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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Oct 2003

Vol. 174 No. 2

Benchmarking: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that payment of the remaining phases of benchmarking be suspended pending the implementation of a serious reform package which would yield improvements in the quality of services delivered to the public commensurate with the extra cost involved.

In just over three months, the Minister for Finance will arrange for the payment of the next instalment of the benchmarking award. The instalment was initially estimated to cost approximately €500 million, but figures obtained by way of parliamentary question by the Fine Gael Party leader, Deputy Kenny, indicate that it will cost considerably more, approximately €650 million. Huge as this payment will be, it forms only a small part of the overall package. The full cost of benchmarking will be a massive €1.2 billion each year because it is a recurring cost.

There is much to commend the concept of benchmarking. It is based on the principle of a quid pro quo, or a deal that in return for a substantial increase in pay for public servants, there would be a substantial increase in productivity by each of the sectors to benefit, leading to a substantial improvement in the quality of public services and greater public service efficiency. However, there was no quid pro quo for this deal and no productivity arrangement was agreed. For example, there was no attempt to negotiate with individual unions or sectoral groups clearly defined objective or targets, where existing work practices would be critically examined and agreement reached as to how, in return for a generous wage increase, the public would benefit from better services and greater productivity and efficiency. The whole exorcise undertaken by the Government simply involved additional increases for teachers, gardaí, prison officers and civil servants with nothing secured in return.

I wish to reiterate the Fine Gael position on this issue. The concept of benchmarking is sound, but the Government's management of it is deeply flawed. It is a bad deal for citizens and taxpayers. The cost is too high and the return is negligible. We do not call for the abandonment of the agreement but for the deferment of the payment of the next instalment until such time as detailed negotiations take place that will deliver genuine and measurable public sector and public service reforms and improvements. We want to see value for the money that is to be spent.

The Minister recently attempted to defend the Government's benchmarking agreement in the Irish Independent. He may as well have stood on a butter box on the corner of St. Stephen's Green with a megaphone shouting, “money for old rope”. The former president of the ICTU said some time ago that the agreement was the equivalent to withdrawing money from an ATM. The Minister's attempted defence has only served to underline the correctness of Fine Gael's position on the issue.

In his attempt to justify the deal, the Minister enumerated so-called reforms being, or to be, delivered by benchmarking. He linked benchmarking to the achievement of industrial peace within the public service. It has nothing to do with industrial peace, but is based on the concept of measurably improved productivity. Industrial peace forms part of the national wage or partnership agreements. The industrial relations peace of the last 15 or 16 years, which we all acknowledge to be a cornerstone of our economic recovery and success, was built into a succession of partnership agreements, starting with the rogramme for National Recovery and agreed in subsequent programmes, such as the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.

We welcome the Government's conclusion of another, short-term partnership agreement with the unions. Industrial peace is an integral part of it, as it was with its predecessors. To suggest, therefore, that industrial peace in the public service is part and parcel of the benchmarking award is to suggest it must be paid for twice, once through benchmarking and once through a 7% pay increase across the board.

In the same article the Minister justifies benchmarking because it will lead to improvements in promotional arrangements in the Civil Service with, in his own words, "greater emphasis on merit". This is illuminating because the Minister is implying that the existing system of promotion within the Civil Service is not based on merit or ability. It also suggests that the Minister considers he must pay civil servants to get their agreement to achieve a "greater emphasis on merit." A real benchmarking process would reward those who perform well and deliver better services, whether as individuals or as part of teams. It should not, as it is doing at present, prop up a promotion system which is based not on merit but on seniority.

In his third justification of benchmarking, the Minister cites the example of teachers agreeing to hold half of parent-teacher meetings outside school hours. Has he a bad memory? Does he not recall that the Programme for Competitiveness and Work contained a clear commitment to achieve this? Does his argument mean that taxpayers again have to pay twice for this concession? If the Government believes that its so-called reforms are worth €1.2 billion of taxpayers' money each year for the foreseeable future, it is high time that someone called "stop".

In case anyone believes that Fine Gael's demand on 16 September for the suspension of the payment of benchmarking awards was an attempt to make controversial banner headlines during the autumn before either House resumed, I remind Members that on 1 July 2002 when the benchmarking report was released, we warned that the key to benchmarking was securing a value for money deal. We pointed out at the time that the cost of the deal was the equivalent of putting 2% onto the tax rate. We emphasised that the Government owed it to taxpayers and the public generally to ensure that the €1.2 billion was accompanied by real, tangible and visible improvements in productivity and services.

We highlighted the fact at that stage that the public was entitled to know exactly what it was getting in return for a recurring €1.2 billion payout. We queried, without receiving a satisfactory answer, the reason the Government had failed to make public the analysis of the benchmarking body, pointing out that, in the absence of publication, it was extremely difficult and almost impossible for anyone to conduct an evaluation of the benefits and improvements that were supposed to have been secured. We were left in a state of limbo waiting for the Government to publish the vital supporting material to justify to taxpayers the huge cost of the deal. We have made repeated calls in the interim but to no avail. I reiterate those calls in this debate – so much for Government accountability.

The first phase of benchmarking has cost taxpayers €600 million. This has had to be found somewhere and has been achieved by way of cutbacks. The surgical knife was used. These cutbacks have led to a queue of ambulances outside hospitals as they wait to retrieve their stretchers because there are not enough trolleys inside the hospitals to accommodate patients in the corridors or in the accident and emergency ward. These cutbacks have led to ward closures, to primary school children continuing to be condemned to sit daily in sub-standard, Dickensian hovels of primary schools, and a shortfall in revenue for the vocational education opportunities scheme which means that women hoping to re-enter the workforce cannot avail of the scheme because the child care allowance cannot be paid. I could continue to list areas that badly need services but where, unfortunately, cutbacks are the order of the day because €1.2 billion must be found to pay the benchmarking deal.

The Minister for Finance has already admitted that the opening Exchequer position for 2004 will be disastrous. We are talking about a €4 billion deficit. Those who depend on public services will be the main casualties if a further €650 million benchmarking instalment is paid in 2004. There is nothing wrong with the benchmarking process but, in the hands of the Government, it has become a gross parody of itself. I rest my case.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to formally second the motion. The Fine Gael position, as clearly outlined by my colleague, is focused solely on securing value for money in public services. The Government has clearly failed to secure through the benchmarking process a reform agenda in the public services.

I read the budget speech last year of the Minister for Finance in which he outlined his view and vision on benchmarking. He said the key was that real change had to be brought about. It is obvious from what we have seen of benchmarking that it will not happen. Everyone knows that a deal has two sides, and there is an old saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune. What is the tune we are asking the piper to play? It is clear that the benchmarking deal was negotiated behind closed doors and that no clear discernible benefits or improvements in public services or value for money will arise from it.

The figure of €1.2 billion is cited as the total payout for benchmarking when it comes on stream. That is twice the figure paid out by the Department of Agriculture and Food, twice the annual expenditure of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and three quarters the annual expenditure of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Garda Síochána, Prison Service and courts system are run on €1.6 billion annually.

The full cost of benchmarking for each year after it is fully implemented will be €1.2 billion and we will see no real benefits for that money. If the benchmarking payments for the Garda were not met, an extra 1,200 gardaí could be provided. The Government could go a long way towards fulfilling one of the promises it made in the previous general election and has since broken.

As a result of benchmarking, local authorities will face a bill of about €165 million. In Kilkenny, for example, this will mean a bill of €3 million to €4 million for the local authority. Why are local authorities being asked to meet benchmarking payments? The local authority in Kilkenny, among others, has been charged with drawing up a new list of development charges. Some authorities speak of development charges of up to €10,000 per unit. Last year the Government abolished the first-time buyer's grant. It is now effectively introducing a first-time buyer's tax by stealth in all local authority areas.

My party colleague, Deputy Allen, has established that the figure of €125 is the amount of money every residence in the country will have to pay to meet the €1.2 billion cost of the full implementation of benchmarking. The special savings incentive scheme, which many regard as controversial, costs €550 million annually whereas benchmarking will cost €1.2 billion. It must also be borne in mind that, according to Government estimates, we could afford to pay for an underground in Dublin within three years if the €1.2 billion for benchmarking were not spent.

As has been pointed out by my colleague, Senator Higgins, Fine Gael is not opposed to benchmarking. The principle of real and discernible improvements in public services is a good one and something we all desire and need. To date, we have not seen visible or concrete improvements in public services. In the budget for 2003, the Minister for Finance increased the pay related elements by 12% while increasing the non-pay elements by only 1%.

As Senator Higgins previously outlined, we are facing into a deficit of €4 billion based on current figures. It could be much more or perhaps less by the time the Minister announces his budget. These figures do not include the benchmarking tranche due next year. It is astonishing to find ourselves in this position of facing a €4 billion deficit when we had a €5 billion surplus a few years ago. This is the crucial factor. Can the country afford this deal as it stands? Fine Gael does not propose that benchmarking be abandoned but that it be re-negotiated. That would be the right course to take.

Benchmarking was devised in secret and has been largely kept secret until now. We have not been given clear indications of real improvements that will take place in the public services. It is timely to have this debate before the Book of Estimates is published and the budget is announced towards the end of the year. We find ourselves in a position in which serious choices have to be made. In recent years, the Minister for Finance has proven himself to be a good Minister in good times. He is now being asked to take some serious decisions for the first time.

We must accept that changes have to be made. While it was possible, when benchmarking was being negotiated, to regard €1.2 billion as insignificant in the context of a surplus of €5 billion and to believe people would not notice the purpose for which it was being allocated, we are now facing tougher economic circumstances. Nobody on the Government side has outlined from where the money will come.

It will come from stealth charges.

In last year's budget the Minister introduced various stealth taxes and increased others. These are the only source of funding for the benchmarking award.

The Senator's time has concluded.

Will the Government speakers outline clearly to the House—

I ask the Senator to give way to other speakers.

—from where the €1.2 billion cost of benchmarking will come?

