Aengus Ó SnodaighQuestion:
1 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach the historical commemorative events his office proposes to fund and with which it will be involved in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10131/09]
Vol. 681 No. 1
1 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach the historical commemorative events his office proposes to fund and with which it will be involved in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10131/09]
2 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the commemorative events his Department plans to fund during 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10888/09]
3 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the commemorative events he will support during 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14061/09]
4 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the commemorative events his Department will sponsor during the remainder of 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15573/09]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
An amount of €170,000 has been allocated under subhead E of my Department's Estimates this year to support commemorative projects. This funding is available to assist individuals or groups in organising the commemoration of individuals or events of historic importance.
To date, funding has been committed towards the cost of the Mayo Peace Park, a publication to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the commemoration of the bicentenary of the birth of William Gladstone and a conference on the plural Protestant traditions in Ireland.
Céad bliain ó shin, bunaíodh Fianna Éireann ag Countess Markievicz agus Bulmer Hobson. An bhfuil sé de rún ag an Rialtas comóradh a dhéanamh ar an ocáid sin i mí Lúnasa? The members of Fianna Éireann played a key role in the struggle for independence and many of its members made the ultimate sacrifice. Will the Government mark the centenary this year or support any commemorative events? Is the Taoiseach aware that a major auction house up the road from here this morning held what it called an Independence sale and that among the items put up for auction was the football used on Bloody Sunday in Croke Park in 1920 and an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation which belonged to Rory O'Connor and also letters from Pearse, Griffith and de Valera? Does the Taoiseach think it right that such precious items of our heritage should be allowed to be sold unrestricted with nothing to prevent them from being taken out of the country? Does he agree that the Irish people, through the National Museum of Ireland or the National Library of Ireland, should be given priority in terms of acquiring important documents and artefacts? Given the role of the Taoiseach's Department in sponsoring major historical commemorations, will he ask his Department and also the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to prepare legislation to protect our heritage? What is the position regarding the committee established to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising and why has it met only once since this Dáil was formed?
Some of these questions are beyond the ambit of the original question about commemorative events and whether there are proposals for such events this year. I cannot speak on any individual initiatives or events proposed for this year which may or may not be funded. Applications for funding under the commemoration initiatives fund are made to my Department. A number of issues are taken into account when assessing projects for funding. These include impact, significance and relevance, geographical spread, balance between popular and academic, educational content and viability of the project. I have no information as to what particular events may be supported further during the course of this year other than those I have outlined which have received support thus far.
The question of artefacts of historical importance is a matter for the judgment of the National Museum personnel or of any other public agency as to a decision to seek to obtain or purchase artefacts which may become available for sale through various means and this has been the case in the past. I cannot comment on the specific question about this morning's auction as I have not been given any notice of it.
On the question of a statutory basis for the protection of our heritage, some good legislation has been introduced dealing with archives, items of heritage and of historic importance. This has improved both the funding and the resources which are being made available for these purposes in a whole range of areas, which also includes items of cultural and architectural value in an effort to preserve our heritage in its widest sense.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to particular items of interest which come up for auction or sale. These are matters which are considered by the director of the National Museum, based on whatever existing artefacts the museum holds. I am sure the items mentioned by the Deputy are already in the possession of the museum, if not specifically the football from Croke Park.
I take it from the Taoiseach's answer that there are no plans to commemorate the founding of Fianna Éireann in August as it was not included in the list supplied by the Taoiseach. While I am aware this may be a matter currently being considered by An Bord Pleanála, will the Taoiseach support the call for an emergency meeting of the all-party commemorative committee on 1916 to consider the potential threat to No. 16 Moore Street and the adjacent buildings by the proposed development?
I remind the Deputy that the questions before us concern commemorative events——
They relate to commemorative events.
The Taoiseach is referring to funding of and involvement in projects in 2009. We are not stretching off to 2016.
There is a committee in the House which has met only once since it was re-established after the last election and met very infrequently during the previous Dáil.
The Deputy will have to put down a separate question on that. That is a different matter.
An historic commemorative event is being planned.
It is not planned for this year. I am not trying to block the Deputy, I am merely pointing out the rules.
