Ceisteanna — Questions.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of staff who have applied for relocation under the decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16819/07]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

2 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the way the decentralisation programme affects his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18790/07]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

3 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department who have applied for relocation under the decentralisation programme; the number of such staff whose applications have been sanctioned; the number who have transferred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21546/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

Thirty three staff serving in my Department have applied through the central applications facility to relocate under the decentralisation programme. The breakdown by grade is: principal officer, one; assistant principal, five; higher executive officer, three; administrative officer, seven; executive officer, seven; staff officer, one; clerical officer, nine. Fifteen former members of staff have been assigned to decentralised posts.

Arrangements are in place to ensure the decentralisation of staff does not impact negatively on the quality of the services provided by the Department. These arrangements include the phased redeployment of some of the remaining staff to the areas of the Department most affected by decentralisation and the provision of training and job profiles-work manuals for new staff, as appropriate.

Deputies will be aware that there are no proposals to decentralise my Department or any of the bodies under its aegis.

Is the Taoiseach satisfied that one year after the deadline for the relocation of 10,000 staff, less than 15% have moved? The Government is 85% off its target. No staff from the State agencies or those who work in ICT or professional and technical areas have relocated. From a list of 90 locations, staff have transferred to 29. Sites have not been identified in 24 locations. Has the Taoiseach a view on the realism of the then Government which reached this decision as to the complexity of the issue and the need to have a proper plan? Does he admit that there was no proper planning and that that is the reason the programme is so far off target? No progress has been made in State agencies. Does he believe there is a business case for the proposed moves and, if so, why has the Government made no proposal to staff serving in State agencies on the possibility of transferring to other posts within the public service, if they wish to stay in Dublin?

The Deputy appreciates that all of the questions have been tabled to my Department, but it is a matter for the Department of Finance to deal with the general position. I understand site or building acquisitions have now been completed or significantly advanced in 38 locations and progress is continuing on the identification of suitable sites or properties in others. Advance office accommodation has been secured or is in the process of being finalised in over 20 locations. This year 1,500 posts have been allocated. Therefore, the original aim of relocating 7,200 staff will not be met. It was agreed that would be done by negotiation and, painful though it may be, a large part of this will have been achieved by the end of 2009. The popularity of the move is evident from the figures in my Department. Some 10,900 people have applied to the Central Applications Facility. As sites become available and the deadline approaches more people want to move into position. A total of 40% of those who want to move have moved into Departments that are decentralised.

More than half of those are from outside Dublin. That is not a move from Dublin out. This involves people who are already outside Dublin moving to other non-Dublin locations.

That is about half of them.

That was not the objective.

The strategy was to move approximately 7,000 people. A total of 11,000 people want to move and are on the list. That includes people in other locations. It was never a Dublin only strategy. Thankfully, even though the Deputy and I are honoured to represent Dublin, it is not a Dublin only society. Dublin is not the country.

The Taoiseach should read what was announced in the Budget Statement in 2004. The purpose was to move public servants from Dublin, it was not to move them around the country.

That is what it is doing, but a civil servant who works in Sligo and wants to move somewhere else should not be debarred from doing so.

I am not saying that, but the way this was presented——

Then we agree.

My question was whether there has been a failure in planning. The strategy was intended to move posts out of Dublin, to ease pressures on Dublin. We have ended up with a programme that is only 15% implemented. Half the people who are moving were not in Dublin and the Government still will not admit that there was a failure of planning and strategy framing in regard to this programme. In the case of State agency not a single person is moving. At some point a Minister must stand up and say this was a blunder and that if we are to do this sort of thing in future, we need to do it better.

If Deputy Bruton is suggesting that the idea was to reallocate staff——

I am referring to the implementation, not the idea.

The implication is that we should announce this and move everybody without negotiation, but I do not agree with that.

That was not the implication. What I said was that any proper programme that goes to the Government in a Government memorandum should have a strategy behind it, a business case, that makes it stand up. There was nothing of that kind. That was abandoned. This was a phoney decision under the cover of budget secrecy. It was a failure of governance.

