Public Service Agreement 2010-2014: Statements

I thank Members of the Seanad for giving me the opportunity to update the House on the progress of implementation of the public service agreement known as the Croke Park agreement. I last spoke to Senators on this topic on 13 May. I will begin by reviewing what has happened since then and set out some of the challenges that continue to face us in that context.

Last May, we were in a very different space in terms of debate on the agreement. Many unions were still conducting their ballots and it was uncertain whether union members would accept the agreement. There were arguments about whether that was the right approach for the civil and public service. At the time I said:

The making of this agreement between the public service committee of ICTU and the Government is a key step in addressing the immediate fiscal and economic challenges facing the country. A vote in its favour would show our European partners, and those watching around the world, that we are facing our problems and setting about putting our house in order.

At that time I asked public servants to decide on the agreement on its own merits. A majority of public service union members have responded and heard the calls from their representatives and from the Government. Public servants are practical people. Of course they were concerned and angered at the impact of the decisions already taken by the Government in 2009, including the application of the moratorium and incentivised exit mechanisms, the pension levy and finally, the pay reduction implemented through the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. However, they understood that the Croke Park agreement acknowledges the sacrifices they have made and seeks to give a measure of security to public servants over the lifetime of the agreement. They focused on the commitments given by the Government which were, no further pay cuts, no compulsory redundancies where there is flexible redeployment, the commitments on pension rates for those retiring and the commitment to review pay in light of savings made in spring 2011 and annually thereafter. They understood that the alternative put forward by some of continuing and escalating their industrial action was not a realistic long-term plan. They knew that the agenda for change agreed in the Croke Park agreement was something they could live with and which they wouldwelcome in many cases. They understood that adoption of the agreement would itself give a measure of certainty about policy and spending that would assist in the process of economic recovery.

Although that was only a few months ago, the memories of some people are short. Having called for an urgent agreement to stop the escalating industrial action, some are now calling for the Government to walk away from the commitments made in the agreement. They are calling for this, despite the sacrifices already made by public servants and despite the consequences in terms of the delivery of major change in the public service and for industrial peace.

My colleague, Deputy Brian Lenihan, the Minister for Finance, met the officers of the public service committee of ICTU last week. He emphasised the gravity of the budgetary position and the consequent importance of the Croke Park agreement in delivering measurable savings. He also took the opportunity to reaffirm that the Government intends to comply with the terms of the Croke Park agreement, given the benefit to be gained from delivery of the significant change that will be needed in the public service to accommodate the reduction in public service numbers, in a climate of industrial peace. It is worth recalling that in the clarification of the agreement, issued in May of this year, the Government indicated that the provisions in paragraph 1.28 of the agreement, which stated that, "the implementation of this Agreement is subject to no currently unforeseen budgetary deterioration", would be applied in a bona fide manner and that similar clauses had applied in previous agreements. In the event that such a situation were to arise, the Government and unions would meet at central level to discuss the circumstances that had arisen and the implications for the agreement, prior to any decision being taken that would adversely affect the pay provisions of this agreement. The unions have made it clear that, in the event of the Government invoking that provision, the unions will cease to be bound by the terms of the agreement. The Taoiseach has made it clear that the Government wants to comply with the terms of the agreement, and I am happy to reaffirm this in the House today. It may be worth noting that the fact this discussion is happening underlines to public servants how important those commitments were in the first place and how necessary it is to deliver on the promise and potential of the Croke Park agreement.

I will now review the progress made on all sides to deliver on the promise of the agreement and to emphasise the need for greater commitment and urgency. Once the agreement was ratified by the public services committee of ICTU, Mr. P.J. Fitzpatrick, who has a long track record of leading major change in the public service, was appointed as the independent chairperson of the implementation body. That body has been given a role in driving forward the process of change and ensuring that any difficulties which may be encountered are resolved in a fair and speedy manner. I met Mr. Fitzpatrick yesterday to be briefed on his work. He has advised me that the body, which includes senior officials and trade union representatives, has been meeting regularly to address the issues raised as the agreement is implemented. He confirmed to me the very high level of commitment from all sides, management and unions, to a delivery under the agreement and there is a clear understanding that there is a lot of work to be done by all to deliver on its potential. As well as meeting with key stakeholders such as the heads of Departments and the public service trade unions, the LRC and the Labour Court, the body has been putting in place sectoral arrangements to drive forward the implementation of the sectoral plans in each area. Chairpersons have now been appointed to the sectoral bodies in health and local government and I anticipate that those arrangements will be finalised in all sectors shortly.