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann," and substitute the following:

"notes that:

(a) the benchmarking exercise under the PPF was an important initiative in developing a better system of pay determination in the public service;

(b) payment of the second and third phases of the increases recommended by the public service benchmarking body and of the general round increases under Sustaining Progress is conditional on the maintenance of industrial relations peace and on progress on modernisation in the public service; and

(c) effective verification processes have been put in place to ensure these conditions are met."

I welcome this debate. Perhaps the Fine Gael Party is being altruistic and public spirited in tabling this motion because I do not see how the motion will benefit the party or serve its interest. It is obviously trying to find a niche market.

It is very large niche.

I ask Senator John Phelan not to interrupt.

Benchmarking has been agreed, is being implemented and is an integral part of the social partnership arrangements which have transformed the economy over the past 16 or 17 years. Needless to say, it will not be up-ended. Benchmarking is an alternative to traditional relativities which were not satisfactory from the perspective of industrial relations. It is, according to the PPF, a "coherent and broadly based comparison with jobs and pay" right across the economy and an integrated approach for the purposes of comparing work and reward.

Implementation of the benchmarking award is contingent on four factors: Co-operation with flexibility and ongoing change; satisfactory implementation of the agenda for modernisation set out in section 26 of Sustaining Progress; maintenance of stable industrial relations; and, the absence of industrial action in respect of any matters covered by the agreement. The argument, therefore, that benchmarking has nothing to do with industrial peace is wrong. Figures I obtained from the Central Statistics Office show that in 2002 we had the greatest degree of industrial peace since 1970.

Last year was an election year and the Government bought industrial peace.

In 2002 some 21,000 days were lost through industrial action which was the lowest figure in the past 32 years. The claim that the public is getting nothing in return for the benchmarking deal is not true. Verification groups have been set up and agreements relating to each sector have been made, for example, the standardisation of the school year has been agreed and the Revenue Commissioners have agreed to fully co-operate with the introduction of technology. The reduction of 5,000 in public service jobs announced by the Minister for Finance will not reduce services but will mean that the reduced number of public servants will have to do the work being undertaken at present by the public sector.

What about all the jobs lost last year?

The OECD was complimentary about the benchmarking process and urged wider use of it. It stated that the use of other market type instruments such as benchmarking and other choice schemes within the public sector is generally limited in Ireland. It also noted that benchmarking of Government agencies, which tend to be exempt from the pressures to perform more efficiently and effectively can be an effective means to exert such pressures in a constructive way. We need more benchmarking.

I wish to address IBEC on the issue of public service pay. Taking into account the increase in numbers last year, public service pay increased by 10%. While the following figures do not compare like with like with complete precision, figures from the CSO on average industrial earnings show they increased by 9.2% between June 2002 and June 2003. If one removes from the equation the number of additional numbers recruited in the public service last year, I calculate that average public sector pay, including benchmarking and general wage increases, rose by 6%. According to these figures, therefore, the notion that the public service is getting more than the private sector does not appear to have any basis.

While I am aware that there has been criticism of the increase in public service numbers, the IMF and the OECD credited this increase as one factor, among others, which helped the economy to achieve a soft landing in 2001 and 2002. The IBEC position is not the same as that of the Fine Gael Party in that the former turned the coin on its head and argued that the award should not be paid unless the verification groups are satisfied that progress is being made.

Given that IBEC signed up to the benchmarking arrangement, it is part of a bad deal.

The Fine Gael Party position is to suspend the deal, which goes well beyond the recent IBEC statement. Deputy Richard Bruton has complained about the absence of background studies. The correct decision was taken on this issue. If all the background studies and Labour Court determinations were published, it could lead to endless nit-picking and rival consultants—


The proof of the pudding is that the public sector has accepted the deal and we have industrial peace as a result. The Fine Gael Party, which regards itself as an alternative Government, should be aware that maintaining public commitments is the most important issue for any Government.

Economic credibility is the issue here.

I recall that in 1994, the then leader of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy John Bruton, opposed the Programme for Competitiveness and Work only to reverse his position the moment he came into Government. We look forward to hearing the views of the Labour Party on the issue of benchmarking as they are not compatible with those of the Fine Gael Party.

The Senator needs a sponge down.

Even if that were not the case, the fundamental question is whether Governments should keep their commitments. I am a little shocked that the Fine Gael Party is proposing not to pay the benchmarking award. It betrays an ongoing ambivalence towards social partnership with which the party was not happy in the past. The biggest mistake the Fine Gael and Labour parties made in the mid-1980s was to oppose the introduction of social partnership arrangements.

The money should be invested in hospitals.

I regard this motion as largely academic. The Opposition motion shows a lack of appreciation for the work done in the public service. The public service, specifically the Civil Service, will put in an enormous amount of additional work into our forthcoming Presidency of the European Union. We have a relatively small public service compared with most other countries. Our teachers have larger classes and our health workers must look after larger populations than their counterparts elsewhere.

The Government should do something about their conditions.

The Fine Gael Party should reconsider its subliminal attitude to the public service. I support the amendment and oppose the original motion.

This motion emanates from the same genre of political imagination that gave us the proposal to compensate Eircom shareholders and taxi drivers.

The Senator is referring to a different regime.

The idea behind the motion will die a death.


Order, please. Allow Senator O'Toole to speak without interruption.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for his protection. Listening to the case in favour of the motion, I wished the proposers and those in the Fine Gael Party who dreamed it up had gone to the trouble of making a few telephone calls because it is based on false information and a complete lack of understanding of the benchmarking process. The consultants who produced the report sat down with every single union group in the public sector. They were formed into four groups – education, local authorities, health and Civil Service. Each group had to negotiate separate deals. They were then brought together and the deal was hammered out. It is not in any way general. A group of teachers asked me to put the following question to the Fine Gael Party: "What more is it looking for? We have outlined exactly what we are going to do." That is just one group. I could do the same on behalf of others.

What difference does this make? Up to seven times in the past year we have seen hundreds of thousands of public sector workers on the streets of Paris, Brussels and other European cities while Ireland has managed to achieve the best record for industrial relations peace of any country in Europe. Senator Mansergh referred to last year but it was not just that year. Last year was our best year but Ireland has been the best in Europe in this regard, with the exception of one year, for the past ten years. It has been a question of modernisation. The unions had to sit down with the Department of Finance and that Department brought to the side meetings personnel from the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children, Environment, Heritage and Local Government and so forth. All of them were involved and all made their demands. The demands were hammered out during weeks of negotiations.

This is all written down; there is nothing general about it. The deal has to be delivered step by step. To ensure it is delivered there is a quality assurance or verification group involving not just the unions and the Department but also interests such as parent groups, management groups in the education area and similar people in other areas. I do not have the time to go through the entire process but it is all on record. Much nonsense is spoken about the benchmarking process. I defy any of the proposers of this motion to explain what they know about the benchmarking process, apart from saying: "We do not know; it is all behind closed doors." It is not. Every word presented by the union side in support of its claim is on the record, as is every word of the response to the union claim from the Department of Education and Science and the other Departments. The further response of the unions is on the record, as is the information compiled by independent consultants, by both sides and by the benchmarking body.

Fine Gael wants to know why one group got 12% while another group got 11%. I do not know why the body made those decisions. It sat for months and listened to 100 days of presentations. It questioned every group and the people who ultimately made the decision were people who represented the different groups. They reached a conclusion. I do not know how they came to the conclusion, no more than I know how a judge listening to evidence finally comes to a conclusion. The body issued an explanatory statement and that was it.

I listened to Judge Quirke, the chairman of the body. He was untouchable, clean, not subject to any pressure and did his job, as he said, as if he were sitting in the High Court. It is unacceptable to say that this happened behind closed doors. There was no deal involved. Look at the education sector. I can give an example of what has happened in Irish education over the last number of years. We have seen the introduction of science in the curriculum, information technology to every school, a full new curriculum, whole school inspection, new contracts for teachers and of social, personal and health education. I could mention more. No country in western Europe has managed to introduce, through negotiation, a new curriculum that has the support of teachers, parents, management and the political parties. That fact is on the record and it has been delivered. As proof of the pudding, the OECD in its latest report on education has shown that Irish schools are delivering.

I am sorry to focus on schools but I only have seven minutes to speak. I could do the same with regard to the other areas. Whatever problems there are in other areas, it is not because of the people. Is somebody going to tell teachers, nurses, gardaí and so forth that they should not be paid? What about the pensioners who are now worried that they will not get their money? This threat to them is cruel.

Relativities have been removed and we have moved the process forward. There is modernisation and we have the best industrial relations record of any public service in Europe. These things do not come easily. They are great prizes that anybody involved in public life should be seeking and should deliver. The fundamental issue demanded by this motion is that there be delivery. No money will be paid to any group if it does not measure up to and deliver on what it has promised. That is the view of the union side as well as the Government side.

There have been hard arguments. Yes, we have knocked heads together, argued, called each other names and been offensive to each other over this. At 2 a.m., we finally shook hands on a deal that was not easily made. As the world knows, my back was lashed two years ago about it. Anybody with access to a microphone spoke of what a bad deal it was. That is now the attitude on the other side.

A good benchmark of any deal is when neither side is happy. It means that people have had to make compromises. Somebody asked me if I was happy with the benchmarking deal. Of course I was not happy with it. Nobody is ever happy at the outcome of negotiations. The Minister for Finance was utterly unhappy at the time because he wanted to do other things. He had to make concessions, the unions had to make concessions and IBEC had to make concessions. At the end of the day one arrives at a deal, signs off on it in blood and delivers on it. One takes the public pain that goes with that. The benchmark of industrial relations in the Irish public service has been that people stick by their word and deliver on it.

I will stand by the Minister if he comes to this House and says he will not pay a particular group because it was supposed to deliver something and did not do it. He will be right and he will have my support and the support of the union side. There will be no easy answers. There is pain for everybody in this but the prize is industrial peace and a better public service product, which is to the benefit of all the community.

I welcome the amendment put forward by my colleague, Senator Mansergh. This issue was debated fully in the Lower House last week but I welcome the opportunity to outline the Government's position to Senators.

