I move amendment No. 6:
In page 6, to delete lines 1 and 2.
Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, 15, 17 and 19 are being considered together, with amendment No. 20 in the name of Deputy Fleming. These amendments relate in the main to the definition in the Bill of "public service body". As the Minister for Finance is transferring to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform a number of functions relating to remuneration, superannuation, and so on, in commercial semi-State bodies, the definition of public service body in section 7 which transfers these public service type functions will now include commercial State bodies.
Amendments Nos. 6, 9 and 15 amend the definition of public service body in this way. Amendments No. 8, 10 and 14 are technical amendments.
Amendment No. 17 provides that functions of the Minister for Finance relating to the superannuation, remuneration, and so on of the Judiciary, Members of the Oireachtas, members of local authorities, Ministers and Ministers of State and the President transfer from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as these would not be included in the existing section 7(1)(a)(i), which refers only to staff of public bodies.
Amendment No. 19 tidies up the wording of section 8(f) in the published Bill and seeks to set out more clearly the Minister’s function in procurement policies and procedural frameworks. This amendment also clarifies that commercial semi-State bodies are not included in the definition of public service body for the purposes of section 8, namely, the reform remit of the new Department and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Deputy Fleming's amendment No. 20, which is taken with this grouping, is in two parts. The first, subsection(g), relates to combating high levels of salary in the public service. The Deputy already referred to the announcement I made yesterday on foot of a Government decision of earlier this week on the introduction of pay ceilings for the highest paid persons across the public service, and for chief executive officers in commercial State companies.
This Government supports a strong policy on pay restraint within the public service, as we determined on the day of our election when we reduced our own pay rates and fixed the highest pay rate for any public servant at that stage to be €200,000. We have worked since then on establishing that figure as a pay ceiling for all public servants, which will be in line with the recommendation published yesterday. The ceiling norm for all new incumbent positions will cascade down through the public service in relative fashion. A higher remuneration of €250,000 is the ceiling in respect of chief executive officers of commercial semi-State bodies. We did much thinking in this regard because there are many in the semi-State sector earning higher than the €250,000 threshold that we determined.
Deputies asked why we did not do this, legislatively, for everybody, including incumbents. I explored that and certainly would not have been averse to it but was informed that a financial emergency measures in the public interest, or FEMPI, process focus on such a narrow group of people for such a small take of money would not be robust and would be subject to constitutional overturn. Obviously, I was anxious that this would not happen. However, I believe we will get voluntary reduction. I do not have the pay scales in front of me but it transpires there will be only one chief executive officer earning above the €250,000 threshold, namely, the CEO of the ESB, with the rest earning less than that. A total of only five will earn above the general norm of €200,000 which applies to the rest of the public service.
It is a fair measure. I wished to keep the relativities as well and that is why we used the Hay report, which set out the relative differences, and simply reduced everybody's salary in proportionate terms. It was raised with me that because we used the Hay recommendations we may have gone too far in respect of the lowest-earning chief executive officers, which positions relate, in the main, to port companies. I am willing to look again at the lowest rates but that is a matter for debate when such positions come up to be filled.
In the interim I have asked for voluntary reductions for incumbents who are above the threshold of €250,000, to bring them down by 15%, or, at least, to the €250,000 level. Some indicated they have already taken a pay cut. I am very heartened, and wish to put it on public record, that I got an immediate response from the heads of public Departments, namely, the secretaries general, who, before the end of business yesterday, all offered to accept the voluntary new ceiling of €200,000 and relinquish their former rate. That is an act of public service because they have already been subject to a number of pay cuts.
For all those reasons, therefore, I do not believe it is necessary to consider the first part of Deputy Fleming's amendment. The second part proposes the retaining of a published record of all purchase orders in respect of the procurement of goods and services by, and on behalf of, Departments and other public service bodies. As far as the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is concerned, all information on public expenditure belongs to and should be available to the public. Our aim is to put Ireland at the leading edge of what is available in terms of openness, transparency and public details.
I do not know whether the Deputies opposite have had the opportunity to notice but on Tuesday this week I launched two units within my departmental website. One invites the public to participate in making suggestions for reform so that we can do things better and more efficiently and I am absolutely overwhelmed by the phenomenal response. Not all the ideas are great, obviously, but some are and I have guaranteed to publish the best of them on the website and, much more important, to implement them. In addition, we are providing a useful new data source for Deputies, the general public, writers, and so on. The data bank available on the Department's website,www.per.gov.ie, provides comprehensive information on every aspect of Government expenditure, currently and going back to 1994. The provision of such information is the beginning, rather than the end, of the process of opening the State’s data. The Department plans to make further information available in the near future. Information on every subhead of expenditure will be publicly available in the data bank within weeks of being agreed. I am not a great techie, but this system has been demonstrated to me in some detail. It allows comparison of expenditure under any subhead one likes. One can assess growth or diminution in public sector numbers, for example, over the past ten years and thereby make real-time comparisons.
This extremely important tool will give the public an unprecedented volume of current and historical data about how public money is spent, and in what area. It will reveal the public expenditure trends. It is my intention that over time, the Department will put all appropriate information into the hands of the public through the data bank. In addition to historical and annual information, it is intended that monthly Exchequer data will be made available for public scrutiny. I refer to the stuff that comes to the Government on a monthly basis, the general Government expenditure data and the purchase orders made by every Department and State agency. It is hoped that the public will be able to get information on what has been bought and how much it has cost within a month of that data becoming available. This aspect of the system will be up and running when the technical work has been completed.
I believe this is the approach Deputy Fleming intended that the Department would take. I assure the Deputy that I want to ensure the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is open and transparent. A public understanding of what we spend money on is necessary if expenditure is to be properly scrutinised. My experience is that the clearer and more open the spotlight on public expenditure is, the more prudent the expenditure decisions tend to be.