We can have commemorative events this year during the run-up to the centenary. The committee was founded to organise a series of commemorative events between now and 2016. This is one such proposal and I was asking the Taoiseach whether he would consider organising such a meeting.
I agree that we have to prepare well in advance for the 1916 centenary commemorations and we will do that. In January 2007 the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, placed a preservation order on No. 16 Moore Street under the National Monuments Act 1930, as amended by the 2004 Act because the preservation of No. 16 is considered a matter of national importance by reason of the historic interest attaching to it. Nos. 14, 15 and 17 Moore Street were also included in the preservation order to protect the amenities of No. 16.
The statutory function of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government comes into play regarding any future development of such privately owned national monuments, including its physical adaptation for new uses, and in cases where such a monument may be affected by development in its vicinity. Any proposed works affecting the national monument, including any excavation or ground disturbance in proximity to it, require the Minister's prior written consent under section 14 of the National Monuments Act 1930 as amended by the 2004 Act before they can proceed. Considering any such applications for consent the Minister is statutorily obliged to consult with the director of the National Museum of Ireland and it is the Minister's intention that any works to the national monument would be the subject of professional review and assessment in the Department before any consent would be granted.
The Department of the Taoiseach is engaged with other Departments and agencies on the preparation of a centenary commemorative programme centred on the Easter Rising. No expenditure will arise in this regard in 2009. The Minister for Defence is chair of the Oireachtas all-party consultation group on centenary commemorations.
Is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union among the events which will be supported by his Department this year? A statement in the programme for Government states that the Taoiseach's Department has responsibility for commemorations, especially to organise a programme of commemoration activities to celebrate the key historical events in our history through the years 1913 to 1923. Has any list of such events been agreed for commemoration and support by his Department, and what plans has he to engage in a wider consultation on what events should be so commemorated? Does he see any potential, albeit on a limited basis, for North-South agreement on events that might be commemorated on an all-island basis and which his Department might support?
These matters can be examined. I am not aware of any application from SIPTU on the ITGWU centenary celebrations this year so I cannot comment on the Department's likely response. It is a matter of importance in terms of labour affairs and the history of the country but I am not aware of whether there is an application in under that fund for such a purpose. We will see if there is any potential for examining an all-island perspective to commemorate the events during the 1913-23 period.
Is there any reason the committee which was established to consider the commemoration of 1916 has met on only one occasion since its formation in 2006? Are there any plans for it to meet?
That is outside the ambit of this question unless the Taoiseach can be helpful to the Deputy.
The previous Deputy referred to a consultative group within the House, if I am correct. According to a member of the committee it appears that group has met only once. I can ask the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, who is chairman of that group, what is the up to date position.
What is the position with regard to the report to be presented to the Government, concerning the re-organisation of the GPO complex? At the ceremony there on Easter Sunday, people were asking questions about the area beyond the main hall of the GPO where there was to be a major reconstruction. I believe this had general approval given the historical significance of the space and the building it occupies. The feeling was that a brilliant museum-type building might be created for the benefit of the people. A development programme was to have been put before Government. Does the Taoiseach have any idea what has happened to it? Has it gone back into the realms of theory or is there a practical programme that can be assessed and a decision made?
That is beyond the realms of these questions unless the Taoiseach can be helpful.
I do not have that information before me but I shall make inquiries and come back to the Deputy.
The Republic was declared 60 years ago this month by the former Taoiseach, John A. Costello. Is there any significance in the fact that the Government has made no reference to the foundation date of the Republic? Was there any reason for this? Was it not worthy of comment?
One may be sure there was a reason.
I have no problem with the fact that the Republic was declared in 1949.
The Republic to which the Deputy referred was declared in 1949.
John A. Costello was once described as the honest broker to the chains of stronger men.
I have a lot of time for John A. Costello.
A decision was made to establish a national commemoration day in respect of the Famine and to hold the commemoration ceremony in different places around the country. This year, it is to take place next month in Skibbereen, my home town. Was there an application or has any provision been made for funding to support a proper approach being made by the local committee involved in the ceremony? As the Taoiseach probably knows, it will move to different towns as the years proceed. Skibbereen was very badly hit by the Famine. People became known — and some of us are still known — as the donkey eaters, in consequence. Was there any funding proposal or might funds be obtained to support the effort to complete the commemoration properly this year in Skibbereeen?
