No. 5 is a discussion with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, on the second progress report on the public service reform plan 2014 to 2016. I welcome the Minister and his officials. The format will be that the Minister will make his opening remarks, following which members may put questions to him. I remind them and those in the Visitors Gallery that all mobile phones must be switched off to avoid interference with the broadcasting of the meeting. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
Public Service Reform: Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for their attendance. As there other exciting counter-attractions, it is great to see a full house.
We have every faith in the Minister's capacity to attract his own audience. He need not feel intimidated.
I should warn committee members that, having spoken to the media on the way in, short of murder, I do not think there are lines that will appear in the newspapers tomorrow from this committee, but we are conducting important business. The committee has played and will continue to play a valuable role in considering the public service reform agenda which is very much at the heart of what we want to do as a Government. That is why I wrote to the Chairman to ask for an opportunity to present the documents to the committee.
I propose to brief the committee on the progress made in implementing reforms and also to set out our plans for further public service reform in the coming years. Unlike the private sector where demand for goods and services falls during a recession, the demands on public services have increased in recent years. It is important to underscore these issues. For example, the numbers in receipt of social welfare payments increased by some 260,000, or 18 %, between 2008 and 2012; there are approximately 500,000 more medical card holders now than in 2008; in acute hospitals the number of day cases increased by 92.5 % in the ten years to 2012; and last year there were nearly 49,000, or 6 %, more children in schools than in 2009. While meeting these increased demands, staff numbers in the public service have been reduced by more than 30,000 since 2008. The public service pay bill fell from €17.5 billion in 2009 at its peak to €14.1 billion last year. Longer working hours, new rosters and standardised arrangements for annual leave and sick leave have been introduced and we have also been removing barriers to the redeployment of staff to priority areas across the public service. We have had more movement than at any time in our history. That this has been achieved in an environment of industrial peace is testament to the patriotic resolve of the public service.
Of course, we still face challenges. We will borrow €8 billion this year. Reforming public services is a critical component in meeting these challenges. Effective public governance can also contribute to Ireland’s competitiveness and the attractiveness of its business environment for investment and the important issue of employment creation.
Last month I forwarded a copy of our new reform plan for 2014 to 2016 to each Member of the Oireachtas. I also circulated a copy of the progress report on the Government’s first reform plan, which was published in November 2011. I will give a few examples of the progress made since that time. PeoplePoint, the Civil Service-wide human resources and pensions shared services centre, has been operational since March of last year. It now serves more than 24,000 employees across 19 organisations. When it becomes fully operational in January 2015 it will provide services to 40 organisations, with estimated savings of €12.5 million annually. We are implementing a radical overhaul of our approach to public procurement. Spokespersons have debated the issue on many occasions during Question Time, with a target of €500 million in procurement savings over the next three years, including a target of €127 million this year. An action plan to deliver efficiencies in the State’s extensive property portfolio is currently being implemented. We have issued more than 500,000 public services cards. The cards are currently being used for social welfare payments and the free travel scheme, and we are considering extension of the card to cover a greater range of services.
The office of the Government chief information officer has been established within my Department to maximise the potential benefits of digitisation in delivering services and information. We have made strong progress on this agenda already. The Government services portal www.gov.ie now includes quick links to more than 400 information and transaction services online. A series of public expenditure reforms have been implemented to bring greater structure, scrutiny and openness to budgeting, and we are making good progress in implementing our programme of political and legislative reform, aimed at enhancing openness, transparency and accountability.
The new public service reform plan outlines the key reform initiatives that will be implemented over the next three years. It also addresses the broader ambition for reform between now and 2020. Part of our thinking in producing a second plan is to embed the idea of reform within the system. Reform is not a journey with an absolute beginning and end. Rather, it needs to become a cultural tenet of the public service, where improvement, innovation and value for money are always on the agenda. Central to that is the development of a proactive management and leadership culture within the service. Four key themes run through the new reform plan: delivery of improved outcomes; utilisation of the reform dividend; digitisation and open data; and openness and accountability.
The previous phase of reform had a necessarily strong focus on reducing the cost of delivering public services. The next phase of reform will continue that work but it will have a greater focus on the delivery of improved outcomes for service users. That will include using alternative models of service delivery by commissioning for specific outcomes, more digital delivery of services, and service delivery improvements at sectoral and organisational levels. As part of an increased focus on the needs of service users, we are considering innovative approaches, from social impact investing to funding services in return for delivering specified outcomes. We need to measure the impact of public spending in deciding how and whether we fund those services. Of course, moving to alternative methods of service provision does not alter the fact that the Government is accountable to the public for the overall performance of a service, deciding how and to what extent services are funded, and in regulating the behaviour of service providers.
Public service organisations must also improve how they consult with their customer bases to identify areas where priority action is required to enhance service delivery and to ensure that information and transactions are more readily accessible. As well as centrally driven initiatives, many of the service improvements will be seen at organisational level, where most interaction with the State takes place.
As well as changing how we deliver public services, we will continue to focus on increasing efficiency and productivity. This productivity has been critical to achieving our saving targets to date but also in freeing up resources to meet the challenges facing the public service, as I set out at the start of my contribution. To give just a few examples: The creation of a new single payroll shared service centre for the Civil Service, which is currently under way, will consolidate and integrate payroll processes and practices from 18 to three payroll centres. There will be one service in three locations. It will deliver an estimated €5.6 million in annual savings. There will be more efficient and effective public procurement, with targeted savings of more than €500 million over the next three years. The implementation of the Government’s property management action plan will deliver efficiencies and a more integrated approach to the management of the State’s extensive property portfolio. The Haddington Road agreement will act as a key enabler for the delivery of this next phase of the Government’s reform programme. The agreement will deliver an additional €1 billion reduction in the cost of the public service pay and pensions bill by 2016. The agreement also provides for a total of 15 million additional working hours annually across all sectors of the public service. Every euro saved is a euro we do not have to remove from front-line services.
Under the new reform plan, the reform agenda will be about protecting and improving public services, and over the period of this plan, there will be an emphasis on saving to invest. This reform dividend will underpin and help sustain the reform agenda beyond the current fiscal crisis.
In recent years, the introduction of consumer technology has spread throughout businesses, homes, schools and other public service organisations. The public service must embrace that and make maximum use of digitisation and open data to deliver services and information in innovative ways. A new Government ICT strategy will be published later this year that will address the use of new and emerging technologies, ensuring that e-Government is designed around real needs and taking steps to improve the take-up of digital government. We already have a strong record in that regard. As part of the new strategy, we have captured data on the top transactional services on which the citizen engages with the State. That will help to inform what further services we should put online. We will also bring forward legislation to govern the circumstances under which data can be legitimately and securely shared, to ensure that citizens are not repeatedly asked for information that is already held in other parts of the public service system.
