'Laughable' pace of reform criticised


FINE GAEL finance spokesman Richard Bruton has described the pace of reform of the public service as “laughable”.

Commenting on Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s stance on the issue, Mr Bruton said: “Fianna Fáil is directly responsible for most of the dysfunctional aspects of the public sector. So to hear the Taoiseach’s 11th hour call for fundamental reform, weeks before the budget, is a cause of incredulity,” he said.

“Brian Cowen promised public sector reform when he became Taoiseach. Since then, there has been zero progress,” he added.

In an interview with RTÉ yesterday, Mr Cowen said the Government needed to look at all areas of reform, including productivity and pay policy, but also stressed the Government needed to reduce its outgoings now.

He said he would be willing to examine “all of the levers that are available to us, including numbers, the whole system of allowances, all of the various issues that are involved in different sectors. We have to review all of that and do it in a way that gives us the best outcome.

“That is a medium to long-term process. The immediate process is obtaining the monies,” he said.

He instanced changes that had been achieved in the Defence Forces and in the Revenue Commissioners through fewer numbers, increases in productivity and the use of technology.

He said the reform plan was not an attack on or hostile to public services. “It’s about making sure that we have provision of public service in the future that is affordable, efficient, effective and that is joined-up. And that we get rid of all of these administrative boundaries that are providing costs and compensation factors right across the system.”

Mr Cowen disagreed that the Government had already missed numerous opportunities to implement reform during the benchmarking process. However, he agreed that public service reform was one of his main priorities when becoming Taoiseach 18 months ago and that it was progressing too slowly.

“I agree. We are not getting it done fast enough. We have to get it done quickly. But it can’t be done overnight,” he said.

The Labour Party last night echoed the Fine Gael view that reform has not happened.

The party has said it agrees that about €4 billion in savings are required but has argued that this can only be achieved through a combination that involves revenue-raising measures and taxes.

Party spokeswoman on finance Joan Burton will outline specific details on its figures in its pre-Budget document.

On Saturday, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore repeated his opposition to cutting public servants’ pay in next month’s budget.

Mr Gilmore told his party’s youth conference there should be “a negotiated agreement to secure savings in the public sector wage bill, based on securing reforms and savings, rather than an across-the-board cut in public sector pay”.

He said that this should form part of a programme for national recovery that included re-education and training for the unemployed.