The Government has instructed senior management across the entire public service to accord the highest possible priority to implementing the agenda for change set out in the agreement and to working with the implementation body. I reiterate that instruction. It was disappointing that a large number of Departments missed the deadline for submission of the implementation plans but I am happy to say they have all now been submitted. I emphasise to management that the transformation agenda is essential and central to their Departments and agencies. Action plans have now been submitted by each Department to inform the implementation body on the significant changes proposed by public service management to achieve the reforms, efficiencies and savings in each sector. The implementation body will begin its consideration of the sectoral plans next week.

I will put these action plans into context. I cannot pre-empt any decisions that will be taken by the Government over the coming weeks in the lead-up to budget 2011. When the Government announces what measures it requires to restore our fiscal situation and reduce the cost of delivery of public services, these will impact upon public service managements' plans for change to their areas. Those impacts will then have to be reflected in the proposals they bring forward. The implementation body, therefore, has indicated that this reporting will be a dynamic process, with the plans being revised, added to and expanded over time, particularly having regard to decisions taken by the Government in the context of the budget.

I emphasise that the Croke Park agreement is not a cost-saving plan in itself. Cost savings will come through decisions on changing services and work practices, with the introduction of new technology and a reduction in the number of public servants. The Croke Park agreement provides the framework to manage those changes to work practices and service delivery, to boost productivity and improve efficiencies as the number of public servants reduces over time.

We can expect to see changes to the public service over the next few years as the agreement is implemented. The changes involved have already been set out in the Government's statement on transforming public services. That requires a more integrated public service that is leaner, more effective and more focused on the needs of the citizen, thereby contributing to the process of returning Ireland to economic growth and prosperity. In the context of reduced numbers and resources, the public service will have to be reorganised and public servants will need to show greater flexibility and mobility in working across traditional boundaries. Overall, we need more joined-up government to respond to the needs of citizens as they live their lives and go about their business, particularly at such a challenging time.

We have already implemented the types of changes and efficiencies that will be rolled out across the public service in the coming months and years. To give some specific examples, a national procurement service has been established and continues to leverage the public service's buying power by organising the procurement of common goods and services across the public service. Last year, in addition to achieving better value for money, savings of €27 million were achieved by public bodies with the support of the national procurement service. Savings of approximately €40 million are being targeted in 2010.

Yesterday's decision to reduce through merger the number of vocational education committees from 33 to 16 is also indicative of our agenda to transform the way in which public services are delivered. As a result of this consolidation, our VEC sector will be stronger and better placed to provide support services to schools, not just those within the traditional VEC sector but to other schools in areas which wish to avail of them. Work is under way on specific shared services proposals in the areas of human resources, pensions administration and payroll and financial management. The aim is not just to make significant savings but also to bring about improvements in the delivery of services. The Croke Park agreement will facilitate the completion of this work primarily through enabling flexible redeployment and easing the introduction of new technology.

These are changes to the back office functions of the public service. The Croke Park agreement will also enable new and existing services to be delivered in better ways to the public. We can expect new technology to be introduced to allow the public to interact with the public services in a more timely fashion. We can expect delivery of services over an extended working day and at the weekend. We can expect reconfiguration of services so they are delivered closer to the individual who needs them, obviating the need to navigate through different public offices. We can expect better performance comparisons and monitoring.

Significant improvements have already been made in performance measurement in the health system in recent years. The Croke Park agreement notes this must be continued with renewed focus and effort.

A useful example of this is HealthStat, a comparative tool in place in the HSE. It provides detailed monthly results from 29 teaching, regional and general hospitals and 32 local health offices responsible for providing health and social care services in the community with the results published online atwww.hse.ie. Hospitals and local health offices get marks on three themes: access, integration and resources. HealthStat measures whether people are receiving outpatient or day care when they should be or where it is suitable, whether people are admitted on the day of their procedure, whether the length of stay for inpatients is as should be expected, and whether patients and their families are informed about their treatment and included in discharge planning. By measuring performance on these matters, the quality of care being delivered to customers of the health service will improve.