Citizens must be able to clearly see that the public service is working fairly in its decision making, in implementing policy and in delivering public services. We will continue to implement our legislative programme to improve public governance and rebuild public trust in the administrative and political branches of the State. This will include: the enactment and implementation of a reformed Freedom of Information Act, which is moving to Report Stage in the House shortly; the enactment and implementation of legislation to protect whistleblowers, which is also before the Dáil - I expect to complete Second Stage tomorrow depending on the number of speakers that offer - having secured passage through the Seanad; participation in the Open Government Partnership, which I mentioned previously, with a strong emphasis on the economic potential of open data; the introduction and implementation of lobbying regulation; the continuation of the comprehensive programme of statute law revision; and further strengthening of the ethical framework for office holders and public servants following the publication of the Moriarty and Mahon tribunal reports, underpinned by legislation.
Nor should we overlook the Constitutional Convention. This innovative approach to public policy reform will see this Government present to the people the most radical suite of reform to the Constitution in the State’s history. While the people will, in their wisdom, make the ultimate decisions, it is important that their stamp will be borne on the State’s institutions. Last month, I published a consultation paper on strengthening Civil Service accountability and performance. I regard the matter as of particular importance. That is why I separated it from the reform agenda that I published a week later. This extensive public consultation will assess how greater clarity, certainty and common understanding on the key issue of who is accountable to whom and for what in the Civil Service. An independent panel on accountability has been established to oversee the consultation process and to develop recommendations for me by the end of May. In recent years, we have introduced a suite of reforms to improve how we manage public expenditure - to deliver greater transparency, to enhance efficiency and to ensure that the public finances remain on a sustainable course into the future.
Every day, civil servants deliver many complex roles, including advising on key policies, implementing major projects and programmes, delivering front-line services, representing Ireland’s interests abroad, and supporting and directing the wider public service.
We should also acknowledge the role played by the Civil Service in securing the continuity of the State during the difficult times we have endured in the past five years. Our Civil Service renewal programme will ensure the Civil Service is a strong and capable organisation equipped to address current and future challenges, with a workforce that has the skills, capacity and tools to meet these challenges effectively. As part of the programme, we are looking at a range of areas where capacity and capability need to be developed to meet the challenges we will face in the future. These include leadership; change management; policy formation; and implementation. In the coming months views will be sought from inside and outside the system on what the Civil Service does well and what needs to change to participate in the renewal process. As well as participating in the consultation process online, a series of "town hall" meetings are taking place across the country to seek the input and ideas of civil servants, of all grades and levels, as we develop our vision for the Civil Service to meet Ireland’s needs into the future.
We have made good progress in implementing our expenditure reform programme. For example, the performance budgeting initiative has resulted in more timely and higher quality information being made available to support decision-making and allows the Oireachtas and members of the public to more closely view the relationship between Government objectives, budgets, performance and outcomes. This year IrelandStat - the citizen-focused public service performance information website - is being extended to all Departments and offices. This shows what the Government has achieved, what it did to deliver on these achievements, what it cost and how Ireland compares with other countries.
In delivering reform we will continue to ensure strong implementation and governance structures, which were an important element of the first reform programme. The Cabinet committee on public service reform will continue to provide strategic direction and hold senior managers to account for the delivery of reform. Each Department and office also developed its own integrated reform delivery plans, based on the commitments set out in the overall reform plan but also incorporating its own organisational and sectoral reform objectives. We must ensure we have the capacity and the capability to deliver reform. Leaders and managers across the public service must have a clear sense of what needs to be achieved and they must have a strong focus on performance, delivery and results. Performance management systems must support managers in getting the best from staff and staff must be given the tools and opportunities to develop their own capacity to deliver public services to the best extent possible.
I take the opportunity to thank Mr. Paul Reid, head of the Reform and Delivery Office, for his contribution to the delivery of an unprecedented programme of reform that we have implemented since his appointment in 2011. He will shortly take up the position of Fingal County Manager and I wish him well in this important role which will be more hands-on. He might regret his critical part in reducing the pay of senior public servants at county manager level, but he has been pivotal to all we have achieved in the past three years. The process to secure a suitably qualified programme director to replace him is already under way.
Since we published the first reform plan in November 2011, we have made considerable progress in building a new public service, one that is more efficient, more customer-focused and more responsive to changing priorities and needs. We must build on these achievements and maintain our focus and commitment as we look to the next phase of reforms. In doing so we are always open to good ideas. I welcome the role the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has played to date and look forward to it playing a pivotal role in a future reform agenda.
For the questioning, I propose we permit 15 minute slots, if that is agreeable. Before calling Deputy Charles Flanagan, I want to outline the overall context for the Minister. There are three questions that need to be asked of him. First, what is driving the public sector reform plan? While the reforms have a financial context, surely reduction is not reform in that it creates an additional hindrance. Second, what is the Minister's view of the allegation that we are trying to create a no-frills public sector? In other words, if everything is stripped out, we will end up with a no-frills service. Third, what the committee is ultimately examining is an environment in which people who avail of public services receive a quality service and that those who work in the public service are operating in an environment that allows them do their job to the best of their ability and motivates them accordingly. The target figure in 2014 is 282,500, which represents a reduction of 2,900. What is the aim in arriving at that specific figure?
Will I deal with your questions first, Chairman?
On what is driving reform, both parties, in advance of the election, regarded the landscape we were facing as a broken economy but also as a broken policy and Administration. A reform agenda had to be at the core of recovery and that meant fixing not only the economic woes that had befallen us but also the administrative and oversight structures that had failed, as well as the political systems. That is why a Department with responsibility for reform was created for the first time in the history of the State. We are driving reform because it is an essential part of our recovery and there are different elements to it within the public service, the Civil Service and politics, a good chunk of which falls within the remit of my Department.
On whether we are creating a no-frills, Ryanair-type public service, if I can use that term, that is not what is at stake, but we need to be open to delivering services in a different way. Simply because we have done it in a certain way for 40 years does not mean that it is the only way to do it. We must learn from the best business practices which can migrate into the public service, but what underpins the public service is a public service ethic that has served the country very well. I pay tribute in particular to those public servants who kept the ship of State afloat when all systems seemed to have collapsed in the dying part of the previous Administration. They served the country very well. We are not looking to create a no-frills public service. We are looking to have a high quality public service in which everybody knows his or her job and there is clear accountability for inputs but also outcomes. I spoke yesterday to people on a local radio station who were talking about measuring inputs. The quality of the service is determined by how much money one provides for it rather than by what one gets for one's money and how the service is delivered. We need to have a much greater link between the service user, that is, the citizen and public services. That is what we are trying to create.
