State needs to be ‘much more ambitious’ with remote working, Humphreys says

Minister says commitment to have 20% of public sector working remotely is not enough

Ms Humphreys said the move to remote working over the past nine months because of the Covid-19 pandemic could transform rural towns and villages.

Ms Humphreys said the move to remote working over the past nine months because of the Covid-19 pandemic could transform rural towns and villages.

 

The Government needs to be much more ambitious than its programme for government commitment to have 20 per cent of public sector employees working remotely, Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys has said.

In the wake of the shift to remote working from 200,000 before the Covid-19 pandemic to more than 700,000 currently Ms Humphreys told the Dáil that this had “given us all an opportunity to reimagine the possibility for a greater regional distribution of jobs”.

“There is a commitment in the programme for government that 20 per cent of public sector employees will be able to work remotely,” she said.

“My own opinion is that we need to be much more ambitious than that in the Department of Rural and Community development I think practically all staff, that’s over 95 per cent, are working remotely at the moment.

“In social protection over 3,000 staff are working remotely and that’s about 50 per cent of department staff.

“And if social protection can get 50 per cent remote working given all the challenges that they have faced in terms of getting payments out to people - 13 million (transactions) - since last March, I think that shows that we need to be much more ambitious.

“I do believe if we were writing the programme for government today I think the target would be higher and I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be more ambitious.”

Transformative

She was responding to Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon and Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan.

Mr Cannon said the Government should be encouraging the public service “to become leaders in this area (of remote working) and then perhaps others might follow”.

He said an attempt was made in the past “albeit very poorly in the past to decentralise public service operations to various locations”.

Technology is much more effective and “public servants are working very effectively from their homes in towns and villages”.

He said the current system of remote working is effectively “crisis management” and State agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland should be involved in developing a proper strategy.

Mr Moynihan called for the Government’s plans to create digital hubs to be put adjacent to rural post offices.

He said they had put a proposal to place remote digital hubs in towns and villages and there was a “great opportunity” to do this.

Ms Humphreys pointed out that Tánaiste and Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar is working on the development of the national remote working strategy which she said would be “very, very important”.

She said the move to remote working over the past nine months because of the Covid-19 pandemic could transform rural towns and villages.

Ms Humphreys repeated her mantra about the reality of being an office worker and “if you have good phone and broadband coverage, you can do the same job in Ballybay as you can in Ballsbridge”.