition of the HSE “in its current form” are among a number of measures Fine Gael is proposing as part of a radical overhaul of the public service.

The party plans to publish the proposals within weeks to make what it claims would be the “most radical change in the way the Irish State works since its foundation”.

Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, the author of the proposals, Richard Bruton, the party’s spokesman on public service reform, jobs and economic planning, said the reforms could happen within the context of the Croke Park deal.

He said, however, that the changes to be contained in his party’s forthcoming “Reinventing Government” document would go beyond anything previously envisaged. This would require “mature” discussion with public sector unions.

The final touches will be put to Reinventing Government at a meeting of the Fine Gael front bench next Tuesday.

Mr Bruton said existing structures had proved incapable of managing the country’s economic affairs. Greater competence was needed in the system of public administration, he added. Changes would include a slimming down of the civil service to create a “smaller strategic centre”. He added the “HSE in its current form would cease to exist”.

Mr Bruton would not be drawn on whether this would involve compulsory redundancies, but said those who could not be redeployed would be retrained. The reforms were needed to “restore confidence in Ireland, domestically and internationally”, he said, adding the proposals would be a “major plank” in the party’s election manifesto.

Mr Bruton was particularly harsh in his criticism of the Department of Finance and said the party was committed to a radical shake-up of it in its forthcoming proposals. He described the department as “unfit for purpose”.

The centrepiece of the reform shown to The Irish Times yesterday was the creation of a new cabinet-level ministerial position for public sector reform.

The new minister would lead two of the eight existing divisions of the Department of Finance as well as the public service management division of the Department of the Taoiseach.

The three divisions would be brought together in the “Office of Public Service Modernisation and Expenditure Management”. In its operations and functioning, the new entity would differ significantly from current civil service practice in major respects, Mr Bruton claimed.

First, the most senior officials would be “hand-picked managers from the top echelons of the private and public sectors”. Second, named officials would be responsible for all major change initiatives. Finally, the new structure would be scrutinised on an ongoing basis by a “high-level, expert and credible advisory and implementation board”.

Of the six other divisions in the Department of Finance, Fine Gael believes that the Budget and Economic Policy division is key. Mr Bruton says that in order to regain lost credibility it would be necessary to have an open recruitment process to appoint its director. This person would then have the power to “hand pick his or her own team”.

Along with these two departmental changes, Mr Bruton spoke of Fine Gael’s intention to reform the budget-framing process, which he described as an “absolute sham”.

Under Fine Gael proposals, all Departments and agencies would openly compete for resources on an annual basis and publish the details of their bids. The use of cost benefit analysis would be dramatically widened to evaluate how money had been spent.

An “independent fiscal council” would also be established in the Oireachtas. Mr Bruton says that it would be modelled on the US Congressional Budget Office, but would have additional powers, including giving recommendations and opinions on the sustainability of the public finances.

Mr Bruton added he had “sympathy” for public sector trade unions because the Government and public sector managers had not used the mechanisms in the Croke Park deal to drive reform.