The redeployment of staff across the public service is vital to ensuring the improved delivery of services. Some areas in the public service need improved staff resourcing while in other areas the needs are less pressing. It is important to address these imbalances and redeployment will go some way to doing this. There are already instances of successful redeployment we can point to. However, we need to break down the unnecessary distinctions between different types of public servants, through legislation if necessary, and through the use of much more flexible redeployment.

The changes being brought forward under the Croke Park agreement are part of a number of transformation initiatives being pursued by the Government. These are the establishment of the new public service board, which I chair, with a majority of members from outside the public service. Membership of the board will be announced shortly. We plan to make senior appointments, including a chief information officer, to bring greater expertise to the leadership of change in the areas of e-Government and shared services; to reconstitute the top level appointments commission with more outside members; and the announcement shortly of the details of the new senior public service. This initiative is being introduced in recognition by the Government that we need leadership at all levels of our organisations whether at the front line, at middle management or at senior levels. The new senior public service will centrally manage and deploy top public servants. This will promote greater mobility at senior levels in the public service and ensure the talent pool for filling leadership vacancies is broadened.

Under the public service agreement, the position regarding public service pay will be reviewed in spring 2011. The review will take account of sustainable savings generated from implementation of the agreement. These savings will have to be independently verified by the implementation body. The agreement states that in the event of sufficient savings being identified in the spring 2011 review, priority will be given to public servants with pay rates of €35,000 or less in the review of pay. Ultimately, therefore, it will be to the advantage of public servants that these significant changes and efficiencies are delivered because of the commitment to use savings, in an agreed manner, in the pay reviews. I recently clarified that measures put in place before the agreement, including the restrictions on the filling of public service vacancies by recruitment or promotion and incentivised early retirement, have achieved savings not attributable to the agreement. However, additional savings generated from efficiencies and other measures arising from the agreement, including those that facilitate further reductions in public service numbers by not filling future vacancies under the moratorium on recruitment, can be taken into account in the review in spring 2011.

Much of the focus has been on the need for management to press forward with proposals for change but public servants and their representative unions also have a role. We will encourage constructive and innovative ideas from all sides so we can maximise the ongoing contribution of the public service to addressing the challenges we face. I invite public servants and their representatives to come forward with those ideas. We all know the challenges we face. It is time for us all to contribute to the plans that will allow us meet and overcome those challenges.

The majority of public service unions or associations have either voted to accept the Croke Park agreement or decided that they can best represent the interests of their members by working with management on its implementation. The members and leaders of trade unions understand and accept the responsibility of all concerned to make this agreement work. Their commitment to delivery under the agreement is very welcome.

However, it will take more than just statements. We need to see commitment in deeds as well as words. Recently, there have been worrying suggestions in the media that it is business as usual in terms of trade unions. That is not the reality — the unions have agreed to the transformation agenda by signing up to the agreement. It is important that managers communicate to their staff about what this means in practice. Management must move ahead and deliver the change that we all need.

I want to consider the position of the unions that have chosen to stay outside the agreement and to maintain their opposition to its implementation. The Government considers that any party that chooses to remain outside the provisions of the agreement or that opposes its implementation cannot expect to benefit from the commitments it gave as part of the agreement.

The principal commitments given were to no reductions in pay, no compulsory redundancies and an extension of the period within which the January 2010 pay reductions will be disregarded for the purposes of calculating public service pension entitlements to the end of 2011. I encourage members of unions or associations that have stayed outside the process to consider their position carefully. Requests for renegotiation of parts of the agreement or the Government's agenda for transformation of the public services will not be entertained but progress can be made, and perhaps some reassurance given, where the practical application of the proposals is worked through between management and unions.

The public service has a critical role to play during these difficult times in the process of national recovery and in providing services to our citizens. It must display flexibility in being able to respond to rapidly changing demands and it must manage to do this with significantly fewer resources. In the Croke Park agreement, we have a shared view between management and unions of the sorts of changes across the public service that will produce greater efficiency, better services for the public and more satisfactory working conditions for public servants. The transformation agenda, together with the full implementation of the Croke Park agreement, will ensure that the public service is equipped to be capable of meeting the challenges of the future.

I welcome the Minister of State. The debate is overdue because there has been much concern about the implementation of the Croke Park agreement. There has not been much discussion about how the current budgetary, financial and fiscal situation will have an impact on what was agreed. The Minister of State referred to the budget, saying it will have an impact on what was agreed in the Croke Park agreement. That is inevitable. This is the beginning of a discussion on the Croke Park agreement and the Minister of State will return to the House. I will put some questions to which, on his return or later today, the Minister of State can respond.