The Fine Gael motion asks the Government to break an agreement reached only last January with the social partners, with consequent effects on the continuation of Sustaining Progress and for the social partnership process that has served this country well since the late 1980s. I ask Senators to reflect on the consequences of such an action and on whether this would lead to industrial relations stability and an improvement in public services. What implications would it have for the partnership process? To do as suggested would lead to industrial relations disputes, undermine co-operation with the continuing changes in the public service and bring the social partnership process close to collapse.

The Fine Gael motion states we should re-negotiate the arrangement. What does this entail? Should the payment dates or the conditions attached to the payments be changed or both? What extra productivity should be required of public servants to receive the increase? If there are specific suggestions, I would be glad to hear them because in all the recent debate I have not heard specifics mentioned.

There has been some confusion about the process of benchmarking. I will outline the background to the development of this process and the benefits that will come from it. Senators may recall that in the years prior to the establishment of the public service benchmarking body, the public service pay scene was very unsettled. They will recall a series of disputes, particularly the nurses' strike and the "blue flu". The main cause of these disputes was rising wages in the private sector as the economy boomed and the labour market tightened. Unions wanted to catch up with the private sector as they felt the public service was being left behind. Without benchmarking, we would have faced a series of claims for increases.

However, a large part of the cause also lay with the old pay determination system in the public service that was based on cross-sectoral relativities. This system had grown up because of the need to link groups for pay purposes in the public service to other groups because there was no obvious private sector comparator. The system became rigid and inflexible over the years. This meant it was difficult to deal with any one group when the employer had to take into account the knock-on effects on related groups. Even if an increase in pay was justified, perhaps by a change in work practices or new skills in one group, other groups would seek the increases without any justification other than that they had a traditional link. Previous Governments made attempts to break this. In the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, the use of local bargaining was proposed to allow local productivity packages to be negotiated. That approach did not work for a variety of reasons, but cross-sectoral relativities were one major reason.

All informed commentators knew that some better way had to be found to set public service pay. In 1998 the Taoiseach took the initiative by calling for a better way to manage public service pay. There followed detailed discussions between the public service employers and unions to find a better way forward. The outcome was benchmarking, a process set up under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness in July 2000. A major advantage the Government saw was that the unions agreed that the old system of cross-sectoral relativities was dead, which was a fundamental change.

The issue of cross-sectoral relativities and analogues right across the public service has bedevilled the system for the past 50 years. I was a member of a Government some years ago that thought it had finished with them. I remember the director of finance saying to the Cabinet that we would finish certain things before Christmas one year, pay out certain amounts of money and that the whole system was then finished. As Senator O'Toole will remember, we were so confident about that matter that we did not bother appointing the conciliator and arbitrator for some months. It was intended that we should not appoint one at all and that the system was finished. However, lo and behold, not very long after that we had to give into one group and that set off the whole process again. We tried it again in other agreements. The benchmarking body was when everyone agreed that cross-sectoral relativities were dead. If that was the only outcome of the benchmarking body, it would be well worth it as far as the Government, and any future Government, is concerned.

As people who have been in Government well know, including all Ministers for Finance, if tonight I grant a small concession to any group in the public service, even an additional post or a small allowance for perhaps two people, by Friday week I will have knock-on effects throughout the public service. In some negotiations the line Minister would say that he or she had given only one concession only to be forced into others. We in the Department of Finance would point out that if we gave it to one group, we would have problems way down the line. In a few months we would have problems with all other sectors. That is the big difficulty with all public sector pay and anyone who has been involved in it knows that. One of the conditions of the benchmarking body was that we would deal with measuring and weighing people in the public sector against those in the private sector in that manner and that those relativities would be over. That is one of the things to which the unions and the Government have signed up.

I became Minister for Finance some years ago. In my time in politics I have dealt mainly with economic matters. I had great interest in what happened in the Department of Finance and longed to be Minister. However, I never thought that so much of my time would be taken up with the pay element. Much of the Minister for Finance's time is taken up – to an extraordinary degree – with things that never came into my mind at all relating to pay and conditions, groups and knock-on effects in other areas. It takes up an extraordinary amount of time of the Minister and a panoply of officials. The field of cross-sectoral relativities was part of the benchmarking body and the report and was well worthwhile.

As an interesting aside, it is said that early in the 1950s, after the end of the Second World War, each Department came up with a war plan.

After the war.

They were to make a list of what they would do in the event of the outbreak of war. In the Department of Finance, as Senator O'Toole should know, the number one item was to suspend the conciliation and arbitration scheme. That is part of the complexity of dealing with public sector pay. As Senator O'Toole, who has operated on behalf of teachers all his working life, would know, if some other group in the public sector got some small amount, his members would automatically say that they wanted the relativity with that group restored. That has been one of the great difficulties with public sector pay and the benchmarking body addressed it. For that alone it was worthwhile.

I understand what politicians and political parties have to say for electoral gain, whatever side of the House they are on.

The Minister knows it very well.

However, there is a limit in that regard. I remember Opposition politicians from 1999 onwards asking when the benchmarking body's report would come in for such and such a group and saying that it should be paid immediately. A Fine Gael Member of the other House, who was the spokesperson on education, wanted the award for teachers implemented immediately the benchmarking body had reported. Now they want it postponed. It must further be remembered that, after we set up the benchmarking body, from the time it first sat until it reported, most commentators, politicians and people in various groups expected the average increases to be much more, perhaps helped along by some of the utterances of the great Senator O'Toole, when the average cost across the public sector was only 8.9%.

The process of benchmarking for public servants started in 1999 and the final instalment of the award will not be paid until 2005, which is a six year gap. The one thing we can learn from this process is that it has been possible to do it. We set up the benchmarking body in very good economic times and we are implementing it in times that are not so good, which has led to much of the debate now. However, the relativities and the measuring of the public against the private sector were done as everyone said that they should be done. Everyone on all sides of the House said that it was a good process.

We are not against the process.

There are people who would question whether one can measure the private and public sectors against each other. Can one measure the work of a garda against that of anyone else? Can one measure the work of a teacher? Some people have an ideological and conceptual difficulty with that. Nevertheless, everyone is happy because the people we put on the body were above reproach. There were judges from the courts. The people who sat on it were qualified and independent of the Government and there was no interference from any side. They got information from the unions and the management and they went outside the public sector to get information from private sector employers.

What about those who left?

There are people who have difficulty with the process, but most people did not speak up. I do not remember anyone in this House speaking up against the concept at the time. If they did, it escaped me. There was the odd commentator outside who had difficulty with the concept, but there was no one inside the Houses of the Oireachtas. Now, following the report, for some reason some media commentators are going off at a tangent wanting us to break the deal. It is all right for a private sector employer to say that he or she will not honour a deal, but a Government cannot do that without very good reason because the whole basis of dealing with the Government would fall into disrepute and no group would ever make a deal with it again. One could never get a deal if the Government walked away from the report of an independent body to which it was party.

As Senator O'Toole has pointed out, we have fought right through the whole process of the agreements and the negotiations have been very tough. However, following the result of an agreed process which has been carried out independently, even if one does not like it, no sane Government can walk away, nor should it. What reason would one have? The measurements of those people's salaries were in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, and that was done independently. There is a separate question about how public services should be paid for and so on, but surely all right thinking people would agree that what was signed up to and agreed must be honoured.

Essentially, the process measures the wages and salaries of workers in the public service and compares them to a similar job in the private sector. In making that comparison, allowance had to be made for the differences between the two sectors, such as job security and superannuation. The jobs were measured by a job scoring system, which is a common approach to measuring differing jobs. The body that carried out this work from mid-2000 to its report in mid-2002 was an independent body, chaired by a High Court judge, and not controlled by either the employers or the unions. Some have argued that the process was not transparent and that in some way the Government has deliberately hidden the evidence of the benchmarking process. The implication of this is that the benchmarking exercise was simply a "set-up" with the results preordained. This is far from the truth. The benchmarking body was set up as an independent body under a High Court judge and was comprised of individuals of high repute. Are critics saying that these people lent themselves to a rubber stamp exercise?

Much has been made of the failure to produce the research of the body. The benchmarking body did publish an extensive description of the research it had carried out. What it did not publish was the raw data it collected on private sector earnings and there are a number of reasons for this. In the first instance, most of the data collected on private sector jobs and earnings was received on a very strictly confidential basis – it would not be possible to get it otherwise. In addition, even in the public service some data was collected on the basis that the individual responses would remain confidential. In any event publishing masses of raw data would only create scope for endless challenge and nit-picking. This would have delayed the process and moved it more to a negotiation process rather than a third party examination.

The best approach was to appoint a suitable body of independent experts, whose judgment and fairness can be accepted by all, to oversee the research and reach conclusions. They sifted the evidence, listened to the oral arguments and considered and discussed the issues between themselves. Neither the Government nor the unions had any hand, act or part in the final recommendations of the body. Senators should note that the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector, for example, which deals with top public service posts, including their own salaries, has operated on a similar basis for over 30 years.

In any negotiations like these, does anyone really think that if the detail of comparing like with like came out we would not have endless nit-picking from those who did not get 24% that one group got? Anyone who knows the least amount about industrial relations or who ever went to a meeting on behalf of any group to negotiate pay or conditions at any level – in the workplace, the office or with the Department of Finance – would know that one could never conduct negotiations like that. If that happened, or if we were so stupid as to do something like that, the groups which got 4% and saw the reason for that award would be up in arms and would look for an independent industrial panel and independent renegotiation. The system being suggested would bring us straight back to the relativities from which we are trying to move. Various groups got 4%, 6%, 8%, 15% and so on and we would be negotiating again under the system being suggested.

While all Members are interested in what the Minister has to say, many Senators are anxious to contribute.

People have to understand that if we went down that particular route, the whole basis on which we set up this group would be set at naught.

