Public service reforms have been ‘remarkable’ claims Howlin

Employee numbers down to 290,000 and expenditure to €17.5bn a year

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has described the changes that have taken place in the public service over the past four years as a "remarkable transformation" without precedent in the European Union.

"There is no comparison anywhere in Europe with what we have done, where we downsized numbers by 10 per cent or 30,000 and reduced [expenditure] by almost 18 per cent and maintained industrial peace at the same time," he said.

Mr Howlin and Minister of State for Public Service Reform Brian Hayes referred to the number of public service employees having fallen from 320,000 to 290,000. They also noted that expenditure had been reduced from more than €20 billion per annum to €17.5 billion.

Rolling changes
They were speaking at the launch in Government Buildings


of the second phase of the public service reform plan which sets out proposals for further major changes over the next two years.

The plan sets out priorities, including implementation of savings under the Haddington Road deal which will amount to €1 billion, according to Mr Howlin. Additional savings will form part of what Mr Howlin called a “reform dividend”, money that will be put back into services if savings are achieved.

The plan is based on four themes. The first includes finding alternative models of service delivery. An example of this is the involvement of the private sector in helping place jobseekers. Other examples include trialling ideas like employee mutuals and joint ventures.

One such pilot is seeking private sector investors to provide long-term homes for 136 families in the Dublin region.

The second theme is service sharing and making process more cost effective and efficient. The “reform dividend 2” achieved from savings under this heading would be ploughed back into services, said Mr Howlin.

Greater use of information technology, digital innovation and “open data” comprise the third theme which will help deliver services and information to citizens. Examples of this are the which allows the public to report leaks, broken streetlights or footpaths. Another example is, a web-based planning information service.

The fourth theme is more openness and accountability. The updated Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation will be a central plank of this.

In that regard, Mr Howlin confirmed that the FoI Act would apply to Uisce Éireann/Irish Water from its inception. He said there had been a practice of excluding commercial State companies from FoI but that would not happen with Uisce Éireann because of its monopoly status. He also confirmed that FoI would apply to it from its inception in March 2013.

Mr Howlin also said that 46 of the 48 State agencies earmarked for abolition or merger under what’s colloquially known as the “quango cull” have now completed the process. The other two, he said, did not proceed for well-grounded reasons.

Extensive cost savings
Mr Hayes, who has overseen the procurement changes, said that pooling expertise and sharing services had led to massive efficiencies.

“We believe that 60 per cent of all the spending on goods and services can be done centrally by better procurement,” he said.

Speaking on the overall plan, Mr Hayes referred to a Fianna Fáil election slogan when saying: "A lot done but more to do to borrow a phrase from the past."

He added: “It’s important to put on the record that the pay and pension bill has gone down from €20 billion to €17.5 billion over a four-year period.

“There is another €1 billion to come in term of Haddington Road. There is no other country in western Europe that has gone through that scale of change in circumstances where we have had industrial peace.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times