On the last point on from where we get the numbers and whether there is a numbers target, obviously the first days of the reform agenda had to have very much central to it a fiscal target of expenditure controls. There are only two ways to reduce expenditure - reduce numbers or pay rates - and we did both through the Croke Park agreement which had been designed by the previous Administration and the Haddington Road agreement which was negotiated by us with the public sector unions. A reduction in numbers is part of that agreement. If every business had to make changes, it would not simply cut salaries; it would cut numbers to see if it could deliver services in a more efficient way. There is no holy writ about numbers. I have said, in terms of the discussions we have had, that I want to migrate some of the savings we have made from back office supports, for example, through the shared services of PeoplePoint and the new shared payroll service, to supplement front-line services. That is why we have been able this year to restore recruitment to An Garda Síochána and give leeway to recruit extra resource teachers and special needs assistants. The numbers policy is a matter for debate in terms of what is the optimum number. For example, we said, in regard to An Garda Síochána, that we would set up a commission this year to examine what was the optimum number of gardaí that should be deployed and how they should be deployed. This should inform Government policy in that regard.
While I will revert to the business management systems to which the Minister referred in his response, I wish to delve briefly into another area. The report appears to give a lot of space or scope to the possibility of using non-governmental organisations, NGOs, or philanthropic entities to carry out services on behalf of the State. I will put to one side the issue with NGOs, regulation and so on and will focus on the issue of philanthropy. An issue of concern arises in this regard, namely, as the State faces a philanthropy cliff, from where will the funding for philanthropy actually come? Second, if one operates on the basis that one does not believe in altruism and that all behaviour is needs-driven, it follows that those who engage in philanthropic support obviously have some need they wish to serve. In this regard, could the situation arise in which the type of supports received through philanthropic funds went towards the things in which those agents are actually interested? One could then end up with a two-tier arts sector, for instance, in which the jazzy stuff and the black-tie events get funded, while community-based arts programmes do not, because they are not, to use a phrase, as sexy within the arts world. This also could happen in respect of development agencies and so on. I do not make this point disparagingly but given the concerns philanthropic funds bring and the needs return - I believe people operate on a needs basis and there is a return for it, even if it is a feeling they are doing good work in their communities - how does the Minister address such concerns?
The Chairman again has asked a number of questions. While different service delivery models are being sought, I note we already have a highly complicated matrix of delivery models. Speaking as a former Minister for Health, I can tell the Chairman that many of the services we provide in the health area built up over time on the basis of charitable organisations that provided services that suddenly were taken into an umbrella. This is the reason we had a highly disparate patchwork of services. In some areas, there were very high-quality services for children because good charities had operated in them while in other areas, services for children, the elderly or the disabled were non-existent. One of the original rationales for the creation of the Health Service Executive, flawed and all as was that architecture, was to have a national, rather than a regional and disparate overview, to pull together all those strands. There are a number of points to make to answer directly the Chairman's question as to how this should be done. If there are to be different service delivery models, whether through NGOs, charities or statutory agencies, the main thing is to have absolute transparency regarding both the funding that is available and what is expected from it or in other words, transparent service level agreements. This is what the Department is driving at because, as those colleagues opposite who have been tabling parliamentary questions in respect of section 38 or 39 organisations are aware, there is a great deal of opacity that has built up over decades and through which the Government must now get to have transparency in the models, how they are funded, the level of administrative costs and so on if quality public services are to be delivered. However, I am under no illusions as to how challenging is the job of getting the optimum service delivery system, because one cannot change fundamentally and provide a service at the same time. Some of the questions the Chairman asked reflect some of the challenges the Government will face in the next phase of carrying out that analysis. However, I am strongly of the view that the more transparency there is and the more open the access to data, the better will be one's confidence that value for money is being achieved and the service delivery model is the best.
To come back to the Minister's earlier reference to business management models and so forth, a criticism that may have been made of the public sector is that the type of management model in place there is hierarchical and that in the past, it has not adopted team management approaches and so on. The report contains strong words on the area of appraisal. However, if one actually is appraising a system with which there is a difficulty, the appraisal system therefore also is problematic because one is appraising something that may not be working. How does the Minister envisage the reforms moving towards the putting in place of an appraisal system and the putting in place of organisational structural change whereby there will be team approaches to dealing with issues? How does he envisage putting in place a structure in which one does not have the aforementioned hierarchical management model but where matters are considered collectively on a project basis, as opposed to each individual being appraised, as well as more innovative stuff that one might encounter in more modern industries?
As I noted in my opening remarks, the issue of accountability is at the heart of the reform. When we pulled back the layers and considered everything that happened in the past, it often came down to a systems failure in which no one actually was accountable or no one was responsible. We use those words and throw them out but what do the words "accountable", "responsible" or "answerable" mean? They all have different meanings in respect of Ministers, senior civil servants and so on. We must try to work towards a system in which people know for what they are responsible - I hope to do that in legislative terms - and therefore, for what they are accountable. I also have made the point previously about an idea from which we must get away. At present, we almost have a "Gotcha" culture, in which it is a good thing if one can nail someone and failure is never acceptable. However, the corollary is one ends up with civil servants who will not make decisions because if one never makes a decision, one will never be wrong. As for always being safe, over the past three years my Department certainly would not have been able to do the job it did had it not been able to make sometimes difficult decisions on a daily basis. Sometimes, risky decisions were made because one never is certain of outcomes. By the time one evaluates and measures everything to the degree that is safe, one can end up being too late and the damage done. Therefore, we certainly need a degree of accountability, as well as a clear understanding of what it is for which people are responsible.
The Chairman mentioned the issue concerning hierarchy and I note the grading structure is under consideration. In the documentation on which I worked in advance of the election, which was replicated in some of the work carried out by Fine Gael, we came to the conclusion that there probably are too many grades within the Civil Service and too many people overseeing others, as opposed to doers. Moreover, there is not enough devolved responsibility and accountability and this is the sort of work that must be done. However, hand in glove with such work is the need to have proper training because in the past, people often were given jobs. One was promoted to be a procurement officer or a human resources person without any proper training. This cannot be and there must be professionalism in this regard. This is the reason I believe one will see a different model of intake into the Civil Service in the future. Not everyone will be a generalist but far more specialists will be recruited. At senior level, many more contract people will come in for specific functions for specific periods and hopefully, there will be a great deal more interaction between the private sector and the Civil Service. These are the models on which I would work. Finally, the Chairman made a very good point about team building in that an essential part of any modern enterprise is that one works as a team and not in a hierarchy under someone's control.
I thank the Minister for his attendance. At this point, I join him in wishing Paul Reid every success in his new position as Fingal County Council's county manager when he moves out into the less rarefied world of the public service. I am sure he will do well there.
I have a couple of points for the Minister. I listened and it is all fine words. He mentioned Government commitments, one of which was to cut down on quangos. Can he tell me straight up how many new quangos or State agencies have been established since the present Government came to power?
I know how many the Government wound up.