The implementation of the increases was negotiated with the unions in the context of the current national agreement. It had already been agreed under the PPF that one quarter would be paid with effect from December 2001. As part of the public service pay agreement under Sustaining Progress it was agreed that half of the increases would be paid on 1 January 2004 and the final quarter on 1 June 2005 provided certain important conditions are met. It is the payment of these two final phases and the general round increases that Fine Gael is seeking to change. It must be remembered that the conditions apply both to the benchmarking increases and the general round increases.

Much is being made of the conditions for the payment of the increase and it is right that we as taxpayers should insist that in order to get these increases the public service observes the conditions attaching to them. The Government has made it clear that it will pay the increase on the basis of the conditions set down in the agreement. It cannot do otherwise without breaking the agreement so recently concluded by us. If the unions were to try to break their agreements would the same commentators not accuse them of bad faith and a lack of trustworthiness?

The primary and most transparent condition is that there should be no industrial action such as we saw in recent years in our hospitals and in our schools. Any form of industrial action will be clear for all to see and would be a breach of the conditions of the agreement. Previous national pay agreements contained commitments to promoting industrial harmony and seeking to preclude industrial action. We all know that these had only a limited effect in preventing industrial action. The provisions in Sustaining Progress are stronger and clearer. There are procedures for eliminating the causes of disputes so they will not arise. To date we have had no disputes and I hope that continues. However, if it does not it will be clear to all and the breach of the agreement will be clear.

The other conditions relate to changes in how the public services operate and there are commitments by the unions to specific changes and to more general co-operation with ongoing change. Some of the changes will be obvious for all to see while others, by no means less important, will not, but all will contribute to improving and modernising our public services to give better customer service and improved value to the taxpayer. The requirement to co-operate generally with modernisation and change will help managers to improve services either through technology or otherwise and so improve public services. I will take some examples from the Civil Service.

For the first time ever there will be some open recruitment to middle and senior management posts in the Civil Service. At the same time there will be improvements in internal promotion arrangements. While in the past promotions were on the basis of merit not all were competitive and the emphasis going forward will be on greater competition for posts and away from promotion by management decision, with a heavy weight being given to seniority.

There is to be legislation to modernise the recruitment and employment status of civil servants and the Government is legislating to modernise Civil Service recruitment practices. The Civil Service Commission will be overhauled, new commissioners will set recruitment standards and license office holders to carry out recruitment. A new public appointment service will be established to carry out recruitment and private sector agencies may be nominated by the commissioners to carry out recruitment on behalf of licence holders.

The Government is also making significant changes to the management of staff in Government Departments. A new Bill on regulation will give Secretaries General and heads of office the power to dismiss civil servants below principal officer level. As part of the same initiative, wider powers will be given to heads of office to deal with underperformance by staff. To ensure fair procedure, the Bill also provides that the existing unfair dismissals legislation will apply to civil servants.

These important changes in the law will bring about significant improvements in the way civil servants are recruited and in the way staff in Departments are managed. The framework is being laid for an efficient and flexible approach to the management of the Civil Service.

Senators should also note that the change agenda in each sector is not a new initiative seeking to change a system that is unchanging. Rather it builds on previous modernisation changes that have been a feature of the public service in recent years. This is why in some cases the wording in some of the action plans is not clear to the general reader. This is something we will need to look at again and explain the changes being made in clear language and the context of those changes. The performance verification groups might take this on board in their reports.

As I said, change in public services has been a feature in recent years. Our hospitals continue to adapt to new technologies and medical advances. New medicines, new procedures and new technology are a fact of life in the health sector and the workers in that sector are continually adapting to changes. In the Civil Service there have been initiatives to make services more easily accessible to the public.

Through the use of new technology and an emphasis on customer relations, the service provided by Revenue has improved from what it was. In the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs there have been various initiatives which again have emphasised customer service. This process of improvement in public service and the delivery of services will continue under Sustaining Progress with, for example, an emphasis on longer office opening hours and technological initiatives.

The agreement sets out the process to be followed for verification of achievement of the conditions. Central to the process are the performance verification groups or PVGs. These comprise an equal number of management, trade union and independent members, together with an independent chairperson. The process involves the preparation of and reporting on action plans and verification of progress by the performance verification groups. Each PVG will make a recommendation one month in advance of each of the five payment dates specified in the agreement. The PVG will maintain close contact with each of the organisations under its remit throughout the reporting period so it is a continuous process and not just a one-off assessment. In order to ensure transparency, the performance verification groups will become scheduled bodies under the Freedom of Information Act and the necessary legal provisions will be made shortly. In the meantime all action plans and associated priorities in respect of Departments have been published on the Department of Finance's website.

Benchmarking as a system is a better way to determine public service pay. We could not have continued with the old system. Through this mechanism we have moved the settlement of pay to a new plane. To have continued with the old system would have led to more disruption of service, continued leapfrogging of claims and settlements that were sometimes irrational. To do nothing was not an option. This new system will give benefits not only because of the improvements brought about by the fulfilment of the conditions attaching to payments but also because of the long term impact of breaking cross-sectoral relativities.

The onus is on the public service unions and their members to deliver on their commitments in the agreement. The conditions have been set and the verification process established. All that remains is the fulfilment of the conditions. The Government will pay the increases but only if all the conditions are met. I commend the amendment to the House.

Hear, hear.

A lone voice.


I thank colleagues in Fine Gael for the opportunity to discuss this important issue. It merits discussion and we are having a lively debate. However, sadly, that is where the level of agreement on these benches must end.

Very good.

The Labour Party does not agree with the Fine Gael motion and we will support the Government amendment. I always come over a little funny when I utter those words and I take some consolation from the fact that I know it has a similarly disconcerting effect on the Minister. I suspect that whenever we get up to endorse what he has done, he knows he must have done something wrong along the way.

In fairness to Fine Gael, it has touched a few nerves and raised important issues which have to be dealt with, specifically in relation to the delivery of public services and to modernisation and flexibility within the public service. This is a hugely important issue, which is becoming all the more important as we spend more money while looking back over the past three or four years when a huge amount of money was wasted in the public sector. I will return to that topic which, although not germane to the issue of benchmarking, is important.

We must remember, as the Minister and others pointed out, from where the benchmarking process came. It arose out of an era of serious industrial unrest within the public sector. Virtually all the major bodies within the public sector had issues in the late 1990s. For example, teachers had been on strike, or had taken industrial action, gardaí had a bout of flu and nurses had been on a strike which, let us remember, had a great deal of public support on the basis that their pay was traditionally low and the lack of promotional opportunities in the grade. There were huge problems in the public sector which had to be addressed. At the time, on behalf of the Labour Party, the then leader Deputy Ruairí Quinn and I endorsed the process then undertaken, which became known as benchmarking.

As the Minister pointed out, the relativity system was absurd, incoherent and bedevilled the service. For many years, when there was not a large amount of money around, it did not make a huge amount of difference, although it was frustrating for Ministers and did not make a great deal of sense. By the late 1990s, when we were trying to bring about improvements and incentivise particular people and grades in the sector, it simply could not be made to work any more. It was hugely important that we moved away from a system which tried to compare and link grades which had nothing in common whatsoever and which were doing entirely different jobs, requiring an entirely different form of expertise. I agree with the Minister that if we have succeeded in doing that and nothing else, it is a significant achievement.

We also have to think back to when the process started to various other problems which were then, and still are largely, in the service. We were finding it very difficult to hold on to professional grades and that is still the case. For example, it was almost impossible to hold on to architects or people with town planning qualifications within county or city councils. We had to import them from abroad. The architects were going to the private sector because they could make more money there. That was true of a large number of professional grades within the Civil Service, but it was also true at the other end of the sector.

People in low grades, such as clerical officers and those who were working part-time within the sector, frequently qualified for family income supplement, which is unconscionable. In the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children in particular, the pay of many people was below the minimum wage introduced by the Government. This situation could not be allowed to continue. There was a need to break that log-jam, but it could not have been done without breaking the relativities, which led to benchmarking. The fact that it succeeded in doing that – I listened to what Senator O'Toole said earlier – is a major achievement and it has been delivered against the background of relative industrial peace in recent years. To that extent, the Labour Party endorses it and it has been an important move forward.

However, this is not to say that it is a brilliant or perfect deal. The impression was created at a very early stage that it was somehow out there in the universe and was not linked to anything, that it was money for nothing for public servants. The impression was given to the public, most of whom are not public servants, that this was a sweetheart deal done by Senator O'Toole and his mates with the Minister and his colleagues in Government Buildings which was not based on any logical assessment of facts. To use Senator O'Toole's unfortunate phrase, the impression was that it was an ATM. Understandably, that created a certain cynicism among people, other than public servants, which is still there to this day. It is that general cynicism, or lack of understanding, that Fine Gael is looking to capitalise on in making its points now.

It is important to remember that modernisation was included at the start of the benchmarking process, but it was only one of a number of different factors. It was never seen as a straightforward deal of modernisation for money. It is true that the benchmarking body, when it reported, linked the two by suggesting that the money should only be paid over in the event that flexibility and modernisation in the service was delivered. It is right that this should be the case. It is also right that the verification process should be very open. I welcome what the Minister said concerning the Freedom of Information Act. It is good that we will be able to oversee the verification process. We will know that this process is real because, undoubtedly, cynicism exists. People do not think that the verification process will be real. They think that the money is guaranteed and will be given anyway.

It is important that Senator O'Toole, on behalf of ICTU, said this evening that in the event that the modernisation and flexibility that has been agreed is not delivered, the money should not be paid. I agree that should be the case. Those of us who argue for more public spending and who want to improve public services must look hard at the experience of the past two or three years when more money has been spent with little verifiable impact in terms of the improvement of services. The fact that the verification process will be more open is hugely important.

Although it is an important issue for public servants, benchmarking is not only an issue for public servants. It is also an issue for consumers and those who use public services. This is essentially the point that Fine Gael is trying to make and I very much agree with it in that regard. However, it may have gone too far in making some linkages which should not have been made by suggesting that because the Government wasted money over the past two or three years, public servants must be punished. That is not a linkage that we would make and it is not a conclusion that I would seek to reach.

