Government to decide against appointing Civil Service chief

Expert group’s recommendation for performance management to be accepted

The Government is expected to turn down an expert group’s key recommendation to appoint a head of the Irish Civil Service when it unveils a far-reaching reform plan for it later this week.

However, the ambitious plan will overhaul performance management procedures, with the country’s top civil servants subject to them for the first time.

The existing Civil Service performance assessments have been criticised for giving high grades to too many staff and they are to be replaced with more meaningful measures.

An independent three-person panel chaired by Prof Kevin Rafter from Dublin City University, which looked at reforming and strengthening the 36,000-strong body, made two key recommendations.

The first was for a specific head to be appointed to the service for the first time, as is the case in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The person would have received a salary of about €183,000 a year and have had over-arching responsibility for the performance of the entire Civil Service.

The second recommendation was an accountability board chaired by the Taoiseach with external membership which would “constructively challenge senior management performance”.

This is expected to be included in the plan due to be announced by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin later this week.

Three-year plan

It is understood the three-year reform plan brings together the reports of Prof Rafter’s panel and a Civil Service renewal task force which set out plans for new approaches and strategies.

A Department of Public Expenditure and Reform spokeswoman said Mr Howlin’s plan would result in a “fundamentally new direction for the Civil Service”.The plan is expected to include 20 measures.

The panel chaired by Prof Rafter also included former c Personal Injuries Assessment Board chairwoman Dorothea Dowling and former secretary general of the Department of Defence Michael Howard.

Another of its recommendations, which is expected to be taken on board by the Government, is that there should be no performance-related pay structure in the Civil Service.

Performance-related pay

Such payments were available to senior officials in the past but were discontinued as part of the response to the downturn after 2008. The panel stated it “did not support the introduction of a performance-related pay system. Such arrangements are not appropriate in the Civil Service system where successes are reliant on collegiate relationships and teamwork.”

As an alternative to a new head of the Civil Service being appointed, Mr Howlin's plan is understood to include provision for a new management board, chaired by Martin Fraser of the Department of the Taoiseach with Robert Watt of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also having a key role.

The Government’s plan is expected to restate its intention to streamline the existing grading structure for staff in the service – a move which could have serious implications for some trade unions as their representation rights are restricted to specific staff grades.

However, it was unclear last night whether the Government would set out full proposals in its document.

Another recommendation of the panel was for an accountability code for politically appointed special advisers for Ministers, as well as training for them.

The panel accepted that there was a “need for greater clarity about the role of special advisers”.