Deputy Bruton is against decentralisation.

I am not against decentralisation, I am against Government abuse of the decision-making process.

I remember that the Deputy was against it in the 1990s.

The House must understand the rules of procedure. The Taoiseach must be allowed to answer questions and Deputy Bruton must be allowed to ask questions. We cannot have both going on at the same time. Let us hear the Taoiseach without interruption.

More than 40% of the 7,200 civil servant posts due to relocate under the programme are now filled by staff who are decentralising and are either in their new locations or are being skilled up for their new posts. Over the next few years we will see the relocation of the 10,900 civil servants who have applied to relocate under the decentralisation programme. The Central Applications Facility continues to receive new applications. It is anticipated that this will continue. A total of 50% of the applicants to the CAF are based in Dublin, that is, almost 5,500. I have given the number of locations. By the end of 2009 most of the people on the current list will be decentralised.

In regard to the agencies, that is an issue the Deputy may take up with the Department of Finance. None of the agencies under my Department is scheduled for decentralisation.

Does the Taoiseach not agree that it is unacceptable that Government, which introduced this programme and wants to implement it, has made no proposal to State agencies in regard to how people who opt to remain in Dublin can be redeployed within the public service? There is no history of and no system for transferring from an agency to the public service or another agency. Some 2,300 people have had decentralisation hanging over their heads for the past four years. Virtually nobody has opted to move from Dublin in the case of the State agencies, yet the Government has no proposals to progress that aspect of decentralisation.

Does the Taoiseach not agree that it is not acceptable for Ministers, who are responsible for the implementation of this programme, to hide behind the decentralisation implementation group, to refuse to answer questions in regard to it, and instead point the finger repeatedly at an unaccountable implementation group? I know the Ceann Comhairle feels equally concerned that these bodies should be accountable in a more realistic way. This is a Government programme and it should not be hived off to an unaccountable agency with no Minister taking responsibility when things go wrong. Does the Taoiseach accept that as head of the Government he must impose more ministerial responsibility in regard to this programme?

Ministerial responsibility for the entire programme rests with the Minister for Finance. The decentralisation implementation group is answerable to the Department of Finance. It is not independent of the Department but works directly to it and the Department of Finance answers for it.

On State agencies, the report of the implementation group continues to emphasise the central role of the board and the management of each agency in driving the process forward. Every Minister should be involved in pressing that. That is what they have been asked to do by the Minister for Finance. The group expects that all agencies should, at a minimum, have initiated HR recruitment policies to support the programme — I understand that has been done — have begun to put phased timeframes in place and be actively securing advance or permanent accommodation solutions in the decentralised location. A clear strategy is laid down, which is the policy of the Department of Finance, and every Department is obliged to follow that.

At the group level there have been meetings with CEOs of State agencies to discuss with them their detailed implementation arrangements. It is true that very few of the agencies want to move out of Dublin because in the two previous rounds of decentralisation there was no agreement on the transfer of staff between agencies.

Whose responsibility is it to make an offer on that? Is it not the Taoiseach's responsibility?

The group refers to the fact that some of the unions representing State agency members have adopted a stance of opposition to Government policy from the start. The group continues to highlight the importance of getting active discussions under way with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on a range of industrial relations issues impacting on the relocation. The Department of Finance has written to ICTU and has had some discussions with it with a view to forming a small group to explore whether progress can be made on this issue. ICTU has not yet replied but is examining the possibility of doing this. The Department of Finance has suggested the introduction of an arrangement which would allow transferability of staff between agencies. This has never happened since the foundation of the State. It is considered by the unions as new and is not something most of the agency staff want. The Government believes it should be possible to put together a scheme under which staff could transfer within agencies because, although the numbers are not as high as in the Civil Service, a substantial number of people working in the agencies want to move and they should be facilitated in doing so.

The Taoiseach indicated that 33 staff in his Department had applied to decentralise and that ten have already been redeployed.