We need to benchmark the process against the aims it set for itself, which were to improve the way in which we set pay and reward people within the public service. The fact that we are now contemplating doing it again is a useful indicator that those who are party to the deal thought it was a good one. Ultimately, whether one feels the deal was good or bad, it is a done deal. It is inconceivable that we should call on any of the parties to break the deal at this stage. Senators from other parties would find it very strange if the Labour Party called on the trade union to walk away from the deal. We have not done that and we will we do it. Likewise, we expect the Government to pay its part of the deal.

Before I call Senator Morrissey, the Leader of the House wishes to make an announcement.

I wish to amend the Order of Business agreed earlier to extend this debate until 8.15 p.m. This has been requested by all sides and people have views they wish to present.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I second the amendment moved by Senator Mansergh. The Progressive Democrats accept that the benchmarking agreement is a solemn, binding contract between the Government and the social partners. If we were to walk away from the deal at this stage, we would be inviting the unions which represent thousands of public and civil servants to hold the Government in breach of contract and we would have to take the consequences of social unrest. We cannot unilaterally walk away from such an agreement. What would we say if the unions decided to walk away? Agreements are made by two parties and this agreement will be honoured by the Government.

However, in honouring this agreement, the Government is well aware of the fundamentals on which it was established, namely reform, modernisation and productivity. Some 75% of the benchmarking award is conditional on reform, productivity and modernisation taking place over the lifetime of the agreement. In confirming its obligation, the Government has no doubt that the public sector unions understand that there is a strict element of conditionality attached to this and that such reform and productivity must be verifiable. When this happens, we will have achieved what was intended, which is a public service which is matched to the market economy with a system of market linked computation for public pay based on merit and skill. There are thousands of hard-working public servants who look to the benchmarking system as their avenue for career advancement based on skill and merit rather than length of service.

Despite some media comment, the economy is still performing very well when compared to our EU partners. We have a falling unemployment rate and continue to experience increased employment. This is not to deny that the economy has suffered from the winds of rural trade. Now more than ever we require the delivery of our public services to be lean and efficient. One only has to consider the experience of Aer Lingus when the hand of Government was taken off its back. Willie Walsh and the Aer Lingus unions rose to the challenge of the market economy. Aer Lingus survived and is now a thriving airline, something that was unthinkable only three years ago.

However, the key to benchmarking must be to differentiate between the job and the employee, as is the case in the private sector. Recruitment, motivation and retention in the public service must be addressed under this agreement in order that people can see a career path, which is rewarded as in the private sector. This agreement calls on the unions to ensure that work practices change. Public sector unions must also enter into a binding agreement with the Government and the taxpayer to ensure that we get real value for money under this agreement.

Approximately 40% of the people who are to receive benchmarking awards work in the Department of Health and Children. The need for reform of our health services is agreed by all in this House. Surely we are not expecting this reform to take place with the Government reneging on the benchmarking agreement, one of the tools to deliver such reform. While realising we are a small open economy operating in a global marketplace, reform of our systems and methods of doing business, whether it be in the public or private sector, is now more important than ever. I am sure Members will agree that continuing as we are is no longer sustainable. In that event and in the absence of any alternative, benchmarking must be honoured by all sides for the benefit of the economy. All parties to this agreement understand and realise that 75% of the balance of benchmarking comes with the price tag of conditionality firmly attached.

I wish to share my time with Senator Bannon.

Acting Chairman

That is agreed.

If we were debating a Government announcement that €1.2 billion per annum extra at current annual value would be spent on the public services over the next ten to 12 years, we would all welcome that such money would be spent on housing projects, hospital beds, school buildings, etc. However, the amount of €1.2 billion is not being spent on those valuable social projects but rather on wage increases.

If we are to have the best public service, and we need the best in Europe if we are to continue to grow as a country, I fully appreciate that we must pay top class salaries to employ top class people. The question we are asking and that must be asked of Government and of the social partners is what value for money are we securing for this large increase in public expenditure.

The Minister let the cat out of the bag. He spoke about industrial relations and a pay agreement. That is what this issue is about. It is a pay agreement. It is the buying of industrial peace. It is couched as benchmarking, but as Members of the Oirechtas, and this also applies to members of the public, we find it difficult to ascertain what the taxpayer and the public will get as a result of the payment of these increases.

Fine Gael believes that we must take stock of the value of money increases. We must demand a clear explanation of what exactly is on offer and when this offer will be delivered from the point of view of improving public services. From the point of view of local authority services, as a former member of a local authority, I am aware that every local authority across the country will find it impossible to make the books balance when their estimates come up for discussion in the next few months. Local authorities cannot afford these increases unless they are bailed out by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but he has already said "no" to such a proposal.

Last week, the Minister for Finance gave details of the 5,000 jobs which will be shed across the public service. That is one the costs of benchmarking. Some 5,000 public servants will be let go. There will be a major challenge in every Department as a result of arbitrarily paying these increases unless there is some indication of an improvement in services. Fine Gael wants this country to have the finest public servants and the finest public service but, as the leader of another party said at his party's conference some months ago, the whole issue of public service is an issue for the public and an issue about the public as much as it is about public servants. We want to know exactly what is on offer. We want to know what improvements will be made as a result of this deal. From the point of view of my constituents who deal with a local authority or a Department on a daily basis, they are demanding to know how services will improve. There appears to be little evidence to date of any of those improvements. The figure of €1.2 billion is an extraordinary sum of money by anybody's standards. Who would believe ten to 20 years ago that we could afford those increases? The economy has grown and the Government will argue that it is affordable, but when one considers what else could be done with €1.2 billion in terms of providing social and economic services for the public, it is vital that before we rush to pay these moneys, we know what will be a result of that investment and how the public will get a better response. If public service increases are to be fair and proper, surely they must result in a better service for the public, but no indication is available that they will.

I thank Senator Bradford for sharing time with me.

The concept that benchmarking payments to the public sector are in return for improved services ignores the fact that those outside this sector, who give value for money and enhance their particular workplaces, are not eligible for these awards, although ironically they will end up paying for them at local taxation level, in the ensuing job losses, escalating property prices, decreased services and reduced pension rights.

With local authorities employing almost 13% of the 235,000 employees covered by benchmarking, how are local authorities throughout the country to find funds to pay this award? There are no prizes for the answer. The money will come out of the rapidly emptying pockets of our citizens. Citizens who are already being asked to pay refuse charges by their local authorities will see unprecedented stealth taxes in the guise of a wide range of new local charges. The local authority in my county of Longford, which has a population of 31,000, will have to raise between €1.5 million and €2 million from local taxation such as increased water and other service charges, including planning charges, which will particularly affect young house buyers, in order to pay benchmarking. With eight out of nine taxpayers not covered by the benchmarking process, we are in a strange position, where the increase to the one will be subsidised by many.

Job losses will increase dramatically, with projections putting the expected losses by the end of the year at 45,000. With the cutback in community employment schemes, it will be difficult for the unemployed or those who are displaced from these schemes to get other job opportunities in the workplace.

The Taoiseach's determination to resist all calls for the suspension of the benchmarking scheme for public sector employees highlights the blatant recklessness of the Government in its handling of our national finances. At a time when the economy is in a critical state, we are expected to approve the spending of €1.2 billion – the projected deficit for this year is estimated to be approximately the same figure.

One of the Taoiseach's more extraordinary claims about the benchmarking agreement is that currently we are seeing more efficiencies throughout the health services. Is that wishful thinking or a figment of his imagination, something we have seen much of during the summer months? At a time when essential acute and non-acute medical services are being withdrawn or drastically curtailed, it is patent nonsense to speak of increased efficiencies in the health services. While recognising the work being done by the hard-pressed medical personnel who are victims of under-staffing, I suggest that the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and, indeed, Senator Mansergh try to discuss this matter with people queuing in an A&E department in any of our hospitals.

The benchmarking will cost €188.94 million in payments to health administrators and so on, who go a long way towards righting the inadequacy and inequality in health care in this country. I fully understand Senator O'Toole's concerns as nearly half of next year's benchmarking costs will go to the education sector, which will receive €300 million. This money could be effectively used to double the school building programme which he has called for time and time again.

Asking that the benchmarking payments be postponed pending a review is not in any way anti-Civil Service. It is merely a logical, economy-driven attempt at rationalisation and effective governance of this country.

Weary of bearing the brunt of economic mismanagement by the Government, the public will be wearier still when elderly people are forced to work until they are 75 years of age to make up for the lack of their pension rights. Force-fed on the rapidly broken promises in the lead-up to the last general election, they will surely not be as easily hoodwinked by the blatant pre-election Government spin machine revving up at the moment. It is in their interest to remember that the Government promises, and the general public pays.

The benchmarking deal is a bad deal for the taxpayers of this country as it siphons off resources from other important areas. This was brought home to me this afternoon when seven constituents of mine telephoned me.

Acting Chairman

The Senator has used up an extra minute of productivity.

Three of these callers contacted me with regard to a reduction in the carer's allowance and three more were denied the disabled person's grant because the funds within the local authority had been exhausted.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I am happy to speak in support of the Government amendment. After many years of social partnership which have brought this country from the dire straits it was in during the 1970s and 1980s to its current position as one of the leading economic success stories in Europe and indeed the world, the benchmarking process which this Administration and the previous one have entered into will continue to improve the lives of ordinary people in this country, and keep us on the path which has proven to be so successful over the past ten or 15 years. I was glad to hear the opening speaker for Fine Gael concede that point.

The Irish public service to a great extent has made us what we are today. The December 2000 agreement, which is the basis for benchmarking, is a recognition of that fact. To quote the Minister for Finance at the time, this was the first time any attempt had been made to assess appropriate pay for all key public service grades by reference to pay for equivalent jobs in the private sector. This process was not entered into lightly. As has been pointed out, discussions have been taking place since 1998. The benchmarking body's report is a comprehensive analysis of the whole of our public sector in comparison to the private sector. After more than two years of intensive consultation and discussion with all the stakeholders, its conclusions have to be taken as a solid basis from which the future direction of our public service can be guaranteed for all our benefit.