As the Deputy noted, last year the Government announced plans to commemorate the Great Famine with an annual memorial day, reflecting support expressed by Oireachtas Members from all parties. The national Famine commemoration committee has now agreed that the annual Famine memorial should rotate between the four provinces of Ireland. It was proposed that Skibbereen should be the venue for the 2009 event, to be held on 17 May. Funding does not come under the small sub-heading I have in front of me. From memory, my feeling is that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has been able to assist in that regard.
To bring the Taoiseach up to date, I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, is assisting by attending on the day but he does not appear to be sending any cheque in advance with regard to the commemoration or the costs thereof.
I shall check on that.
If the Taoiseach could manage a cheque, either directly or through the Minister, that would be helpful.
The absence of money caused many of the problems of the Famine.
5 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department with responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Public Service Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10597/09]
6 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date by the implementation group on the Task Force on Public Sector Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14323/09]
7 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the progress to date made by the quality customer service initiative within his Department established under the strategic management initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15545/09]
8 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on progress to date by the Task Force on Public Service Reform. [16419/09]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together.
The Government statement on transforming public services, TPS, and the report of the task force on the public service were published on 26 November last and set out an ambitious programme of renewal for the entire public service. Implementation of the change programme is being overseen by the Cabinet Committee on Transforming Public Services, which I chair. The work of the Cabinet committee is being supported by the newly established programme office, which is based in my Department.
The programme office will support organisations across the public service in their transformation efforts and will also support the Government in driving, co-ordinating and monitoring progress on implementation. It will also promote innovation and the piloting of new activities and identify areas for joint action by organisations. In addition, designated officials have been charged with supporting the change agenda within each of the main branches of the public service.
The programme office has been established with seven officials from within the existing financial and staff resources of my Department. They will be supplemented by four secondees, one each from the four main sectors of the public service — local government, health, education and justice. The salaries of these secondees will continue to be paid by their parent organisation so there is no additional cost to my Department. In addition, a further six officials work on the organisational review programme, which was established to review the capabilities of all Departments and major offices to deliver on their stated goals into the future. The overall work of the programme office is supplemented by staff in other Departments, in particular the Department of Finance, and designated officials charged with supporting the change agenda at the sectoral level.
The TPS agenda is necessarily very broad and encompasses the whole of the public service — the health sector, the education sector, non-commercial State-sponsored bodies, local authorities and regional bodies, the Garda and the Defence Forces. Detailed and ambitious timelines are set down in TPS for many of the commitments and to date, progress has been made in a number of areas. These include the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes, which began its work in December and to date has met with 13 of the 15 Departments scheduled for review. Under its terms of reference, the special group will submit its report to the Minister for Finance by the end of June, and this is on course.
An e-Government policy unit has been established within the Department of Finance on foot of responsibility for e-Government policy and central operations being consolidated in that Department. All Departments, offices, agencies, non-commercial public bodies and authorities are currently preparing their e-Government plans to be submitted to the Department of Finance by end June 2009.
Work has commenced on examining some specific proposals in the areas of shared services on the basis that there are potential savings associated with such initiatives. Groups of senior officials have been established to advance shared services in both the HR and financial services area. These groups are examining the feasibility of a shared services model for administrative HR and pensions for the public service, and undertaking a detailed study of the issues involved in the payroll and finance functions.
Significant savings can be realised from the improved professionalisation of procurement and, to this end, a new national operations unit is being established within the Office of Public Works. This unit will work to leverage the public service's buying power by organising the procurement of common goods and services. It is envisaged that the unit will achieve savings from a combination of price reductions, administrative efficiencies and demand management.
The organisational review programme has been extended so that all Departments and major offices will be reviewed within the next three years. The five organisations to be reviewed in 2009 are the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Health and Children, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Statistics Office and the Property Registration Authority.