Yes, I know that list too. However, I am asking a straight question. I have the list-----
While the Deputy can ask the question, I get to answer it as I like.
Okay, that is fair enough too.
That is the system. At the outset, some of my colleagues spoke of the bonfire of the quangos and so on. The point about reform is that people find difficult the minutiae and complexity of reform. Consequently, they decide to pick on something like increments, quangos or some totemic item that overall, is highly marginal. As for quangos, the vast bulk of non-governmental organisations that work in the public service, in terms of cost and numbers, are agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, the National Roads Authority or the Environmental Protection Agency.
Those are the ones which take up all the funding and the vast bulk of the staff and, by almost uniform agreement, those are doing a good job and we need them.
We conducted an assessment when we came into office and we set out, as Deputy Fleming will recall, the three categories in 2011. In the first category, we identified 48 organisations that we would abolish, amalgamate or subsume. By the end of this year, 46 of those amalgamations will be completed. Of the two with which we did not proceed, one was the National Cancer Registry which we did not abolish for good reason and the other was the amalgamation of two aviation bodies, the Commission for Aviation Regulation and the Irish Aviation Authority, which, on advice, both domestically and from Europe, were needed to be kept separately. Everything else will be done.
We also stated we would review another set and a year late we published 25 actions. Some of them involve up to 100 bodies, for example, the VECs becoming-----
-----the education and training boards and the reduction this May in the number of local authorities, and will be big in number terms but involve one specific action. All of those actions will be completed by the middle of this year.
Of course, we have created new bodies. One looks at new challenges and issues that require new ways of operating and sometimes there is a justification for it. I do not regard necessarily the notion of a non-government organisation as bad per se. However, I will get Deputy Fleming the exact number. I will trawl through all Departments. Obviously, all of them have been approved by Government. I imagine there are very few. Maybe, through parliamentary questions, the Deputy has got the answer to that question. In my Department, I have created none.
Except the lottery regulator. The Minister is creating it.
I will be doing that. We had long debates about it.
On the new ones, the reason I raise it echoes what the Minister stated. Some spoke about the bonfire of quangos as part of the political scenario.
Not this Minister, either before or after the election.
I accept that. I spoke about abolishing quangos as it was a key test of the strength of the Government. The Minister is quite correct. The new agencies established by the Department of Finance are the Credit Union Restructuring Board, ReBo, the Irish Financial Advisory Council and the New Economy and Recovery Authority. Deputy Howlin's Department is setting up the new lottery regulator. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has set up Microfinance Ireland. The Minister for Social Protection has set up a new Pensions Authority. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has set up Irish Water and the Pyrite Resolution Board. The Minister for Justice and Equality has set up the Property Services Regulatory Authority and the Insolvency Service of Ireland. There is a new Child and Family Agency. Some of these are worthwhile and have important jobs to do.
Which one would Deputy Sean Fleming not have done?
I said they were important.
Deputy Fleming said "some". Which one would he not have done?
The Minister should let the Deputy ask the questions and he can give the answers.
I acknowledge these have important work to do. Some of them may not have had to be set up as independent organisations. I will answer the Minister's question. I note in the publication the Minister gave us, "Public Service Reform Plan", under patient safety and quality, that the Minister for Health proposes to set up the Irish patient safety agency this year. I thought HIQA would have a role in that. I would question that. We need patient safety covered but HIQA should be capable of doing that. Seeing as the Minister asked, there is just one.
On an issue we discussed here previously, the Minister confirmed that 5% of overall annual public procurement, which amounted to €650 million of the €13 billion in 2011, went to companies outside of Ireland. I note the Minister wants to drive down prices but he is exporting jobs unnecessarily through this process. He will be aware that many of the small and medium-sized businesses complain that they cannot get onto these lists. Right across Europe, they give contracts to companies in their own countries - in some countries, 98% or 99% of them. They are subject to the same EU thresholds and requirements as we are yet we are going backwards in this area. By the Minister's own admission and the parliamentary question of yesterday, €650 million is going to companies outside of the State. For an island nation, we should not have that. The Minister should be trying to do everything possible to protect Irish contracts and get more in line with the EU average of 97% or 98%. The Minister stated here it is one of his targets but I do not see anything being done to achieve that target. I accept it is difficult.
On the first question about the new quangos we created, Deputy Sean Fleming referred to them as if their creation was bad per se. I jotted them down as he went through them. NewERA is a commitment in the programme for Government to look at sweating real value from the State agencies and it is doing a great job. The Irish Financial Advisory Council, IFAC, is a requirement under the EU treaty, that we signed up and that was voted on by the people. The microfinance agency is delivering funding to the SME sector which is probably the most critical issue we face and is developing the supports for microfinance small start-ups and microenterprise. On the Pensions Authority, the pensions issue is one of the biggest issues we face. The authority was set up by law, there was a lengthy debate about it and it is absolutely necessary. The pyrite agency is a temporary agency to resolve an issue that has been hanging around for 20 years. We will resolve it and that is important to all the families that are stuck there. We had a debate about the reasoning for Irish Water. I will not go through the rest. On the Child and Family Support Agency,-----
A good idea.
-----few wanted that title as it had to be common. Let us get off that hook of feeling that if we see it anywhere it is bad per se. I do not believe that.
In terms of the procurement issue, it is important that we enable effective and efficient procurement. What we had to date was significantly inefficient procurement where the taxpayer was paying over the odds across the State for a variety of goods and services, with, as I stated here previously, different agencies of State paying the same company a different price for the same product. That was crazy.
We set out to enable SMEs. From the start, we discussed this with the SME representatives. We held meet-the-buyer workshops across the country to enable SMEs, not only to bid themselves but to construct joint bids for state procurement, not only in Ireland but elsewhere.
Last year 67% of contracts went to SMEs and 92% went to Irish companies. I will do everything I can to sqeeze that migration of money out of the country, which is already small, to a smaller amount but we are obliged to comply with European tendering and competitive law.
Nobody in Ireland disagrees with the Minister's objective but we would wish for a little more haste in that department than we have seen, a hope, I think, with which the Minister would agree.
I am interested in the "Public Service Reform Plan". In it, the Minister speaks of four teams. The two in which I am interested are the ones that affect the public. Reform dividend and digitalisation are more internal, but delivering improved outcomes for the public and the old hoary chestnut, openness and accountability, are the two I want to talk about.
On delivering improved outcomes, we are still looking at significant numbers waiting for outpatient appointments. As HIQA would confirm, few in the ambulance service across Ireland, while now regionalised, are reaching their point of destination within the appropriate time HIQA has set. The amount of time taken for social welfare appeals is an ongoing issue. While the Government speaks about all of these matters, it needs to set targets for some of them to ensure they are achieved.