What percentage of the staff in the Taoiseach's Department do these figures represent? I agree fully with Deputy Bruton that the figures under review do not reflect the intent of the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, who indicated that the purpose of this measure was to see the relocation of 10,000 civil servants and State agency employees. He also contextualised decentralisation in respect of city traffic relief, commuting and other matters pertaining to housing cost access in the city of Dublin.

Nevertheless, decentralisation is not simply about staff numbers. Since the scheme's announcement and consequential relocations, has an assessment been made on the success of the relocation of departmental sections? Have comparative studies been undertaken regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of respective redeployments of departmental sections to different locations as against the operation of such sections in the city of Dublin? If such studies have not been undertaken within the short time involved, can the Taoiseach advise Members whether such an exercise has ever been undertaken for any of the previous tranches of decentralisation, of which there have been a considerable number? If such an exercise has not been carried out in respect of the most recent move, will the Taoiseach indicate his intent in this regard? It would be a highly important exercise on which to embark.

As for the issue of State agencies, Members must recognise that SIPTU represents approximately 1,600 State agency employees who have made clear their position. In reply to a question yesterday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen, indicated to me that the call by SIPTU for the abandonment of the relocation of State agencies was not in line with the Labour Court recommendations. However, the Taoiseach will have noted the Labour Court has also struck down the proposed unfair method of decentralisation, namely, the coupling together of relocation and promotion prospects. In this context and given SIPTU's representation of large numbers of employees of State agencies, what is the Taoiseach's response to its proposal to abandon the project of relocating State agencies? In particular, I seek a response in light of all the information now available, as well as the experience gained regarding State agencies since the announcement was first made in this Chamber on budget day some years ago by the former Minister, Mr. McCreevy.

I remember the first round of negotiations at the end of the 1980s. I was involved in the arrangements within the Department of Finance for three years in respect of relocating large parts of the Central Statistics Office, Revenue and the then Department of Social Welfare. At the time we encountered all the difficulties that have been experienced in this round, which is understandable because it brings change, movement and a different set-up. However, the civil servants and the Departments involved would state the moves have worked extremely well. Several analyses have been carried out by different bodies and groups in the intervening period and it has worked out very satisfactorily. Currently, there are no difficulties in this regard. The difficulties pertain to the set-up.

I refer to the advance groups that have already gone. Some sections of the Department of Transport have already moved to Clonakilty, other sections have moved to Deputy Ó Caoláin's constituency in County Cavan in advance mode and are working very well. I refer to the Marine Institute and others. Despite all the arguments that large numbers of staff would not move, 95% of Marine Institute staff have so done. These moves work very well.

As for the State agencies, of the 10,000 or 11,000 people on the central applications facility, CAF, list, only 1,000 come from the agencies. In respect of the FÁS case, the Labour Court stated as part of its recommendations that it believed the stated policy of effecting decentralisation on a voluntary basis could best be achieved if individuals who were willing to relocate could be provided with realistic alternative options. This is the reason the Department of Finance, through the decentralisation implementation group, is trying to negotiate an agreement with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that would allow for such a scheme to operate. While only time will tell whether this will be successful, at least both sides have engaged in an examination of this. Obviously I hope it will be successful as those who have been listed would then have an opportunity to move. However, one should be conscious that this has never happened in previous rounds while it has worked successfully in the Civil Service.

As previously noted, approximately 2,000 posts will have been moved by the end of this year. In 2008 and 2009, several thousand more people will move, based on the number of locations in which building is taking place or offices have been purchased. This gives approximately 7,000 people from the total of 10,900, not all of whom are from Dublin, as was noted earlier. However, several thousand would move to those locations. Advance accommodation has been secured in approximately 20 locations to enable early movers to move. I understand that in such cases, no difficulties have arisen. Revenue has encountered a few difficulties and I understand the Minister for Finance spoke on this issue yesterday. Alternative numbers have been put up in respect of the proposed information and communications technology, ICT, move to Kildare. Consequently, while some changes are taking place within some agencies, by and large the numbers will be achieved and with sensible negotiations on all sides, a position will be reached whereby most of those offices that were nominated in the first place will have moved.