The integrated approach adopted by the benchmarking body in comparing work and reward had among its main criteria "public service, modernisation, efficiency and effectiveness". There was all-party agreement on a commitment to development and modernisation frameworks. The benchmarking body also made it clear that any awards given, apart from those in the first quarter, were conditional on genuine output being delivered, and this was agreed by all parties involved in the negotiations. It was also made clear that an appropriate validation process had to be established to ensure issues such as change, flexibility and modernisation were fully implemented.

The establishment of the performance management and development system in the Civil Service and the linking of this system to any pay increases under any of the agreements, PPF or Sustaining Progress, will ensure the effectiveness of the agreement.

Since the establishment of the strategic management initiative within the Civil Service, huge strides have been made.

Does the Senator really believe that?

The strides made, particularly at management level, have resulted in a marked improvement in the delivery of services. There are obviously still some areas of concern.

Look at Luas.

In general the public has seen improvements on the ground.

The pragmatic decision taken in the year 2000 to progress the agreement, along with the excellent work of the benchmarking board, have resulted in a strong framework within which the public services can and will improve to a level which is appropriate to a modern progressive State.

This Government is committed to following through on the commitments given by all parties to the agreement and to ensuring they are delivered on. For many years we have listened to complaints about the state of our public service. Some 20% of our workforce, the 235,000 people in the public service, have through their representative bodies signed up to this agreement and they fully realise that with the agreement come expectations. Under a succession of national agreements, including PPF and Sustaining Progress and, as was pointed out earlier, one of the agreements negotiated by Fine Gael, the link between public service pay awards and the delivery of improvements and modernisation programmes has been a key element in negotiations. All sides accept that in order to justify any awards, change is inevitable.

An even more important element of any agreement must be the verification process. This must be rigorous and transparent. The method of quality control that this will provide will benefit all sides – the consumer, the taxpayer, the Government and indeed the service providers, in that they will not have to constantly try to justify themselves or the value of their work.

The thrust of the Fine Gael motion baffles me. We listen almost daily to moans about the lack of services and investment yet Fine Gael wants to undermine the very people who provide us with these services. It says something about the flawed logic that exists in Fine Gael that the party does not see the public service as worth investing in.

In contrast, public service modernisation is at the heart of this Government's agenda.

The Government does not have a heart.

We know that in addition to delivering better services to the individual citizen, in terms of the bigger picture an effective public service makes a greater contribution to the welfare of our nation, because the manner in which we develop and implement public policy is a key factor in driving our national competitiveness. Should Fine Gael need to have this spelled out, our competitiveness in turn directly influences our ability to generate employment and improve living standards.

I am rather struck by the unanimous view inherent in the use of a phrase used by Senator Brady, which ought to be punctured before it is allowed to go any further. The phrase is used by politicians and economists and those reading scripts – which is against the rules – in this House from time to time. It is the mantra that social partnership is the basis of our economic boom. There is absolutely no evidence for this and I challenge anyone to produce such evidence. That mantra has gained ground because social partnership and the economic boom have coincided. It is like saying that when the sun rises in the morning, we have a particularly good economy.

It is not necessarily true that social partnership has been the basis of our economic boom. The evidence I would point to is that social partnership agreements had very little to do with that boom. However, Government policy, as practised by the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil, and indeed by Fine Gael and Labour when they were in office, had a great deal to do with it. Government policy, and a low corporate tax rate, has fostered a large number of multinationals in this country which are undoubtedly one of the bases of the economic boom.

I point out to those who use this mantra that the people who brought so much foreign investment, employment and a buzz into our economy are not practitioners of social partnership. Let us not accept this. Senator Brady may be correct in what he says and there may be an element of truth in it but let us not state it as proven fact, as it is not, never was and never will be. It is unprovable.

I welcome Fine Gael's late conversion through this particular motion. Some of us have been belly-aching ad nauseum about benchmarking ever since the idea was introduced.

There is no doubt about that.

Senator Ryan has been boring the House all day on other matters and he might as well bore us on benchmarking.

I do not do so ad nauseum.

I choose my subjects. This subject has been difficult for political parties for good political reasons. It has also been an easy one for us, as Independents, to tackle for good political reasons. It has been difficult to tackle because of the power of the social partners to which Senator Brady referred. The public service unions have wielded incredible power in this country. The most powerful group outside the Houses of the Oireachtas is the public service unions. Benchmarking is one more concession to their enormous power. It is difficult for politicians to resist that power because in that group are extremely sensitive and powerful lobbies such as nurses, gardaí and teachers who can place immense pressure on them. It is my contention that the almost unanimous support for benchmarking –it was unanimous in both Houses for a while – came about as a result of that pressure. I applaud that Fine Gael has taken the courage to resist that pressure. They will pay a price for that but it may not be a price without benefits because the polls show a large minority taking the same position as them on this. It is a difficult road to go and I applaud them for taking it.

It is my contention, perhaps because I am more cynical and do not have the same ties and constraints or pressures on me, that benchmarking was, from day one, a bit of a ready-up. It was the insiders deciding something which was inevitable. It took them an extraordinarily long time to reach their conclusions, conclusions which many had predicted within 1% in its original form before it was set up. I accept some of what the Minister said about the members of that body being people of integrity although it is a bit rich to say that because a High Court judge was in charge everything is all right. I do not accept that. High Court judges are not perfect people without prejudices. The benchmarking body was not, as the Minister stated, an independent committee. It was full of social partnership junkies, people who were committed to it in the first place. It was stuffed with IBEC, trade union officials and, in particular, public service trade unionists. What conclusion could they have reached other than an agreement which suited the public service?

Always the same from Senator Ross.

Senator Ryan is due at least five more interruptions before he makes his own boring speech.

And predictable speech.

Indicative of that was the fact that the only private sector member on the board resigned.

He joined the public sector.

He went to Maynooth.

Why did Jim O'Leary resign?

Acting Chairman

Senator Ross without interruption, please.

I do not mind. Nobody else is taking any notice of me. His resignation indicated a dissatisfaction with what was going on. Those on the outside understood his resignation to mean he was flagging the fact that the results were predestined. That is a pity. The disappearance of the data discredited the findings, to which the Minister referred. I see no reason the data on which they based their findings could not have been released. The establishment of this body was flawed. Its findings were predestined and I agree fully with the Fine Gael demand that these payments be suspended until the implementation of productivity.

I do not accept that the verification groups are impartial bodies. The chair of one of the verification groups was also a member of the benchmarking body. It is an extraordinary coincidence that someone so embroiled in the whole process, who has a vested interest in pushing it through and who recommended the report to the House is chairing one of the verification groups. Political appointees to semi-State bodies are chairing other verification groups. What does that mean? It means they are beholden and are not independent. Others on the verification groups are almost inevitably trade unionists who will vote to push this through as will members of IBEC.

I note the Acting Chairman is signalling me to conclude.

Acting Chairman

I am worried about the productivity of the Seanad.

I will conclude with a slight reference to our situation in the Seanad.

Acting Chairman

You are well over time, Senator Ross.

I promise industrial peace if I can have one more minute.

Acting Chairman

The Senator must conclude in less than one minute.

Our position is embarrassing to say the least. We are beneficiaries of this enormous rise at the expense of the taxpayer yet there are no demands upon us. It is somewhat ridiculous that we are debating this issue with that particular embarrassment hanging over our heads.

I thank Fine Gael for tabling this motion and enabling us to debate this important matter and to seek clarification on it from the Minister.

I have a great deal of sympathy for what lies behind this but it is not something which I can entirely support. Unlike Senator Norris I think there is utility—

Senator Norris is in America.

Yes, but he is omnipresent. I was so overcome by Senator Ross's productivity I thought there were two Senators speaking.

There is utility in social partnership. No one wishes to go back to the trench warfare of long strikes. That is the measurement of social partnership. I agree it carries some of the dangers outlined. My only concern is if one engages in a process of bargaining and negotiation, it is difficult for one party to withdraw while maintaining the credibility of the process and leaving open the possibility of picking up the bits and pieces again. It can be argued that the deal was negotiated during the good times when the State could afford it but it cannot now. A private company would open its books, inform its workers it cannot afford the deal and ask them to sit down. That means the pain is shared all around and it is not all visited on the workers. A major can of worms would be opened by getting into that. It is precious to think that industrial relations, pay and conditions, remuneration and productivity can be discussed as if they are entirely separate and discrete. They interact with each other and the purpose of the deal is to enable the recruitment, motivation and retention of workers and certain actions must be taken to do so.

I am concerned about the productivity aspect of benchmarking. I have been engaged in similar negotiations for most of my life and I know a disguised pay rise when I see one. It is only too easy to say, "That is productivity and we will work it out afterwards". It is a great achievement to have abolished relativities and the embedded practices that were in place so the public service can move forward. That was worth doing because relativities were a killer. I like money to be invested in low paid workers. One of the difficulties in the past was when an award was made to the lowest paid workers, workers in the next grade said they were always X% ahead of them and the scales were adjusted accordingly. It is good to have moved away from that.

However, productivity is difficult to measure in the public service. For example, I recall that for every £5 invested in the health service, there was a £1 improvement in services. Issues such as this need to be tackled. People must be faced with the prospect that if an agreement is based on productivity, it has to be measurable, achievable and policed. It is difficult to do so in regard to certain jobs. Senator Ross pointed out the embarrassment of the Seanad and I must put up my hands and acknowledge that was an own goal.

During the last Seanad, I was a member of the strategic management initiative, which dealt with Mickey Mouse issues such as the types of letters sent out by civil servants and whether civil servants were courteous when they answered the telephone. While I would like this to happen, we did not deal with major issues such as discussing business plans with Departments and asking them what they had done. That committee should be resuscitated and refocus on issues such as that so that officials could appear before it and outline how they implemented modernisation and improved productivity and how they proposed to measure it so that there is a sense that productivity and modernisation are being monitored. The worst thing that could happen is a lack of modernisation, flexibility and improvement in services following such expenditure, which, at the end day, is what will benefit the public.