Perhaps I will combine it all. On openness, transparency and accountability, going back to that issue of this new patient safety agency I mentioned in the Department of Health which is specified in this document, the Minister spoke well here but he will be aware, not only because it happened in Portlaoise Hospital but as I am sure it has happened in other hospitals as well over recent years, that children died shortly after birth.
There had to be a policy of concealment or covering up at the higher echelons of the HSE for the four years until "Prime Time" highlighted the matter. This concerns the Department of Health. I know that and I am sure the Minister suspects the Department did not know what was going on in the HSE.
While we have wonderful talks about openness and transparency, these concepts do not apply within public organisations if the staff at senior level believe they could have implications for these organisations. Endemic in HSE thinking when it is reviewing a critical incident is the questioning of how openness will affect the organisation rather than the patient or people being served. The Minister can introduce all the freedom of information legislation, ethics, transparency guidelines and whistleblowing legislation he likes – we will not discuss the issue of whistleblowing because I am sure it is being discussed next door – but a problem arises if the thinking I describe is endemic. When the problem is endemic, not among the lower grades but among those earning €100,000, the people on whom we rely to do a good job, one thinks about how people can sit on and conceal information on deaths for four years. Under the Minister's reform package, these are the same staff that he wants to carry out an inquiry. I am really concerned about the part of the Minister's document that states the patient safety agency will be established on an administrative basis initially. We are dealing with the structures of the HSE and the HSE is the culprit in many cases. HIQA is outside the HSE. Why would the Minister put such a body such in the structure that has proved itself to be part of the problem? The HSE is not the solution to some of the problems. Leaving aside the legislation, there is still a culture of protecting the organisation in the first, second and third instance. Perhaps the people come later.
The Deputy raised two issues, one of which was the focus on outcomes. He instanced the ambulance service. We are moving away from inputs to measure outcomes. Of course, it will be a journey, not a destination; we are not going to change everything instantly. However, from the ambulance service I understand the old idea of an ambulance driver has completely changed. Each ambulance is now staffed by highly skilled and trained emergency medical technicians who can provide first responder treatment at the site of an accident, including treatment for those having a heart attack. This leads to a completely different understanding in measuring ambulance services and responses. I am very conscious that the system must be rolled out. It is happening over time, although we would all like it to happen instantly.
The other point the Deputy makes, on openness, is very valid and I would not mind a bigger debate on it. I find that everybody wants everybody else to be open. All of us, including those of us in the Oireachtas, are always reluctant to have all of our data made available. We all resent expenses being trawled through all the time, but that is the way the system works. We should move away from that attitude.
There are other issues to be considered. The Deputy is absolutely correct that the law, whether it be on freedom of information, whistleblowing or otherwise, is the law. Cultural change is much more difficult to bring about. The Deputy referred to the patient safety agency, on which he made a valid point. One can debate this subject, certainly in the Department of Health, but citation must demonstrably be on the patient side, not the side of anybody else.
Let us consider education, for example. There is a strong view articulated that we should not have real data about outcomes from schools because we do not want to have a league table. Are people entitled to all of the data on outcomes from schools? Would a league table not represent a better assessment of inputs and outputs and a stronger argument for directing more resources to where they are needed? Would it not allow us to discern deficiencies? There are big issues to be addressed in terms of openness, on which we need to have a debate, as opposed to simply saying there are some areas that are untouchable. I have instanced education, but there are other areas in which this principle applies equally. In many cases, there will be a valid reason given on openness. Let us hear the valid reasons and have the necessary discussion. I have made this presentation to the Open Government Partnership. Ultimately, I would like our flagship project to involve an open-data basis for all public information. This is one of the key initiatives I would like to achieve in my term.
I congratulate Mr. Reid on his appointment.
The reports look well and I am certainly very interested in the Minister's narrative on cultural change. I have a question that may be a little left of field. Was the Minister a party to any discussion on the defence of the Louise O'Keeffe case in the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the State?
I do not believe I should be answering questions on Cabinet discussions.
From that I will take it that the Minister possibly was involved.
I do not believe the Deputy can take anything from it. I am constitutionally prohibited from having this discussion.
While I allow great flexibility at meetings, I do not believe this is germane to proceedings.
It is germane in that we could talk until the cows come home about cultural change, openness and the need to change. It is accepted that there is a need for cultural change in the public service. Deputy Sean Fleming correctly pointed to the reflex reaction in the case of hospitals on the deaths of infants. There were very tragic cases in which the impulse was to protect the institutions concerned. This is undoubtedly an issue. If the instinct of the Government is, above all else, to protect the State as it sees it, it is not exactly leading by example.
Under the heading of "Openness and Accountability", the Minister referred in his opening comments to the continuation of the comprehensive programme of statute law revision. For how long will that proceed? Is it an open-ended process? It is the process for which the Minister has used JobBridge personnel. I have discussed this issue with him before and he knows my view on JobBridge. We will not have this battle again this afternoon.
I have a couple of specific questions on what the Minister presented. To what extent does the practice of outsourcing feature in the alternative models of service delivery? One of the Minister's actions in the next three years will be to up-skill public service managers in the execution of end-to-end outsourcing systems. I am curious to know what that means. As the Minster knows, the practice of outsourcing is one which gives rise to considerable concern for those who work in the public sector, bearing in mind that their numbers have been depleted. I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on the issue.
I was struck by the leadership section in respect of the issue of performance. The Minister said something about the review of the Civil Service. This is welcome and good, but the Minister, in setting out the target, referred to a period from the third quarter of 2014 to the second quarter of 2015. He used the wording, “examine the contractual framework for senior civil servants to underpin an effective approach to supporting high performance.” That is a bit of a mouthful. What exactly does it mean?
I was struck by some of the targets set for the HSE. The Minister might talk to us about the business case for a single integrated finance system, the work on which is ongoing and which he thinks he might complete by the end of 2016. The HSE feasibility study and the business case for a national recruitment system were referred to. If approved, the system will proceed to implementation. The Minister says the work on it is ongoing and will be completed by quarter two of 2014.
That raises the obvious question as to whether or not the Minister will lift the recruitment embargo. It is all very well to have a recruitment procedure but if there is no recruitment one wonders about its merits.
I will allow the Minister to respond and will then bring the Deputy back in.
If we have 15 minutes of questions there will be no time for an answer.
That is fine.
There is a whole series of questions there. I agree with Deputy McDonald in terms of cultural change. We are all good at preaching openness and I put myself into that category as well, but if we are going to have models we should start at home and go to political parties about honesty and openness about backgrounds and everything.
I entirely agree.
One may or may not be involved, but if one is asked a straight question one should get a straight answer. Politicians have to give the lead in that regard and I strongly endorse what Deputy McDonald said about that.