The Taoiseach did not respond regarding the figures pertaining to his Department.

I am sorry.

I wish to add a further point. What percentage do those figures represent in respect of the Department of the Taoiseach? How does this compare with other Departments? Is there a rush to get away from the Taoiseach? The Taoiseach should respond in this regard.

As for the State agencies, the difficulties are clear. Some people within existing State agencies have, over their years of service, developed specific skills that are particular to the role of the State agency in which they work. Such individuals are not multi-transferable and are not immediately moveable from one State agency to another because they cover such a variety of areas of address. It is feared that people will be moved inappropriately, irrespective of their years of service and experience. The Taoiseach should respond to another fear, namely, out of pride and unwillingness on his part and that of his colleagues to climb down on this issue in the face of such persistent opposition, he will attempt to cobble together opportunities to try to accommodate some aspects of the decentralisation proposals pertaining to State agencies. The Taoiseach must address this issue and allay fears in this regard. Ultimately, he will be obliged to make a balanced judgment as to what is in the overall national interest in terms of the State agency proposals. If it is the case that on balance, it would not be feasible to proceed, the Taoiseach must be big enough to admit this.

A number of agencies have moved. While I have outlined the difficulties regarding the State agencies, several other agencies, such as the Marine Institute, moved in its entirety. Only a small number of its staff did not move. The Land Registry was in a notoriously difficult position because it had many difficulties in terms of work arrangements and delays. However, when it decentralised to the constituency of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Martin Cullen, in Waterford, it proved to be a huge success. There have been a number of other examples, including the move to Cork of 800 staff from the Central Statistics Office. They have proved to be enormously successful, although admittedly there were many difficulties with the initial moving process. However, these have settled down and it has been working effectively as part of the system.

I have talked to union leaders about these issues when dealing with social partnership and so on. Many of the agency staff think differently from public servants about decentralisation and they do not see it as something they want to do. That is a fact of life. We must try to accommodate these people. In my Department, 33 staff have applied for relocation and 15 have already been decentralised. This is a total of 48 people out of just over 200 staff — a sizeable number — who want to move to rural areas under the current CAF round.

Are there worrying undertones in that?

Once it happens in the next five years, they will be happy. They would be worried about afterwards.

The Taoiseach will be joining them himself.

I recall that when the then Minister for Finance, former Deputy McCreevy, announced the decentralisation scheme, he told us it was designed to reduce the Dublin mindset in the running of the country, ease traffic in Dublin, reduce house prices and bring prosperity and plenty to the 50 places to which public servants would be sent. He said that 10,000 people would be moving to various places outside Dublin. I understand from the Taoiseach's reply that one year after the deadline, only 1,000 people have actually moved out of Dublin. The Taoiseach is now trying to redefine the whole purpose of the exercise. The numbers of decentralised staff will now include anybody who is moving from one place to another around the country. One thousand of these have already been included.

The last time we heard a cost for this exercise, it was put at €900 million. At a time when we are short of money in many public service areas — there are problems with the health service and with schools, and there are not enough gardaí on the streets in many areas — can the Taoiseach remind us why we are spending €900 million on a decentralisation project under which only 1,000 of the 10,000 people who were supposed to move out of Dublin have done so? What is the benefit to the taxpayer of this exercise? In light of the experience of the past three or four years, what is the benefit of the scheme?

Regarding the voluntary aspect of decentralisation, over the past three or four years every advertisement for a promotion competition in the public service has carried a note at the bottom stating that the successful applicant must be prepared to move to a decentralised location. As I understand it, the Labour Court has now shot that down by stating that promotional opportunities cannot be linked to decentralisation. What is the policy now in respect of the advertisement of promotion competitions? Has the connection with decentralisation been removed?

The Taoiseach mentioned Clonakilty. BIM, which is located in my constituency, is to be decentralised to that area. Whenever I meet members of the BIM staff while doing my grocery shopping in the shopping centre, they ask me about this matter.

