Public sector reform plan gets negative response


Opposition parties, trade unions and business bodies were largely negative in their reaction to the Government's proposals to reform the public sector, announced today.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the reforms were aimed at securing greater efficiency in delivering public services in an affordable way – while at the same time improving the work environment for public service workers.

But Fine Gael said not a “single red cent” has been saved by the Government in its plans to date to reform the public service.

Deputy leader and finance spokesman Richard Bruton said it was “a pale reflection of the changes that really should be undertaken”.

“The biggest announcement to come out of the report is the creation of yet another review. This Government is always just one more review away from action. This is the fifth review announced since the general election. In that time not a single red cent has been saved from public service reform,” Mr Bruton said.

He said, there was no commitment that in future, agencies would only get money if they entered into agreements to deliver specific results, in order to meet Government priorities.

There were also no new mechanisms to reward success in the delivery of these targets and to penalise failure, or were there new ideas about performance contracts for senior managers, Mr Bruton added.

“There can be no real accountability until the highly dysfunctional centralised approach to budgeting and human resource management which this Government persists with is completely turned on its head.

“Last year the top seven spending Departments failed to deliver 106 output targets which they had set. This represented 37 per cent of all the targets.”

Labour Party finance spokeswoman and deputy leader Joan Burton said the Government’s statement on transforming the public service had “spectacularly failed to live up to the hype that preceded its publication”.

“The report seems to be primarily a cocktail of ideas lifted from the OECD report on public service reform, published in April, and a number of previous government initiatives dressed up to look new,” she said.

“On public service numbers, for instance, it says that ‘there is an immediate necessity to ensure that numbers employed in the public service are no greater than necessary to deliver public services’.

“This is hardly a great revelation and one would have assumed that this would have been the approach of any government at any time.”

Ms Burton said if the Government was serious about public service reform “one of the first things it would do is totally abandon [former minister for finance] Charlie McCreevy’s decentralisation programme, rather than simply scaling it back as announced in the Budget”.

Unions and business organisations also responded to the announcement.

Ireland’s largest public service union Impact said that any significant cuts in public service staffing would result in reduced public services.

Spokesman for the union Bernard Harbor said: “The OECD’s study did not call for staff reductions. That’s because Ireland spends proportionately less on its public services, and employs proportionately fewer staff, than similar countries.

“This doesn’t make it any easier to balance the books now that we’ve entered a recession and the public finances are in crisis. But it does prove that there is very little ‘fat’ to cut. No doubt there is some scope for savings and redeployment to meet changing priorities, but large scale redundancies will hurt services and the people and communities that need them.”

Chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (Isme) body Mark Fielding said his organisation was “bitterly disappointed but not surprised” at the report, which he said fell far short of addressing badly needed public sector reform.

“Once again the Government is quoting aspirational measures that include no specific actions leading to an increase in efficiencies or a reduction in numbers, not to mention specific timetables or cost savings,” he said.

“The public sector will continue to prosper through increased earnings, with little responsibility or accountability, while other parts of the economy have to bare the brunt of higher costs and reduced competitiveness.”