I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
The Deputies are aware of the Government's record to date in reducing higher levels of pay and of pensions in the public service. Since it took office, the Government has introduced a general pay ceiling of €200,000 for higher positions across the public service, brought forward a referendum to allow pay reductions to apply to the Judiciary and amended the public service pension reduction to apply a higher rate to those benefiting from higher pensions.
The reduction by 10% of the salary scale and fixed allowances for new entry grades to the public service was implemented by the previous Government with effect from 1 January 2011 and remains in place. The stated purpose of the measure was to achieve a medium-term structural reduction in the pay bill cost of the public service, and as a contribution towards improving Ireland’s competitiveness. The measure also had regard to the current Public Service Agreement 2010-2014, or Croke Park agreement, which provides for no reduction in the rate of pay of serving public servants.
The Deputy will be aware that, on foot of the Government’s invitation to the public service trade unions, discussions have commenced on extending the public service agreement. Pay rates for all employees, including those subject to the 10% reduction, will form part of those discussions.
The discussions with the public service trade unions are predicated on the scale of consolidation required to meet our fiscal targets which will require a further reduction of some €1 billion in the cost of the public service pay and pensions bill.
Intensive engagement, facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission, has now commenced between the parties to the discussions and will continue over the coming weeks. In order to ensure that savings can be found as early as possible in 2013 to meet expenditure commitments, management has indicated that these intensive discussions should conclude in a matter of weeks. While it would not be appropriate to comment on the detail of a possible future agreement while those discussions are ongoing, any measures agreed must result in cost savings to the tune of €1 billion over the next three years. It will be important that the Government is able to verify these cost savings, as has been the case for the current agreement.
The Government has been, and will continue to be, acutely aware of the needs and interests of the users of public services. The Government’s ambitious public service reform plan was published in November 2011 and sets out the basis for the comprehensive and strategic reform of the Irish public service. The plan includes a core commitment to “place customers at the core of everything we do”.
In the context of a smaller and leaner public service, there is a requirement to become more strategic and flexible and to focus on supporting citizens and businesses where and when they need it most, including working across business functions and across traditional organisational boundaries.
In this context, the plan sets out a range of actions to improve the citizen’s access to, and interaction with, Government services by providing more integrated services through more efficient and accessible channels, by reducing the information and administrative burden, and by engaging with citizens and business customers in the design and delivery of services.
There is a need to make this interaction with the State as simple and efficient as possible and to improve the customer experience in engagement with the public service. This is addressed by all Government Departments and offices through their customer charters and customer action plans, and also through a range of customer service improvement initiatives at organisational and sectoral level, many of which are set out in departmental integrated reform delivery plans.