I do not accept that the instinct of government is to protect the State, but it is to protect and support the people as best we can. It is true that countervailing issues often present themselves. The Deputy asked particularly about the statute law revision programme, which is in its final phase now. As she knows, two pieces of legislation have been enacted on foot of that. It was basically cleanse the Statute Book of redundant and non-applicable law. That difficult job of work was undertaken initially by the Attorney General's office and latterly by my Department over the last few years.
Deputy McDonald mentioned the issue of outsourcing. No more than quangos, outsourcing is often an effective way of doing things. Sometimes, however, it not effective or efficient. I have cited an example before. Wexford County Hospital used to have its own laundry. Wexford happens to have one of the most efficient laundries in the country, Celtic Linen, that provides linen services and scrubs to hospitals around the country, as well as to hotels. One would not replicate a laundry on a tiny scale instead of outsourcing that service to an effective provider of daily fresh linen.
The idea of outsourcing is that one makes rational decisions on the most effective and efficient way of delivering a service. We do not label one service as "good" and another as "bad" because it is delivered by a private sector worker. All workers are of equal value, so it is a matter of making rational choices that are efficient and effective. It also allows public sector workers to focus on things they are best at. There will of course be cases where public sector services are utilised by the private sector because that is the most effective and efficient way of delivering them.
Deputy McDonald referred to senior civil servants. My own Department has done a lot of work on examining the contractual base for appointing senior civil servants. Mr. Paul Reid is a practical example of that, if he will forgive me for saying so since he is here. Mr. Reid was recruited on a contract basis to head up the reform and delivery office, with a set purpose, objective and skills base. Similarly, other people we have employed, like the head of the office of Government procurement who has a skills base in procurement, were engaged on a contractual basis with set delivery targets. The chief information officer was recruited on the same basis, coming from a skills set with a specific mandate to do a job of work over a set period of time that is measurable. I think we will see more and more of that happening within the public service. People will come in for specific timelines, on a contract to do a particular job of work.
The HSE's single integrated finance system was mentioned. In the roll-out of shared services we first looked at HR management, which is up and running and will be completed by January 2015. The second one is the payroll shared service, which is in the process of being set in place in three locations, including the midlands and the west. That is a work in progress.
The next one we examined is the financial management shared service. We are doing a scoping exercise on that at the moment and while I do not have the feedback on that, it is coming. We are looking at how we have a more integrated financial management system that brings efficiencies. There is a model in Norway that presented itself to me, but we have also looked at others to see how that can be done. It is in the early stages of scoping to have an integrated financial system that does financial back-office supports more efficiently. There will be subsets of that whether they are in the local government system or in the HSE. I hope I have answered all the questions.
Yes. May I stick to the issue of outsourcing? From what the Minister has said, and the fact that he is upskilling public service managers in the execution of outsourcing, I take it he sees this very much as a trend that will perhaps intensify within the public service. While human beings are equal and I entirely agree with the Minister that each worker should be equal to another, I think he will appreciate that that is not in fact the case. That is because some workers find themselves in secure employment, while others do not.
What plans does the Minister have for the employment arrangements and status of work that is outsourced? He will be familiar with all sorts of phenomena. Even some section 39 organisations have used zero-hour contracts, but I do not believe the State should be underwriting that in any shape or form. I am not raising that concern from a Luddite anti-efficiency position, but with a view to the workers in that sector and also the quality of service being delivered. I note that the Minister has referenced savings on agency workers within the health sector. He might enlighten us on the scale of those savings so far.
It seems to me that there are two things at odds with each other. On the one hand, there is an impulse to outsource and on the other a recognition that in the case of the health service the use of agency workers is massively expensive. The Minister might enlighten us on that.
I never have an inclination or a trend to outsource, I simply have an open mind on how services are best and most efficiently provided to the citizen. Clearly, there will be issues where we will have peaked demand for a service that will not justify the recruitment of permanent public servants, so it makes sense to outsource.
For example, with the establishment of the local property tax we needed to have a call centre so people could access information in a short period of time. We are not going to recruit several hundred people into the public service to do that when we have skilled people we can use.
Does the Minister envisage that outsourcing will be limited to those short-term tasks or to mainstream service delivery?
I have given the Deputy an example of laundry services. It makes no sense to replicate a laundry service in each hospital when one has an efficient laundry service that will deliver clean linen daily because it has a large-scale operation to do so. There will be many such instances. For example, one often has outside caterers in public buildings because it is easier for an outside caterer to come in and operate to scale. These things are done on a case-by-case basis where there is a proper evaluation.
These things are negotiated with the trade union movement, which represents both public and private sector workers. The Deputy's net point is that public sector workers get a decent wage and all private sector workers do not, but that is not true.
That is the theme the Deputy is developing.
The Deputy's theme is that private sector workers do not get decent terms and conditions of work. There are instances in which people do not get terms and conditions. I am as implacably opposed to that as is the Deputy. We in government have determined that after the Supreme Court decision on REAs-----
We will have it reconstituted and that law will be enacted this year. This will ensure that low-paid workers are protected. That is the reason we reintroduced the minimum wage, which had been reduced by our predecessors in government. Even in the most difficult times, when we took office, we did that. I have the greatest concern about zero-hour contracts. I do not like it. I have raised it with colleagues and I know my concern about zero-hour contracts is shared across both parties in government. This is something we need to address.
Can I say to the Minister---
Please let me finish.
Is this not supposed to be an exchange?
An exchange means that one gets to finish one's answer. The final point the Deputy made related to agency workers. Of course the 15 million additional hours we have negotiated through the Haddington Road agreement will allow a reduction in agency workers and overtime and premium rates because people can be deployed at their normal working time in a more rational way. There is no contradiction between the two at all.
A final question, Deputy.
I wish to point out the contradictory views on outsourcing. I know that the Minister knows that he could not but know that for many people working in the public sector and the unions who represent them, their biggest single concern is precisely the issue of outsourcing. The Minister will know that in the course of the Haddington Road saga, very often trade union members signed up to that agreement because they believed looming in the wings was this threat of outsourcing. It is a theme commonly spoken about among people who work in the sector and those who represent them.
The contradiction I was pointing out to the Minister was that on the one hand outsourcing is not just viewed as an option, it is stated very clearly in the plan that we are upskilling managers in the execution of end-to-end outsourcing but something that is being positively promoted within the reform plan. Alongside that there is an acceptance that agency workers in the health service are enormously expensive, that it is not the most cost effective way to proceed and that many would argue that the traditional model of a full-time employee, a full blooded public servant being paid the rate for the job is more cost effective. I asked the Minister for a figure on the savings to date. I am well aware of the additional hours and the plans for them but will the Minister outline how much has been saved in respect of agency workers to date? In his presentation the Minister states this is ongoing. What has been saved or how much has been cut back on the spend on agency workers in the health service?
Following the Minister I will call Deputy Kieran O'Donnell.
