Howlin signals economists to be hired for analysis brief


A TEAM of economists will be recruited next year to carry out specific assignments across Government departments.

They will be part of a limited recruitment to the public service scheduled for 2012 and will be qualified to master’s level or above.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said they would be based in his department. He added that an issue highlighted on a number of occasions going back to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the public service several years ago was a lack of analysis in departments.

“I want to provide that service from a unit based in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform . . . and redeploy them on specific-task basis across Government departments to ensure we have a robust in-house capacity to do economic analysis. It is that sort of skill base that we need to address.”

Hiring the professionals will be permitted as the Government is to recommence public service staff recruitment on a limited basis in 2012.

Mr Howlin said that possibly about 3,000 people could be taken on in the public service next year, but that this was just “a concept number” at the moment.

“We expect of the order of 9,000 people to leave the public service in 2012. I said we could backfill up to 3,000.

“They will be selected, skills- focused candidates to meet . . . a requirement to ensure we have a quality public service. They cannot be just replacements, as that would be pointless.”

He said colleagues in Government had put forward arguments in terms of “must-have” skills that were required in different areas. However, he said rational choices would be made on the basis of the arguments.

With 9,000 or more personnel in the public service expected to depart in the next two months, before pension changes come into effect, maintaining service levels is expected to be a challenge.

However, the Minister said contingency plans were in place to deal with that situation. But details on the exact number of staff leaving, and from what areas they will depart, is not likely to be known until four weeks before the end-of-February deadline for the pension changes.

Mr Howlin said his department had a workforce management team looking at the overall situation and that there were also sectoral units in health, education, the Civil Service and other parts of the public service which would “look at gaps that might arise and see how we can deploy, redeploy or bridge those gaps”.

The Minister said the departure of so many staff at one time would represent “a real test of the Croke Park agreement”.

“I made it clear we need to have flexibilities and no resistance to the movement of people and to ensure we have as smooth a delivery of service as we can at a time of significant churn.”

Mr Howlin also said that in addition to the planned savings in allowances and overtime in the public service, which were set out in the budget, he would also be considering changes in paid sick leave arrangements for staff.

At present, employees can avail of up to seven days’ uncertified sick leave in a 12-month period. Staff can receive full pay for certified sickness absence for up to six months in one year and half pay thereafter, subject to a maximum of 12 months’ paid sick leave in any period of four years.

Asked whether one of the areas to be examined as part of the reforms would be the aggregate amounts of time people can be on paid sick leave, the Minister said: “I think you will find that will be part of the process.”

In addition to public service changes Mr Howlin is also looking at new “whistleblower” legislation as well as reforms to the Freedom of Information Act. He said the whistleblower legislation would come first and would cover all areas, superseding provisions already in place in certain sectors.