I wish to share time with Senator Finucane. Fine Gael's demand for the renegotiation of the benchmarking agreement has a number of origins. Its cost of €1.2 billion will not be matched with commensurate improvement in public services. There will not be a value or return to the taxpayer for the money expended. The Government and the Minister have not addressed the value for money issue. A serious deficit in the public finances has emerged and the resources are not available to meet it. An accelerated pattern of stealth taxes, service charges and so on will emerge in the coming months as the Government will tax everything that moves in order to recoup money. Public servants will find that the extra money will filter out of their pockets in the form of various new charges before they even receive it.

We are concerned about addressing serious issues surrounding the nature of the deal, the way it was put together, how the shortfall will be addressed and who will pay for it. Benchmarking was intended to end historical relativities and the extra payments were to be based on hard evidence of recruitment difficulties experienced in the public service and gaps in pay and performance requirements between the private and public sectors. Three quarters of the award was conditional on outputs that achieved delivery of improved public services as a result of the reform agenda. This was a radical departure and it was a process with potential. It was about striving to achieve best practice and rewarding those involved in its achievement and it was to be extremely exciting by providing a great opportunity for the State to radically reform public services.

However, the Government has completely blown this opportunity. The hard evidence that was supposed to be the basis of the award was not released and it has been shredded and buried. No taxpayer, who will pay for the process, will see a shred of evidence to support it. The Government completely reneged on its responsibility to put in place a serious reform agenda and there was no effort to advocate reform. No group in the negotiations was pushed beyond its established position.

The Government pulled back in respect of its responsibility because it did not want to rock the boat and all of us will pay for it. It completely capitulated on the principle that co-operation with change in moderation should be the justification for pay awards. Instead of honouring the principle, it agreed a hollow list of minor changes dressed up as so-called action plans full of pious hopes and offering objectives for every existing activity but not involving serious change or commitment that there would be differences in the delivery of health and education services, which would realise value for money.

Value for money was supposed to be the hallmark of the benchmarking process. Ministers have commented in the media on endemic overtime in the Prison Service. There was not a word about that issue when benchmarking was discussed and Ministers are now scurrying for reform when there is no money in the kitty. They have blown the opportunity that benchmarking offered. Last year 90% of the extra resources that the Minister for Finance had available on budget day were expended on public pay, if social welfare increases are excluded. Only 10% remained for non-pay elements. Bureaucracy pre-empted the money and, therefore, there were cuts in the home help and respite care services and grants for people with disabilities and beds were closed. However, public servants continued to be paid. There was an inability to deliver services because of the way in which the last budget was framed and there will be greater evidence of this next year. We do not mean to undermine social partnership by questioning the benchmarking deal and the returns that are being made on it. Our ideas may challenge social partnership, which will be worthwhile only if it can face such challenges and emerge with a deal that better serves the people and delivers improved services. Social partnership should make the public service more rewarding and ambitious. People should be able to have dynamic public sector careers, in which they can demonstrate the professional expertise for which they were trained. That is where Fine Gael stands on benchmarking.

With the permission of the Chair, I would like to read into the record a fairly self-explanatory letter. I do not need to add anything to the letter, which was given the title "Exposing Civil Service from within" when it was chosen as the letter of the week in the Sunday Independent last Sunday. The letter read as follows:

I am a senior civil servant working in one of the biggest government departments. I have received a significant increase in salary under the guise of benchmarking. I can, however, confirm that the process constitutes a major fraud on the taxpayer. The notion that there will be, or has been, some improvement in productivity or in delivery or quality of services or performance accruing for the State is totally erroneous. My department is overstaffed, there is no check or interest in under-performance (or no performance) on either an individual or collective basis – whatever the grade from Clerical Officer to Assistant Secretary. If I, within my area, were to take some initiative to address the situation I would receive no support and would in fact harm any chance of advancement – I know this through personal experience. There is in place a culture of hear no evil . etc., and this is widely tacitly understood across most of the Civil Service. Those commentators who have identified and commented on the obvious flaws in the process have only erred in seriously underestimating the scale of the con-job being perpetrated on the taxpayer. Finally, I should add that the blame for the above lies squarely with the absence of real management skills at the highest levels of the Civil Service. The doctrine is if in doubt do nothing – and most important of all upset nobody.

I did not make up the letter, which was written by a civil servant. I do not need to say any more than that.

It is important that we outline the background to this debate. The benchmarking process commenced in October 2000. An increase of 21.5% was awarded between that date and October 2002, under the programme at the time. The benchmarking body was established, at a time when there was a certain amount of industrial unrest, to buy peace and harmony. The body was charged with comparing public sector wages to those in the private sector at a time of economic boom.

Secondary school teachers were complaining at that time because they felt that IT workers, who were educated by them, were earning much more than them in the private sector. I would like to point out what is happening in the IT sector at present. Two people are qualified to do every IT job that is available in this country. Most IT workers have taken a drop in income because the sad reality of the private marketplace is prevailing. I assure the House that the public service is cocooned in terms of wage increases and pensions. The private sector is a harsh world now that the economy has changed dramatically. The benchmarking process bought peace and harmony until its findings were released in May 2002, just after the general election was called. It guaranteed political stability until the election was called. I am sure the Government had been very conscious for some time that the election was going to take place in May, as everything seems to have been geared in that direction.

I know that the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, announced that he intends to seek 5,000 voluntary redundancies in the public service. It is interesting to note that 21,000 people were recruited to the public service in the year preceding the general election.

That is right.

The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, will be aware that between 4,500 and 5,000 people were recruited to the Department of Agriculture and Food at a time when the numbers involved in farming were declining. That seems like a contradiction. A colleague of the Minister of State in another body, the ICMSA, queried that aspect of the matter recently. The benchmarking document is neither quantifiable nor tangible, but it contains a large amount of wishes. Senator Maurice Hayes asked what it means to say that "we will improve customer relations". One would imagine that public servants would have been providing good customer relations all the time. Anyone who analyses the benchmarking document will find that it contains many such pious platitudes. The people involved in the benchmarking process were within the loop, so they knew what was going to emerge from it.

Acting Chairman

I ask the Senator to conclude as many other Senators wish to contribute to the debate.

The deal should be renegotiated.

Acting Chairman

The Senator has been given a great deal of latitude.

People will wonder where the money went when many cutbacks are announced in the budget. The Minister, who squandered €5 billion at election time, will have a budget over-run of about €2 billion next time around. The money will not be found. The backbenchers on the other side will say that they cannot get home help personnel, child care workers or people with other skills. That will be the case because the money will not be there.

Hear, hear.

Fine Gael's announcement that it intends to abandon the payment of benchmarking awards to public service workers, on the grounds that the country cannot afford it, is reckless. Its logic is flawed, given that it promised that it would reimburse Eircom shareholders and compensate taxi drivers, at a massive cost to the taxpayer, if it was elected. Fine Gael Deputies were elected on this mandate. The latest rush of blood to the head proves beyond doubt that Fine Gael has lost the plot. The party announced in January 2002 that, if elected, it would compensate small investors who lost out after purchasing Eircom shares that subsequently decreased in value. It was discovered between the announcement and the general election that the cost of this policy could have been more than €100 million. The combined cost of the deals with the taxi drivers and the Eircom shareholders could have been well in excess of €400 million. This is money that we cannot afford, according to Fine Gael.

I do not think Fine Gael can decide what is best for the economy. Does it prefer benchmarking, which is an incentive for hard-working nurses, teachers and gardaí, or compensating Eircom investors? In its general election manifesto last year, Fine Gael predicted that it would deliver on tax cuts, increase spending on services, fund the national development plan and pay into the national pensions reserve fund. It said that it would start a new general contingency fund and stay in the black as far as Brussels is concerned. I remind the House that I intend to share time with Senator White.

Senator Scanlon is much better on his own.

Acting Chairman

Is it agreed that Senator Scanlon will share his time with Senator White? Agreed.

Deputy Kenny's threat to walk away from benchmarking would not only leave tens of thousands of families out of pocket, but it also flies in the face of Fine Gael's commitment to the public service. The Deputy has a duty to explain the contradiction between his latest remarks and those of members of his party who have applauded benchmarking. If he cannot do this, he should withdraw his remarks, which have outraged everyone in the public service.

I ask the Senator to run that by me again.

Who is applauding?

Deputy Kenny has a duty to explain the contradiction between his latest remarks and those of members of his party who have applauded benchmarking. If he cannot do so, he should withdraw his remarks, which have outraged many public servants. Deputy Kenny may want to take the soft option, but that is not in line with his party's previous support for the benchmarking proposals. Fine Gael's five year economic plan, which was published on 19 March 2002, expressed a belief that public sector salaries have to be commensurate with those paid in the private sector if we are to continue to attract and retain public servants of the required expertise.

That document was based on the Government's figures, unfortunately.

It does not matter, as we get the blame for everything. What is new?

We heard that there would be "no cutbacks, hidden or otherwise".

Fianna Fáil is blamed for Fine Gael's economic policies. There is no doubt about it; we are improving. Deputy Perry, who is the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, has said that "Fine Gael accepts the recommendation of the benchmarking and indexation group established under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness".

Fine Gael sounds like the holy trinity at the moment.

Deputy Perry's statement was made some months ago. The Fine Gael leader's remarks are clearly a desperate attempt to attract support for the party. He should now explain to the public service and the rest of the country the contradiction between his remarks and those of members of his party. I understand that only four of the 30 members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party who were polled in yesterday's Evening Herald stated that they were willing to vote against benchmarking.

We have had too much productivity from Senator Scanlon tonight.

Fine Gael's commitment to the abandonment of the benchmarking pay awards represents a slap in the face to the thousands of public servants who work very hard. It is another poorly thought-out and off-the-wall idea. It is a recipe for industrial disaster.

When I heard the leader of Fine GaeI say the Government should not pay the subsequent stages of the benchmarking agreement until after the verification process I felt sorry for him because his action was that of a kamikaze pilot.

We do not want the Senator's pity.