They tell me they will not go. I understand that a building has been bought in Clonakilty to accommodate them. What am I to tell the members of the BIM staff when I meet them again? Are they going to Clonakilty or not? If they are not going, what will they be doing in Dublin? These people are experts on fish. They do not know anything about FÁS, education, schools or anything they may be assigned to in Dublin. They only know about fish — they are marine biologists and other similar professionals. If they do not go to Clonakilty, will the State employ other people who do know about fish to work in the office in Clonakilty? What will we do about the people who already know about fish, but are to be left behind in Dún Laoghaire?

Deputy Gilmore is fishing in the wrong pond. The Minister for Finance is the line Minister in this area and he answered questions on this yesterday. It is up to the Taoiseach whether he wishes to respond——

The Taoiseach mentioned Clonakilty.

——but I remind Members that these questions are a matter for the Minister for Finance.

There are lots of sharks over there that need to be watched.

I accept the Ceann Comhairle's ruling, but I will answer Deputy Gilmore briefly. He should tell the BIM staff that Clonakilty is a beautiful place, as is Dún Laoghaire.

The members of the Department of Transport who have moved down there are extremely happy. He could also tell them that the experts in the Marine Institute, who are considered the leaders in their field, have moved to Galway, which is the Deputy's native area.

Another great place.

They are very happy.

More than 90% of them moved. All of the other staff who have moved to locations around the country are also happy.

The benefits are to the 40 or so locations around the country where these public service bodies will move to. It is hugely helpful to these towns when staff move there.

Absolutely. Hear, hear.

I am not sure what happened in the first round — I think 7,000 or 8,000 people moved at that time. In this round, 20,000 public servants will be moving, which is a good thing. It is good for the public service and it is good for individuals to return to their own areas. It is also good for this city. Obviously, there is a cost involved. We have spent €4.5 billion on schools and we are spending billions on other things. Over a few years, which is a relatively short period in the life of the public service, we have moved many services around the country. It is good that we are not seen to have a Dublin mindset.

As I said before, with modern technology there is no reason services should not be moved to locations outside Dublin. There is now a free telephone service whereby people in my constituency can ring the Department in Sligo with inquiries about their pensions. In fact, to be frank, the service is far more efficient than when the offices were located in my constituency. Technology has moved on. We used to have enormous difficulties. Now that the staff are in Sligo, they can be reached far more quickly and easily. Apart from this, many in my constituency think that people are far nicer when they are outside Dublin. They do not have to deal with technology as the phones are answered by humans.

There is less stress.

People pick up on this point.

The Deputy should say to the people he meets from BIM that they should consider the arrangements now being negotiated between ICTU and the Department of Finance, and that if they do move down to Clonakilty, which is a beautiful area of Cork, they will be immensely happy.

Is the Taoiseach aware that there is a branch of the Department of Transport in Clonakilty? I welcome this with open arms and I hope it is a forerunner of many more around the country.

However, last week I spent 35 minutes trying to contact that office in Clonakilty from my office in Dáil Éireann. Is the Taoiseach aware that there is not even a telephone number listed for that office?

Is the Taoiseach aware that I had to contact the Department here in Dublin and ask to be transferred to Clonakilty? Is this proper procedure for a decentralised office in west Cork or any other part of the country? Those involved in the fishing industry on the south-western coastline are mesmerised as they are caught between the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Transport. Why, in the name of God in his wisdom, did the Taoiseach not create a Minister for the Marine and Fisheries and be done with it? This is an island nation.

With all due respect, Deputy Sheehan, we are beginning to stray into uncharted waters.

Why did the Taoiseach not do this? It would have simplified the situation and Deputies would not have to spend 35 minutes trying to contact a decentralised office in Clonakilty from Dublin.

Modern communications.

I do not know whether the Taoiseach has anything to say about that.

I do, a Cheann Comhairle, because I opened the offices of the Department of Transport and they are top-class efficient offices——

They are lovely offices.