A new round of value for money reviews was approved by Government in late 2008. Reviews are under way or due to commence in 12 Departments for completion by end 2009. These focus on evaluations of significant areas of expenditure and major policy issues with a focus on health, education, social welfare and justice sectors. They ensure that programmes are delivering outcomes in line with expectations and identify appropriate policy responses where they are not.
Work has commenced on some of the numerous commitments in relation to improving customer focus. An examination of the feasibility of introducing a single point of contact telephone service has commenced, as has work on reducing the administrative burden for citizens. A group has also been established to determine the feasibility and value of mechanisms to simplify the provision of means information by citizens to public bodies.
These measures are in parallel to projects and initiatives previously established under the quality customer service initiative. The objective of this initiative has been to enhance the citizens' experience in their interaction with the public service. Central to this objective is the customer charter initiative under which organisations consult their customers, set targets, measure progress and report publicly on the results. The charter process is now in the process of being strengthened and extended throughout the public service to ensure a consistent and quality standard of service whether, for example, from a Department, a local authority or a Garda station.
Other areas of work which will be progressed in the near future include the allocation and redeployment of staff to areas of highest priority, which is the subject of discussions with the social partners, as well as extending individual performance management systems across the public service.
The OECD report was published a year ago yesterday. It was five months yesterday since the task force on public service reform, which was set up on foot of that report, reported back to Government with its three-year comprehensive plan to reform our public service. The Taoiseach will recall the OECD report exposed a number of serious shortcomings in the way the Government has managed, or mismanaged depending on one's point of view, the public service in recent years. He will also recall there were six major findings in that report, namely, the collapse of value for money disciplines, the superficiality of the budget reforms, the damage done by an ill-thought out decentralisation programme, the habit of creating new agencies for every problem, the inability to deliver the ambitions of an e-enabled government and the refusal to tie pay increases in the public service to a tangible reform agenda. There have been numerous opportunities in the past to deal with a number of these findings but they have not been taken.
I remind the Taoiseach that following the publication of the task force on public service reform report, he said there was a need to move quickly and decisively, with which I agreed, and that his policy was for public bodies to embark on a major drive on e-government to allow 24-7 access to as many of the services as is possible. Has that gotten off the ground? How many facilities in Departments are available 24-7, which was the Taoiseach's priority? Is it not a fact that the strategy for e-government has only proceeded at a snail's pace and has not worked in the way envisaged in the first place? Is there a focus on this to give it additional facilities to make it work, which is the way things should be done?
The Taoiseach said at that time he would engage with public service unions to bring about change as speedily as possible. What negotiations has he had with the public service unions? What reform or increased efficiency has taken place following those meetings between him and the public service unions? Have agreements been reached between him and the public service unions following the meetings on greater efficiency and an opportunity for public servants to progress, be promoted and move to where their initiative takes them?
The e-government potential is outlined in the report, as has been said. A team has been set up for the purpose of transforming public services under this report. All the agencies and Departments are to submit their e-government plans by the end of June, at which stage we can proceed.
I refer to the question of redeployment across the public service, flexibility and moving between Departments and agencies and getting flexibility across the public service generally. The first recommendation in that regard was to address, in the first instance, the position in the Civil Service and to proceed from there. The Minister for Finance and I are finalising our discussions on that matter so that we will have an established senior Civil Service which will allow for flexibility to move people around as required, with the benefits that brings to everyone, rather than to confine them to exclusively departmental careers.
The third issue raised by the Deputy also relates to the question of redeployment. Discussions on the question of redeployment are taking place in the context of the social partnership discussions. The decisions the Minister announced recently about early retirement and voluntary cessation of employment, etc., are being assessed in the context of the budget as a whole. It is obvious that any such measures would lead to major changes in certain organisations, depending on the demand for them. We need to consider how such changes can be facilitated without decreasing the effectiveness of organisations. That is the trick to be done in relation to all of that area.