I hate to say this because I have got to know Fine Gael Members well and I enjoy their company.

This is only business. It is not personal.

We thank Senator White for the chocolates.

I cannot understand a political party which is willing to renege on a deal in the partnership process. Whether the deal is a good one or not is a separate matter. If one reneges on a deal, no one will have faith in one again.

We did not make the deal.

It is not our deal.

I have not heard anyone in this House say what they would give in return for benchmarking.

Correct. That is the point we are making.

Why did Fine Gael not say this in the beginning? If Fine Gael had declared from the beginning that they would not accept the first part of the benchmarking agreement, I would have understood their point of view and accepted that they acted out of political integrity rather than expediency and in order to create a niche of support. If they are to exclude 50,000 public servants from their electoral supporters, they have created a very shaky niche.

Many public servants support our party.

If they had forsaken the increase in salary at the outset, I would have understood them. Dr. Howard Dean in the United States is the only Democrat candidate with credibility because he opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.

Deputy Richard Bruton has been talking about this for a long time.

I think—

That is a dangerous thing.

—that Senator Ross was too extreme in his judgment of what Senator Brady said. Since 1987, partnership has been one of the keystones of the Celtic tiger. I accept that our low rate of corporate tax has attracted multinational companies to Ireland but a series of strikes in the public sector would project a negative image of Ireland among multinational companies. Senator Ross's views are too extreme and right-wing. He refuses to see that the private sector must be supported by a working non-striking public sector.

I will feel very guilty if we do not give a pay increase to nurses.

Managers received 25% and nurses got 8%.

I spent three days in hospital a fortnight ago and I was humbled by the hard working nurses and doctors I met there. I also admire the work of teachers. My sister is a deputy school principal. A teacher must concentrate on her work from the moment she goes into the classroom. She cannot take a telephone call, for example, but must be constantly on the alert. I do not accept the superior attitude of those who say people in the public sector do not work as hard as those in the private sector.

Acting Chairman

The Senator must conclude. She has gone well over time.

I wish to make one important point.

Senator White can tell us later.

Over a cappuccino.

Fine Gael slipped up. They did not move in time.

I am intrigued by Fine Gael's position, in the sense that I am intellectually challenged by it.

Not again.

Senator Ryan will gain on the double and he does not even need it.

If well-off people like myself were the issue, Fine Gael would propose that we pay 50% tax on large parts of our income. However, if they did so a large number of Fine Gael supporters would drop dead with fright. People on incomes such as mine are not paying half enough income tax. I did not support the cuts in the top rate of income tax. They achieved nothing. They did not make me or anyone else work any harder. The problem has always been that people on low incomes were in the wrong tax band, not that the top rate of income tax was too high. People on high incomes can afford to pay higher taxes. That is not the issue.

The issue is the distortion of the public perception of what is the public service. I do not dispute Senator Finucane's truthfulness. The mythological civil servant sits in a mythological Department doing nothing. There may be a few of them about, but anyone who is familiar with large private sector organisations will also know that the problem of individuals in back-offices of large private organisations is also a reality. It is easy to keep a check on everyone in a small firm where there are only six people. In a big organisation where 95% of the people are doing their job properly, the problem is how to deal with the other 5%.

In journals of the engineering profession, of which I am a member, I read about the problem of under-performance in, for example, large US chemical engineering consultancies. The worst possible thing to do is to sack those who are under-performing. Regarding the mythological public servant of whom he spoke, if Senator Finucane thinks the solution is to sack the people in the Department he thinks are not doing their job, he is inviting serious industrial relations problems. It is a management issue to manage such people. The fundamental problem in parts of the public service is the unwillingness of people in management to do what they are entitled to do and take responsibility where there is a problem. The myth is that these are all civil servants. They are actually nurses, doctors, teachers and their ilk.

In the sector in which I work, where I am told we are not sufficiently flexible, I am required to teach at any hour of the day between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. I am required to work at night if my managers decide I should. I am paid time-and-a-half for working at night. How much more flexibility does anyone want from people like that?

I was not a Member of this House between 1993 and 1997. I was involved in a research project at the time. The third level colleges throughout Europe that were involved in the project communicated by electronic mail. We were researching with private sector organisations, none of which had got around to even thinking about electronic communication. We had to drive technological change in the private sector and lead the question of new technology. The Internet and the world wide web were invented in the public sector and were used in the public sector before the private sector even noticed.

I was entertained by Senator Ross's view. In the middle of the 1990s, I began to send press releases to various newspapers by e-mail, to be told by all of the newspapers that e-mails could not be accepted because they did not have an agreement on the use of new technology. I am tired of the idea that there is a thrusting private sector using all the weapons of modern technology when, in terms of the developments such as the Internet, the private sector had to be dragged reluctantly into the use of what many people in the public sector had been using as the normal method of communication without any negotiation about extra payment.

The public sector is not a homogenous body. It consists of nurses and doctors in the accident and emergency service and of teachers who, according to the OECD, work longer average hours than teachers in any other OECD country. One could quote many other examples.

Does Fine Gael propose that we walk away in the middle of a deal and say to all those people, "Tough. We want more."? Why is it acceptable to break an agreement on public service pay while paying out between €500 million and €700 million a year on an idiotic special savings scheme which will benefit no one in this country and is an enormous drain on the public resources? Why not break that agreement and tell people something different? The money will produce nothing in terms of the provision of public services.

It might get the Minister re-elected.

It is easy to attack public servants, but Fine Gael wants the sort of people who save money to vote for them.

Senator Higgins should conclude.

With the permission of the House, could I share one minute with my colleague Senator Brian Hayes?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This has been an excellent debate, to which many have contributed. I have one point to make. People are not thick and understand that the money is not available. If the award is to be paid from 1 January next year and beyond, it will be paid on the back of stealth taxes and increased charges in the economy. It will also be paid on the back of cuts in education and health. I am not prepared to accept an increase in our salaries on the back of health cuts. Senator Ryan can afford health cuts because he has two salaries, whereas I do not.

This country needs to take a grip of the economy and the difficulties we face. If we show wise counsel over the next two years, if people show moderate expectations in pay and if we start to reduce the huge sums we are spending, we can turn the economy around for the good times ahead. That is the kind of leadership this motion espouses and which this House should be showing.

I thank everybody who contributed to the debate from all sides of the House. It was a very stimulating, high calibre debate, even though I did not agree with anything that was said from the other side of the House. That is a sine qua non. I am extremely disappointed with the contribution of the Minister for Finance. He challenged us to spell out what we meant by re-negotiation and we did so. It involves going back to the negotiating table, sitting down with the unions, working out a productivity deal and publishing it in order that we can measure productivity on an ongoing basis.

The Minister spoke of services getting better but they have worsened. The Luas has to be placed on stilts, the port tunnel cannot take the vehicles it was supposed to take and trains are running late. The Minister mentioned walking away from the deal. We do not expect anybody to do this. We advocate sticking with it but going back to the negotiating table and re-negotiating it. He said it is impossible to do another deal, with which we agree.

Consider the figures pertaining to what the Minister is paying out this year through his Department on benchmarking: Enterprise Trade and Employment, €12.9 million; Department of Defence, €22 million; Department of Agriculture and Food, €10.8 million; Department of Finance, €21.398 million; Department of Education and Science, €300 million; Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, €1.670 million; Department of Health and Children, €188 million. Where is the productivity for this money?

I thank Senator Morrissey for his contribution. I am surprised by the Progressive Democrats. We thought its members were the kind of people that would espouse our proposal. He spoke of three things that were to be delivered, namely, reform, modernisation and productivity. We agree that these should be delivered, but it is not being done.

Senator John Phelan was exceptionally good. Had the benchmarking deal been re-negotiated properly, we would have had 1,200 new gardaí. He spoke of local charges being increased this year because development charges will be imposed. He asked all the right questions.

Senator Mansergh spoke about our being altruistic, a point taken up by Senator White. We are not, we are being pragmatic and we will be thanked for it. We did the same thing in respect of the Tallaght strategy. People said it was daft but in the election which followed, we won nine seats.

That was not expedient.

Senator O'Toole mentioned the verification groups and we agreed with him. However, why not publish their results? Why should they be secret? Where is the evidence of the measurability of productivity and increased services? It should be published.

I particularly agreed with Senator Ross. He has been barraging us over the summer with letters in respect of taking up this issue and we have done so. However, I take issue with the Senator in that we are not late converts to our way of thinking. In my opening address, I said that when the deal was first published in 2002 and when the idea of benchmarking came to the surface, we needed to see productivity.

We had a good debate but, unfortunately, our message did not circulate. The deal is bad, wasteful, and extravagant. There was no reform agenda. Evidence of private sector comparisons and recruitment bottlenecks was never revealed to the public sector. Awards were set out with no matching agenda of service improvement. No such improvement was or will be delivered. We make no apology for our stand. We are for the concept of benchmarking. It is good, but under the aegis of the Government it has been totally mismanaged. It is an extravagant, non-productive give-away.

Amendment put.

Bohan, Eddie.Brady, Cyprian.Brennan, Michael.Cox, Margaret.Daly, Brendan.Dardis, John.Dooley, Timmy.Feeney, Geraldine.Fitzgerald, Liam.Glynn, Camillus.Hanafin, John.Hayes, Maurice.Henry, Mary.Kenneally, Brendan.Kitt, Michael P.Leyden, Terry.Lydon, Donal J.MacSharry, Marc.Mansergh, Martin.

McCarthy, Michael.McDowell, Derek.Minihan, John.Mooney, Paschal C.Morrissey, Tom.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Meara, Kathleen.O'Rourke, Mary.O'Toole, Joe.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Phelan, Kieran.Ryan, Brendan.Scanlon, Eamon.Tuffy, Joanna.Walsh, Kate.White, Mary M.


Bannon, James.Bradford, Paul.Coghlan, Paul.Coonan, Noel.Cummins, Maurice.Feighan, Frank.

Finucane, Michael.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Phelan, John.Ross, Shane.Terry, Sheila.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Bannon and Finucane.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.