Plan sets out major savings but integrated service some way off


ANALYSIS:Unions fire warning shot on plans for ‘external service delivery’, or outsourcing of jobs

THE GOVERNMENT’S new public service reform programme is very ambitious in its scope.

It seeks to continue with the current dramatic reduction in numbers employed – ultimately saving up to €2.5 billion in gross payroll costs by 2015.

At the same time it also provides for the introduction of new and potentially very lucrative efficiencies in relation to public procurement, shared services between public bodies and greater use of e-government.

However, considerable work remains to be done before the Government achieves its stated ultimate aim of having a streamlined and integrated public service where staff can move seamlessly between the different sectors such as the Civil Service, health service, local authorities and State agencies.

Progress has been made in removing some of the more obvious excesses in conditions of employment in the public service, such as the annual leave arrangements of 40 days or more enjoyed by top-level managers in local authorities.

The controversial issue of special days off for local festivals or race meetings has also been tackled.

Moves will now be made to set common leave arrangements for specific grades across the public service. However, perhaps in a bid to secure union backing for the plan, most existing staff will not be affected.

This means that for the foreseeable future, there will not be a standardised leave arrangement applying nationally across the public service.

One senior industrial relations figure pointed out last night that this could leave some public service managers dealing with staff who do the same job having three separate leave arrangements – one for existing staff, one for new entrants and possibly a third for staff who have been redeployed from some other public service body.

The situation whereby large numbers of clerical, technical and administrative staff in local authorities work a 33-hour week, while others work a 35-hour week, will also continue.

It is possible that the Government has decided to move slowly on these issues so as to maintain support among staff and unions for the bigger picture items in the reform programme.

As numbers in the public service continue to fall – and a surge in departures is expected in the weeks ahead in advance of pension changes due in February – the redeployment of staff will be critical if key services are to be maintained.

Greater use of shared services, improved access for all parts of the public service to data provided by the public and better e-government facilities will also be key to freeing up staffing resources as budgets tighten.

While the Government has been accused of seeking to defend the Croke Park agreement at all costs, in general trade unions are equally anxious to maintain the protections it provides to pay and jobs.

However, that does not mean there will not be tensions.

Trade unions will keep a very close eye on the Government’s proposals for outsourcing or external service delivery as yesterday’s reform plan delicately put it.

Under the plan, in the first quarter of next year public bodies will be identifying potential non-core activities suitable for external service delivery.

Yesterday, Siptu health service organiser Paul Bell warned it was now approaching the time that the issue of outsourcing of frontline staff work should be confronted by the public sector trade union movement.

He said it was never agreed that a reduction in the number of health workers would take the form of a crude culling tool, whereby private sector interests would be given licence to expand their empires at the expense of his members and the public purse.