Howlin says Croke Park agreement still being resisted

 

MINISTER FOR Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said some managers in the public service have not “embraced” Croke Park Agreement reforms enthusiastically enough.

While he welcomed the findings of the agreement’s implementation body, which found it had saved almost €1.5 billion in two years, Mr Howlin appealed to lower and middle management to “identify any barriers” to bringing about change.

“Managers haven’t embraced reform as enthusiastically as I would have liked . . . I want people to go further,” he said. “We’ve a lot more to do. Will there be resistance? Of course there will be resistance. People don’t like change. Some embrace it with more enthusiasm than others and some will resist it.”

The implementation body’s report, published yesterday, found pay bill savings of €650 million were achieved during the year under review, April 2011-March 2012, driven largely by reductions in staff numbers. Although this figure could be reduced to €521 million if the maximum possible recruitment was factored in, an estimated €810 million in pay bill savings would be achieved in the first two years of the four-year agreement.

Over the period 2009-2015, the exchequer pay bill is expected to fall by €3.8 billion, or €3.3 billion net of expected increases in public service pension costs. So-called “non-pay” savings deriving from administrative efficiency amounting to €370 million were recorded in the same period, bringing non-pay savings over two years to €678 million.

Staff numbers were reduced by 11,530 to fewer than 292,000 during the review period, and by 17,300 over two years. Some 8,000 staff retired by February 29th, 2012. The expiry of the so-called “grace period”, allowing staff to avail of pension payments calculated on the basis of pre-pay cut rates, led many to leave by that date.

The Government’s target is to reduce staff numbers to 282,500 by 2015. Mr Howlin said the amount of money saved by the terms of the agreement was crucial, but the reform element was equally important. “The framework of Croke Park has allowed us to considerably downsize numbers and maintain not only industrial peace, which I think is the envy of many of my European colleagues, but also has allowed us to do more with less,” he said.

“Very significant” voluntary movements across the public service had filled gaps, with 4,500 being redeployed or reassigned across the health sector. In education, 950 primary and 200 secondary level teachers were redeployed.

Mr Howlin said 1,000 community welfare officers had moved into Social Welfare and 750 Fás workers had also been redeployed. Asked if consideration should be given to cutting pay rather than numbers, Mr Howlin said the Government had taken a “business-like” approach. “Obviously that is not infinite. You can’t continue to deliver services with an ever-reducing volume of people.” He thanked the public servants who had changed their work practices, “worked longer, worked harder, worked differently”.

Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming said the Minister gave no specific information on severance payments and he accused the Government of having “taken its foot off the pedal” in reducing the exchequer pay bill.

The Civil Public and Services Union called on the Government to trigger the “pay-back clause of the agreement”. Employers’ body Ibec said the payment of increments, reform of the allowances system and an overhaul of “outdated” sick leave policies had to be addressed. Chambers Ireland called for cuts to allowances and a pause on increments.