There is progress to be reported in respect of all of the issues that were raised by Deputy Kenny. He suggested that people have been given pay increases without reference to reforms. I remind him that there has been a tie-in in that respect in various social partnership agreements. The report of the task force provides a full and comprehensive means by which we can make progress on all fronts. I refer not only to e-Government and redeployment, but also to other matters that, according to the task force, are the building blocks of a sustainable reform programme. The task force has emphasised the need to motivate workers to improve their performance, to deepen the engagement of citizens, to provide for shared services, to offer training for leadership, to provide for mobility and flexibility within the service, to strengthen the governance of organisations and State agencies and to set out a strategy for implementing all of that.
The Taoiseach listed some of the many groups that have been established to examine various aspects of public service reform. I confess that I lost track of the various groups as the Taoiseach went through them. I would like to focus on one group, in particular. The programme office that has been established in the Department of the Taoiseach seems to be pretty substantial. I understand from the Taoiseach's reply that the office comprises seven officials from his Department, four officials who have been seconded from elsewhere in the public service and six officials from other Departments. Are all of those officials working full-time? Is the programme office a full-time office? Is the office working on the basis of specified terms of reference? Can the Taoiseach tell the House exactly what is the office's job? How was it appointed? How were the secondees and the officials from the other Departments appointed? What was the process or the basis of their appointment? Can the Taoiseach give an example of the type of work the programme office is engaged in?
Further, which of the different bodies and groups that have been established as part of the process of public service reform proposed the introduction of an embargo on recruitment? I am particularly interested in the manner in which the embargo is being applied. I am concerned about its application to contract staff, for example. The Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, will be interested to learn that I visited a recycling centre in Bray this morning. The staff of the centre, who are local authority employees, are on fixed-term contracts that are due to expire in June of this year. According to the terms of the embargo, individual contracts cannot be renewed unless the Minister for Finance agrees to renew them. The recycling centre in Bray will face closure if these contracts are not renewed.
The establishment of the programme office was one of the central recommendations of the task force. As I said in my initial reply, I have reassigned seven officials from the public service modernisation division of my Department to the programme office. They will be supplemented by four officials, three of whom are already in place, who are to be seconded from each of the four main sectors of the public service. I have made it clear that the cost of seconding those officials is being met by their parent organisations. The final secondee will join the programme office soon. In addition there are six officials who work on the organisational review programme which involves reviewing the cost effectiveness and outputs of various programmes across Departments and agencies and ensuring that they do what they are supposed to do and whether they are part of the value for money process. The work of the programme office is supplemented by staff from other Departments working at their own jobs but in particular by their counterparts from the Department of Finance whose personnel have a strong public service remit, and designated officials charged with supporting the change agenda at the sectoral level. Some people work on this in addition to other responsibilities. The programme office works mainly in this area.
The statement on transforming public services sets out an ambitious programme of renewal for the entire service. It encompasses the whole of the public service and it is reasonable that staff have been assigned to the programme office to support that change which will lead to the real improvement in services delivered to citizens that is the purpose of the operation. We require staff to deliver frontline services and will require them to develop reform policies and to drive a transformation agenda throughout the public service. In doing so the programme office also supports the work of the Cabinet committee and the steering group of secretaries general.
The grades of staff working with the programme office are principal officer, two assistant principals, one administrative officer, one higher executive officer, an executive officer and a clerical officer, while three principal officers, one assistant principal, one administrative, and one clerical officer, work on the organisational review programme. The establishment of the programme office has not led to any increase in staff costs in my Department.
In addition to staff costs the programme office has been allocated €600,000 from the change management fund to support its activities. That fund was established in 1999 for the purpose of supporting Departments and offices in their efforts to implement the strategic change agenda. The activities of the programme office which the fund will support this year includes communication of the agenda across all Departments and research to progress work on its commitments.
Does the Taoiseach accept that the area in greatest need of reform within the public service is in the higher management of the public service and the political management of Departments? How can the Taoiseach and for example, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, stand over the inordinate period of time it takes to process applications from people recently out of work seeking jobseeker's benefit or allowance? Some of these people wait months to have their applications processed. We have all heard about this in our constituencies. Does the Taoiseach not accept that there is something fundamentally wrong with the systems and that if there is to be public service reform management at the highest level that political management of Departments must point out the unacceptability of these poor practices? What does the Taoiseach believe should and must be done to ensure that there is quality public service and that the pain and hurt of people applying for social welfare supports are not compounded by a system that treats them as suspects rather than as people who are genuinely in need?