——with proper telephone systems. Maybe they are not answering Deputy Sheehan for some other reason — that is a problem I have often had with Departments — but I will put in a word for him.

I tried 11811 and they could not find the number.

I will ask them to go down and meet the Deputy on Inchydoney Strand and they can have a stroll around his constituency. It is a beautiful place, beside the Department.

Deputy Sheehan should talk to former Deputy Joe Walsh.

I ask the Taoiseach to report on the progress of the decentralisation of Fáilte Ireland to Mallow and Bus Éireann to Mitchelstown. These two towns, which have been decimated by job losses, held high expectations of the decentralisation process and made many preparatory plans. There has been no reporting on the decentralisation process as it pertains to these towns and we would like to know what exactly is going on.

These are questions for the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance.

These are questions for the line Minister but, as I stated earlier, if the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the decentralisation implementation group can come to an understanding on the agencies issue, it will certainly help in these areas.

On the State agencies, particularly the decentralisation of FÁS to Birr — I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle will probably tell me it is a matter for the Minister for Finance——

I probably will.

I thought that too but I tabled two oral questions to the Minister for Finance yesterday, neither of which appeared on the Order Paper and both of which were transferred to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which is why I am coming to the Taoiseach from whom I might get a direct answer. In terms of the flexibility within the Civil Service, it is worrying to hear the Taoiseach tell us that four years after the announcement there is a small group trying to explore how decentralisation of the semi-State bodies will happen. I would expect much more progress at this point and I ask him to give a specific answer in that regard.

On two further brief issues, is there a backlog in the Department of the Taoiseach and other Departments, such as in the Minister, Deputy Cullen's Department, in processing applications and other matters where staff encounter difficulty because people have been transferred?

It has been put to me by people involved in the proposed designation of a world heritage site in Clonmacnoise that one of the reasons for the lack of progress on this is that expertise in that regard has been transferred from the Department that was dealing with it to other Departments and that there is not significant expertise within the Department that should be dealing with the designation to progress this at the pace originally promised. Will the Taoiseach deal with that as well?

I am not aware of the individual case, but overall approximately 40% of the staff due for decentralisation have moved into their new positions. Of course there is a transition period where people must move and be retrained in new Departments or in new sections of Departments that are decentralised, but I understand that has gone fairly well.

The reason the group is trying to get an agreement between State agencies and ICTU relates to the Labour Court decision on the FÁS case that it is right an individual should have an opportunity to avail of a scheme by which he or she can move to another agency, as exists in the Civil Service. The difficulty is there is no such scheme because in the previous two rounds of decentralisation in the 1990s agencies were not moved. This is a chance to develop a new scheme.

Is there a timeframe?

If ICTU responds, it is likely to state that 1,000 of the 11,000 want to move. Although I do not want to answer for ICTU, I think it would be reluctant to agree with anything that is compulsory. It is clear from its submission in the Labour Court case that it is prepared at least to think about voluntary decentralisation for those who wish to go. ICTU has stated that it will resist any attempt to move people on a compulsory basis. That is ICTU's position, but at least it is looking at this matter. It has not agreed yet to go into a process but if it does that, we can at least devise a scheme that would allow those who have put themselves on the CAF list to get out.

On the backlog in dealing with claims and the loss of expertise, does the decentralisation committee or the Minister for Finance need to put a scheme in place to ensure that people are retrained during the process of people being moved on. For example, only two sites in the country have been chosen for designation as a world heritage site and this has enormous impact for the country from a tourism perspective. It is wrong that a matter like that is delayed due to a lack of expertise.

That happens all the time, for example, when an assistant principal is promoted to principal officer or an EO is promoted to HEO and moves to a different section of a Department. Such moves are ever-present in Departments. This involves 4,000 or 5,000 people over three or four years and that should not create an excuse. It raises the old question of whether people want to embrace this and move. There are people who do and there are some who are against it. The fact is 11,000 civil servants, over half of whom are in Dublin, are anxious to move.