Group to review public service positions


REVIEW:A SPECIAL group to identify posts and activities that are "not essential" in the public service is to be set up by the Government.

The establishment of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes was announced yesterday as part of the Government's plan for reforms of the public service.

The planned changes also include the extension of staff performance reviews, which apply in the civil service and local government, to all areas of the public service.

The reforms are based on a taskforce report, Transforming Public Services, which was also published yesterday. The taskforce, chaired by Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Dermot McCarthy, was established in May to develop an action plan in response to a review of the public service by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

Its members were drawn from both the public and private sectors.The Government hopes the reforms will help to eliminate the budget deficit by 2011.

The special group on public service numbers and spending, to be chaired by economist Colm McCarthy, will examine Government departments, State agencies and offices, and recommend programmes for reductions in expenditure. It will identify non-essential posts and activities in all areas and will recommend reallocation of staff or resources between organisations where required.

It will also recommend further rationalisation of State agencies beyond that set out in the Budget, which targeted 41 State bodies for amalgamation or closure.

The Government has said managers and staff in the public service will have to gain new skills, adjust to new work practices and be accountable in new ways.

Performance assessments will be introduced in all areas of the public service where none exist, including in nursing, teaching and policing. This will be aimed, initially, at tackling underperformance.

The performance management system in the Civil Service and local government sector is also to be strengthened. The Government intends to remove the barriers to mobility of personnel between civil service and State agencies within 12 months. This will require urgent negotiation with unions and may also need legislation, the Government has said.

It has also said that in future, promotions within the public service will be competitive and linked to performance.

Public sector procurement will also be tackled. The Government intends to establish a National Operations Unit within the Office of Public Works to allow Government departments, offices and agencies to acquire goods and services more efficiently and at better value for money.

The unit will also develop web-based e-tenders and e-auctions for some goods and services. It will be staffed by people redeployed from other areas.

A shared corporate services centre will allow services such as payroll and human resources to be shared by different organisations.

Eventually, all public bodies will be compelled to use them.

Under the plan, the public will be requested to allow information held by one agency or department to be shared with others and a central data store for this information will be established.

There will also be significant expansion in the number of online services available to the public to improve efficiency and save money. These could include online systems for driving licences, student grants and housing grants, planning permission and planning objections, birth certificates and the payment of court fines.

Priority e-government projects will be announced within five months.

A pilot review programme, already carried out in the Departments of Agriculture, Trade and Employment, and Transport will be extended to all Government departments and major offices in the next three years.

County and city development boards will be strengthened to improve co-ordination of local services. Moreover, a data base will be set up of all publicly-funded programmes and projects at county level, to avoid duplication.

A Cabinet committee, chaired by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, will oversee the changes, and a central programme office, with staff drawn from all major areas of the public service, will be established to support the committee.

The Government has pledged to report on the state of the public service within 12 months.

Main points

• A four-person expert group will target cuts in staff and spending in all Government departments and agencies

• The group will recommend reallocation of staff and resources between organisations

• Assessments for all public service staff, including nurses and gardaí, will be introduced to tackle underperformance

• A unified Public Service, with a mobile staff who can transfer between the Civil Service and wider State bodies, will be introduced

• A National Operations Unit will procure goods and services for departments and agencies

• A shared corporate services centre will be piloted to share services, including human resources and payroll, to help reduce costs and eventually, all organisations will be compelled to use them

• More online services for the public will be introduced to improve efficiency and save money, and could include online systems for driving licences, planning permission and the payment of court fines

• The public will also be asked to allow information held by one agency or Department to be shared with others, and a central data store for this information will be established