I know the Deputy speaks disparagingly about the Haddington Road agreement, as if at that time we were not facing an existential threat to the very existence of our economy that required us to make very difficult decisions. I know the Deputy is disparaging in a disrespectful way, in my judgment, of the group of 27 trade unions who made a democratic decision to accept the proposals in Haddington Road and the negotiating skills of their leaders who negotiated the terms of Haddington Road agreement. I am mindful of that fact that on the day the Haddington Road agreement was concluded, before it was published and anybody saw the details of it, the Deputy was on the plinth denouncing it as a bad deal, sight unseen, of course. I do not have the figures on the saving on agency staff. We set out the projected savings for the HSE and every other agency and Department in terms of the Haddington Road process for 2014 in the Book of Estimates that was published. We will disaggregate them for the Deputy during the course of the year.
I welcome the Minister. I am glad to see this plan. I have a number of direct questions. What are the anticipated overall savings from the implementation of this plan which runs until 2016? How will the savings that have arisen be spent?
We have already reduced pensions from peak to trough to a low of €14.1 billion last year. We have set out that we need to save an additional €1 billion by 2016 during the entire term of the Haddington Road process that was started last year. I intend using some of the reform dividend to put something back into some front-line public services, such as the ones I have spoken about.
In terms of the overall plan, does the Government have a figure for the anticipated savings created during the plan? I have noticed that savings have been made under various headings. Is there a global figure for savings?
The significant chunk of savings have been made in pay and pensions. We envisage that it will be of the order of €4.5 billion. We have set out to make a saving on procurement in the next three years of €500 million.
Is that the saving per annum?
That is a saving of €500 million over three years. We have made a saving of €127 million this year. We have identified savings to be made in property management as well. It is proposed that PeoplePoint will save us €12.5 million and the shared service centre on payroll will save €55.6 million when fully operational. I do not want to give figures for the financial management shared services because it is only an estimate at this stage. Scoping exercises are ongoing on services at local level so the totality of savings is not quantified.
Does the Minister anticipate in the headline items between wages and procurement there are savings of the order of €5 billion per annum?
Will there be savings of €5 billion per annum from 2016 onwards?
Let us remember, it is not all about savings, it is about doing things differently. This is a reform process rather than a savings process. I am afraid the savings were required because of the crisis and the need to do things more effectively. There can be more rational decisions now that we are out of the crisis and we can objectively decide on the optimum number of members of the Garda Síochána or whether we need more personnel or to deploy them differently.
I noticed in the document that a review of An Garda Síochána is being conducted. Is that a review of the logistics and numbers?
That was an agreement we came to in the Haddington Road process with the different Garda organisational bodies. We undertook that we would do that review.
I wish to raise the issue of loss of intellectual capacity. Public servants have left the public service under various agreements. What is the total number of those who have left?
There are approximately 32,000 fewer public servants now than at the peak.
Are risk management processes being built into the process to ensure that there is not an enormous loss of intellectual capacity?
It is very hard to stop intellectual loss. I have done my best. With free movement of people, I am afraid my best efforts have not been successful on all occasions to hold on to the most valuable people. We have not been able to choose who should leave. People's pensions are related to pay and because we reduced pay there was a cut-off date that would apply to reducing pensions. People who were coming close to retirement chose to go early and they have not been replaced. Most of the people who migrated from the public service were within a couple of years of retirement in any event. We have lost others because we have squeezed pay. They will be paid a great deal more elsewhere. I am very conscious that we will need to debate the retention of the skill sets at the top of the Civil Service and the public service in a recovering economy. We will need to have a rational debate on levels of pay in a recovering economy for those with skill sets that are in demand.
I have said that I would like to get back to performance related pay, but we will not be able to do that this side of the end of the Haddington Road agreement. However, we should begin to talk about that.
If the Minister does not anticipate that yet, what year is he talking about?
I am talking about 2016.
One issue that comes up is promotion. Has the Minister looked at the structures with regard to how people are promoted within the public service? Some people at middle management level are exceptional and people at a higher level may, through no fault of their own, not be as good. The danger is that those people at the middle level get frustrated in their role. They report to people who may not have a fraction of their ability, but who have a level of cuteness that keeps them in their position. The public service is losing out.
It is a little like local constituency organisation.
The point I am making is that with all the changes in management, there are cases where people need to be promoted. In some cases, people are passed over and they end up moving on. This is a terrible loss to the public institution they were in. This is a personal bugbear for me, because I have seen it happen too many times. I have seen exceptional people whose creative ideas never see the light of day. What can be done within the system to ensure these people are not lost to it?
The Deputy makes a very valid point. We all know such people. This is not an easy nut to crack. What we need is to have more clarity in terms of people's role and better and more objective evaluation of people's performance. Even in the private sector, this is a huge issue, because in small enterprises where people are working cheek by jowl, it is very difficult to make an effective and objective evaluation of the different people working with one, because one must live with them the next day. It will be a challenge for us to develop models of proper evaluation and to ensure there is a real meritocracy in place, because we all have our own prejudices.
Another issue I have come across repeatedly in the Civil Service - I have had the privilege of being a Minister in three Departments - is that very good people burn out, but remain in place. One cannot say to them that they were great, but now they are not so great and must go. Often, roles are found for these people. This happens in private business also and people are moved around to less critical roles.
Is the Minister looking at this issue?
Absolutely, that is part of the job of the task force. It will make recommendations to me, but it will not be simple to do that and the implementation of the recommendations will certainly not be simple.
My final point relates to the SME sector and procurement. The Department has a deadline of Q1 or Q2 of 2014 on this issue. When referring to procurement, the Minister suggested a company could charge two different prices and I have no issue with that. However, organisations throughout the country who might employ ten or 12 people and supply local businesses cannot bid for these large contracts. I understand work is being done on this, but what measures are being put in place to ensure SMEs in small towns and cities can engage in bidding and be assured of an opportunity to get these contracts?
We have taken a whole range of initiatives and are more proactive than ever before in terms of enabling SMEs to become involved in public contracts. We have a public contract website and are showing people how to operate and access it. We are conducting meet-the-buyer workshops so that people can see how to access small and large contracts, how to network with others and submit joint bids, and we are breaking down contracts in many instances so that people can bid on a subset of them.
This is a work in progress. There is a regional scale to contracts also, in terms of transport, other costs and immediacy, in terms of being able to supply within hours or by a next day delivery.
I welcome the Minister. The Seanad had the benefit of his wisdom recently and was very supportive of him.
It appears that the way public life is reported in Ireland is that an argument on how universal health insurance might or might not be financed is based not on the issues, but on whether Ministers A an B play golf on the same golf course. I welcome what I have read about this plan. All of the issues should be discussed openly in the way that appears to have been the case here. It is great when discussion is done in the open and on the issues because the Department has a watchdog role.