One of the questions in this set refers to quality customer service. Where is the quality customer service? Do we have a code or is there a statement of best practice somewhere on a wall in all of these outlets? Where is quality public service part and parcel of what is happening on a daily basis? What is the position regarding the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programme? Is it not the case that this group and the exercise it is involved in is focused most particularly on a bookkeeping or cost-cutting exercise and that public service reform is not an integral part of its work? When is that special group due to report?
As regards the Deputy's final point, as I said in my first reply, it is expected that the group will report to the Minister for Finance by the end of June. It has already spoken to about 14 or 15 Departments, so that is on track.
As regards the Deputy's first question, the report Transforming Public Services referred to the question of redeployment and being able to get flexibility across the public service, thus moving people to areas of greatest need. For example, one could point to the demand on public services that is arising in the area of social welfare supports at present. Getting people to deal with that increased demand of work means they need to be flexible and amenable to change, thus reacting more quickly than the system seems capable of doing at the moment, unfortunately, because of the processes and procedures in place.
Redeployments are often subject to maintaining certain quotas at various grades because of procedures and processes that were built up in the past. That was at a different time when the whole question of organisational structure was far different from what it is, or should be, today. That needs to be fast-tracked with an oversight mechanism to move it along. It needs to be done in the interests of everyone who wants to see quality public services within a responsive and flexible system that is in operation to meet increased demands which might suddenly arise. The problem is that our processes and procedures in industrial relations terms are not capable of responding as quickly as the public, public representatives or many in the public service would like. They date back to arrangements that may have been agreed 30 years ago. That culture and what it represents must change.
We have a voluntary industrial relations system; there are people of quality in our public services and in a representative capacity in trade unions who know and understand that we simply have to address this issue and confirm that it is needed for the future. Those of us who are committed to public services want to see them providing value for taxpayers' hard-earned money. That flexibility and redeployment must be put in place in order to maintain and improve confidence in the capacity of our public services to deliver, in certain respects, at a time of unexpected demand on some sectors. Despite the best efforts of everybody thus far, I do not believe we have the flexible arrangements in place in sufficient measure to enable us to do that.
Obtaining changed practices that would enable people to be moved across the service as demands require is critical to quality public services being provided in the way we want. Unfortunately, we are not at that point yet, despite the best efforts of everyone. It is currently an issue for discussion at the social partnership talks and elsewhere as to how that can be done. We have to do this in a way that meets modern requirements given that Governments and Administrations face having fewer resources than in the past. Greater flexibilities and more effective redeployment will be required if we are to provide the quality public services to which people aspire. Those were the two main points the Deputy raised.
On the question regarding quality customer service initiatives, as the Deputy said, various codes of conduct, etc., have been put in place. One of the issues that arises in the group discussing the transformation of public services is the need to have a culture of quality of service and uniform quality standards across all services as part of the management needed to deliver public services, as intended by the report.
While I welcome the recognition of the need for greater flexibility, the need in the first instance must be to be able to meet unexpected or sudden increases in demand. Social welfare is the critical example of this at this point. We do not have sufficient flexibility or adaptability in terms of the numbers presenting and the chaos that has unfolded as a result. This issue has to be addressed.
In the context of the real fear that we are looking at the possibility of significant redundancies across the public service and the curtailment of numbers in the provision of public services, does the Taoiseach not accept that such a scenario would not bring about reform but would result in a curtailment of current service provision and a potential deterioration in the level of service into the future? Will he note my particular concern about the decision by the Health Service Executive to place an embargo on recruitment, both in terms of temporary post provision and replacement in a number of areas, including locum posts and people on contract employment? The Taoiseach will have noted the pronouncement on these matters made by the trade union, IMPACT, last Tuesday in which it indicated that there has been a serious deterioration in service provision across the health service as a result of the HSE announcements. Will he not accept that what the HSE has indicated will lead to a further deterioration in an already stretched health service and that what we will end up with is not better public services but greater fear of the failure of those services where our health is concerned?
