Howlin seeks public sector changes

 

There had to be a fundamentally different way of delivering public services, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin told reporters in Dublin this morning.

Commenting on yesterday’s meeting with the Croke Park implementation body, Mr Howlin said: “It was important for everybody to hear the scale of the change that we require.

“The trade unions know what needs to be done and, in truth, there’s two elements to it: one, you need to acknowledge what has been done.

“Often, substantial changes that have been decades in the making that have happened in the last 18 months are pocketed unless you have sort of a row about them, such as sick leave and all the other things," Mr Howlin said.

“We acknowledged what has been achieved but then set out the scale of what needs to be done still on a sectoral basis. We’ve asked each line Minister to drill down, to give us every proposal they have to fully utilise Croke Park to achieve the objectives of efficiency and payroll reduction.

“Those have been laid out to the implementation body and they will manifest themselves now in new action plans,” Mr Howlin said. “There is no low-hanging fruit. What we’re engaged in now is a fundamentally different way of delivering public services.”

Looking ahead to budget day on December 5th, he said: “The budget will be predicated on fairness. There is considerable further heavy lifting to be done and we will only have ‘buy-in’ from the general public on that if it is perceived as being, and is, fair.

“That will be the objective of both parties, to shape a budget by December that is demonstrably fair,” Mr Howlin said.

Asked if he was disappointed that the Government was now going to have to go to the Labour Court on the issue of pay for hospital consultants, Mr Howlin said: “Yes I am, I’m very disappointed. It’s incumbent on everybody to embrace the change agenda, that’s what I’ve said, and particularly those who are actually among the best-paid in the country to understand what needs to be done.

“We worked out an agreement needs to be implemented without further delay. We need the changed practices to have a much more efficient hospital service but we also need the money,” the Minister said.

The Government has strongly signalled its determination to speed up major reforms and savings under the Croke Park agreement, particularly in health and local government. Following a special meeting on the agreement yesterday, talks with trade unions on reforms in different parts of the public service are expected to begin as early as next week.

There were indications last night that health service management would be seeking a longer working week in some areas. The Department of Education is understood to have also been looking at additional working hours. However, extra hours were not discussed at yesterday’s meeting.

The Government signalled afterwards that “massive reform” of the local government sector would be announced shortly and this would have to be rolled out aggressively.

However, the Government's reform plans were dealt a blow last night when its deal with hospital consultants collapsed. It was announced only last month and was flagged as saving up to €200 million annually.

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