The Minister spoke about the commitments made by the Government. One of the commitments I recall was that the Department of the Taoiseach, which it was felt had grown too large under previous Taoisigh and under social partnership, would become a small Cabinet office. The Department is ten times the size it was when the Constitution was drawn up. One must wonder why the Taoiseach appoints Ministers. Presumably, if one was to control numbers, it would be by reducing the numbers of Departments. In the early days of the State, the small Cabinet office of the time wrote the Constitution, secured the return of the treaty ports and kept Ireland out of the war. Therefore, it must have been a very able group of 20 in that office.
In regard to capital, the Minister mentioned property. My fear is that there are people in the property and construction sector who would be delighted to do the same thing all over again and regularly we see newspaper supplements trying to create the ingredients of a new bubble. We are lucky we have had no money to inject capital into this area, but if we are going to start providing capital, we need appraisal procedures. Plans must be published in advance and we must separate the promotion of a project from how it will be financed. There is scope for reform in this area.
I welcome the proposals on lobbying. The Leader of the Seanad does not allow much lobbying. We had to guillotine the Finance Act in the Seanad, but some of the provisions towards the end of the Bill seemed to provide for the so-called "fiscal termites". These are people who seem to have a way of getting fiscal privilege for their sectors. It seems that President Obama believes, and the same opinion was expressed in Davos, that the ability of some sectors to negotiate fiscal privilege for themselves is a major source of increasing inequality. This is an issue of concern for all of us.
The Minister's review document includes a graph on page 8 on Irish Water. It is not a great example of reform as we still do not know the price of water or the free allowance and so on. However, I hope the talent in the Department will ensure we get this right. Page 20 of the document describes the new rostering in the Garda Síochána. When the Minister for transport was in the Seanad yesterday, we asked whether check points for alcohol testing could be signed off on by a sergeant rather than a superintendent, but I regret to say we did not get anywhere with that. It is something that could be considered. The Minister mentioned the review of the Garda in appendix 2(a) on page 64.
The document refers also to the Irish Aviation Authority and the Commission for Aviation Regulation. The decision on that was correct. However, the Commission for Aviation Regulation was overruled, to secure a massive - over 40% - increase in airport charges, which we are now trying to unwind to get a growth in tourism. The Minister has been criticised in regard to the 10% of bus routes to be tendered out and it has been suggested that 10% is too high. I think it is too low. The system began in 1932, and we are just allowing 10% to be competitive in 84 years.
At that rate, it would take 840 years to have a competitive bus business in the country.
We had that discussion with Deputy Mary Lou McDonald previously.
Yes. Let us have tendering in this instance. It seems to be an obvious example of where one would do it.
The Minister referred to pyrite, but according to Oireachtas briefing notes, householders in Canada with pyrite problems contacted their house insurance providers in the first instance. The insurance providers recovered moneys from the construction industry which, in turn, recovered moneys from the quarrying industry which had supplied the defective materials. My worry is that in Ireland it always seems to be the taxpayer who foots such bills. Perhaps a little Canadianisation in terms of how it dealt with pyrite problems would be good. We must also examine how we regulate accountants and banks because they specialise in landing the Exchequer with financial burdens.
On the amalgamation of quangos, I appreciate the point made by the Minister. The regulation of taxis, for example, was better when it was done separately and has disimproved since it was taken over by the NTA. Mr. Paul K. Gorecki of the ESRI has criticised what has happened and argued that a competitive industry was taken over by an organisation with an uncompetitive ethos. In that context, we may end up with regulation that is worse than heretofore.
I wish to refer to the deployment of teachers. If one divides the number of teachers into the number of pupils, the average is 16, but I do not know anybody who is actually in a class of only 16 pupils. What is happening in the deployment of public servants? Are the additional teachers engaged in administrative tasks rather than the task for which they were trained?
In general, I welcome the emphasis of the Department. The Minister made reference to the change from generalist to specialist; that is the way the world is going. We need specialists in all fields. We recently discussed the issue of safety with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and spoke about the intelligent vehicle and all of the technological advances which aimed to make cars and trucks, which still kill about 290 people every year, safer and reach the safety standards that pertained in the aviation sector. In that context, we require technical personnel to evaluate investments and the generalist culture cannot continue.
The reform agenda is important, particularly since we have left the bailout programme. What the Minister is doing is interesting and worthy of our support.
I call on the Minister to give a final reply.
I worry a little when someone tells me what I am doing is "interesting". I thank Senator Sean D. Barrett for his comments, but I cannot deal with all of the points he made now. I will not allow him to drag me into a discussion on the size and scale of the Taoiseach's office. I know he is trying to lead me into difficulty, but I will resist it. I agree with him that there should be a public debate on the costing of any issue. Unfortunately, however, such a debate is often characterised on a personal basis. I commented last weekend that engaging in the normal business of politics should not involve personal considerations. Even party considerations are often juxtaposed into the normal workings of proper scoping evaluation and so on.
The Senator referred to the property issue. I agree strongly with him that we do not want to go back to a boom property market. We have been thinking off-piste about how to deal with this and I have had discussions with the Minister for Finance on the issue. The Senator makes a very valid point on lobbying and the issue of access to power, which has bedevilled all administrations, not just in Ireland but all over the world, and the fact that we need to bring transparency and openness to it. Lobbying is good, whether by farmers, the trade union movement, employers, local community groups and so on. People are entitled to lobby, as long as everyone knows who is lobbying whom and what they are saying. Then, if there is a change in policy, we will know whose lobbying had an impact. That is what we need in that context.
The Senator referred to the pyrite issue and the Canadian example, but as he knows, the original intention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government was to levy the quarrying industry. However, he ran into difficulties in that regard and found that it was not possible to do so. That is the long and short of it. We do not have the same flexibility as they do in Canada because of European considerations and so forth. It was important to provide a sum of money - €10 million was the initial sum - to deal with the pyrite problem because it was ongoing. The people affected by it cannot get insurance; their houses are cracked and falling down; and the problem needs to be addressed.
The Senator mentioned Irish Water and the fact that we had to set a price for water. However, we also have to know the cost of water because often we do not value the inputs and real cost of anything. We need to set a price that is affordable, while also sustaining the new entity that will be Irish Water. Despite many of the negative things said about Irish Water - often it is high level sound bites that determine people's views - anyone who listened to the details of the five hour presentation to the committee by the CEO of Irish Water would have a different perspective of the competence, ability, scale, scope and importance of Irish Water into the future. It will be regarded in years to come as of equal importance to the ESB or any other of our flagship State enterprises.
I thank committee members for their input. The reform side of my work is more than interesting; it is critical.
I thank the Minister and ask that he provide an electronic copy of his opening statement which will be posted on the committee's website. I thank him and his officials for coming before the committee and engaging in what has been a very useful and open discussion. The committee looks forward to reviewing progress as the plan is implemented in the next three years.