Does the Taoiseach have an overall figure on the savings that can be achieved by having a real policy in the area of public procurement? It must amount to hundreds of millions of euro. From speaking to procurement officers in local authorities and Departments, it is clear there are so many different contracts and systems in place that it seems incredible that a much more streamlined and efficient system could not be introduced which would reduce costs for taxpayers by securing the benefits of doing real public procurement in volume.
What has been the result of the decision to abolish some quangos and subsume others into Departments or other quangos? Is a list available setting out progress to date?
The Minister for Finance has introduced a total embargo on public recruitment. The four Ministers opposite will appreciate and understand that if one removes in toto the ability to recruit from State Departments, as people in certain sections retire or move on, a space is created on the conveyer belt, as it were, which, if not filled, brings the relevant Departments to a halt. In what current circumstances is it possible for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan to appoint or employ a public servant to critical areas? What are the circumstances which apply?
The Government's task force on the public service recommended a common public service contract which would allow for public servants to be redeployed and move from Department to Department. What is the status of that? Is it operational? Does it mean people of initiative and enterprise in any one Department can, if they see an opportunity in a different Department, be eligible without difficulty to apply and be considered to transfer to such positions?
Regarding the question of how to reorganise government and how agencies or offices can be rationalised for the future, it is a matter in process which was set out in the budget in October by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and one which is an ongoing priority for individual Ministers according to the list outlined.
On the question of procurement, a national operations unit has been set up in the Office of Public Works for the purpose of trying to bring better value for money to the procurement aspects of Government and the public service generally and, generally speaking, there has been a lot of improvement in that area. There are constant questions about getting the best value for money, bulk buying and ensuring small and medium sized traders are not excluded from the process.
Changes have been brought about by OPW in some of the tendering arrangements to ensure small and medium sized enterprises are not discriminated against. They have the ability to apply for some, rather than all, parts of all contracts and various flexibilities have been introduced to assist SMEs in that respect. As part of that balance, the provision of such services locally to public bodies is also an issue.
The overall value for money requirement of getting the best possible price for taxpayers in respect of the purchase of goods and services by Government is a high priority and one which is being pursued through the operation of this unit and the various changes it is bringing about.
The question of staff being re-employed as a result of the embargo is a matter for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, who has indicated there are issues he can and cannot consider. The background to this is we have a public service pay bill of some €18.5 billion on a spend this year of more than €54 billion on the current side alone. There is also the question of our tax base being some 33% less than it was two financial years ago. There are a number of ways to deal with this, in terms of the public pay and pensions bill. One is through the pensions levy and another is through controlling numbers. We can also get greater flexibility in terms of how we can deploy the very considerable resources available to the State. The question of transforming public services is about giving people of talent and ability the opportunity to serve in various parts of the service and blurring the distinctions that have built up over time, in IR and other organisational terms, in various aspects of the public service and Civil Service.
The first step in the interactability or interoperability of senior and other staff is to start with the senior Civil Service structure which enables people to move around. We are currently in the process of establishing that senior service structure. The question of a single contract, starting with the Civil Service and getting re-deployment and flexibility within the senior Civil Service core is the first step in a wider public service challenge we intend to pursue, as outlined in the task force report.
Regarding Deputy Ó Caoláin's question, the purpose of pursuing a reform programme is to get a sustainable level of public services, to help with morale in the public service in terms of giving people the opportunity to use their own initiative to make decisions at the lowest appropriate level, to avoid the strong hierarchical culture that has dominated public service provision, to get flexibility and re-deployability of people across the service and to move people according to the needs identified, depending on demands placed upon services generally. This is the purpose and reason behind reform. Public service reform has too often been characterised as negative and as an attack on the service. I am convinced public service reform provides a great opportunity for the public service to show, as many in the service wish to demonstrate, a capacity to meet needs to the highest possible standard. The public service organisations with which I have dealt, and those who represent them, have shown a great commitment in this regard. We need to find the political will and industrial relations know-how to put in place these changes as a matter of urgency in order that the public service can show that, as in other sectors of the economy, whatever changes are necessary to help improve the service are made. Given the limited resources available, change is imperative and we should all seek to encourage it at every turn.