The type of public sector reform we are talking about under the Croke Park agreement is not an optional extra. It is integral to the future of our country. It is integral to getting the budget right and delivering services for our citizens. Budgetary and efficiency issues underlie the agreement. Ireland has been very slow with public sector reform. The debate has been dogged by the perception that it is an attack on public servants. I worked in the front line as a social worker for many years. I saw at first hand, as many other Members have seen, the key work done by those front-line staff in social welfare and education. Delivering public services is a tough task. Many people are leaving teaching and social work and retreating because of how tough it is. In framing this debate, it is important that public sector reform is not seen as an attack on front-line staff, as it has been seen in the past. The debate has been dogged by that approach and we must shift from it.

There is no doubt we have a public sector and a public service in dire need of reform. That is not a reflection on those who work in it but an historical fact. We are slow to bring about change. Other countries have dealt with this. Sweden managed an 11% reduction in costs by taking its proactive, serious approach to public sector reform. There will be major budgetary gains if we do this properly, without diminishing the service.

We have a top heavy system that we must change if we are to deliver services properly. I met a woman the other day who was trying to get a grant for a disabled child. She was sending in her third lot of forms as the first two had been lost. That happens to people all the time. There are incredible delays and inefficiencies in basic services. That may seem irrelevant to the Croke Park agreement but it is at the heart of it. I welcome the fact that the Government and public sector unions got together and came up with the agreement but key questions arise in terms of the current state of play.

I refer toThe Irish Times today:

Last July, in a letter to trade union leaders and public service managers, PJ Fitzpatrick, chairman of the body charged with implementing the Croke Park agreement, argued that it was important to deliver "quick wins" in improved public services and verifiable savings, in order to boost confidence in the deal. Although the agreement was negotiated early in the year, however, and ratified by the public service unions during the summer, the delay in securing any of the reforms set out has given ammunition to critics of the deal.

That is true. In his speech the Minister of State has addressed to some degree the reason for the Departments being late in responding. They were given a deadline. Why did they not respond? What was the reason for the delay? The Minister of State hinted that some of the reforms might have been considered under any other business, AOB, or that they were sidelined to some extent, although he accepted they are central. I agree with him. The reforms are absolutely central if we are to get the kind of changes envisaged in terms of better public services which are at the heart of the deal. That is the reason we have the deal. We must please the workers, ensure they are getting job satisfaction and are being paid adequately. One could ask why public servants are employed. They are there to give a service to the public. That is the goal of the changes. The agreement is about efficiency, effectiveness and providing a service. We must sell the reform envisaged in the Croke Park deal as being about service to the community. That is what it is about — service and efficiency.

Fine Gael supported the agreement. We were eager to see an agreement in place that would protect the well-being of those working in public services to ensure the necessary and long-awaited reforms needed in the delivery of services. That is critical. That is what I have been speaking about. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has told the people to brace themselves for cutbacks in pensions and social welfare. He has said that everything is on the table. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is secure. My question is which parts of the Croke Park deal are on the table? Is the pay deal on the table again, given that we have had a statement from the Minister to the effect that everything is on the table, nothing is sacred and nothing is secure? Does the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, have a clear comment to make on the issue or do we need to read between the lines of his speech? It is important for him to comment in so far as he can address the issue today. We have a deteriorating economic situation and a budget strategy is needed to deal with that.

What is the Government's approach to the Croke Park deal right now? Where exactly is the implementation plan for the agreement? Why has progress been so slow in many areas and non-existent in others? What has been going on? For example, last week the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, said that if progress was not made on the implementation of the deal soon, it was likely to be scrapped. For whom was he speaking? Expressing such opinions in a newspaper column is no way to communicate with the thousands of people in the public sector. I am sure the Minister of State would agree with me on that. I have spoken about those working in front-line services. Those updates should be given in this House and in the Dáil. That is why we are having the discussion today. Those are key issues. The message that type of article gives out is not helpful to the thousands working in the public sector. I am not sure either that it is helpful to the implementation of the deal.

The Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, has responsibility in this area. Does he share the views of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan? How conditional is the Croke Park agreement at the moment? Is it conditional on progress being made? Where precisely does progress stand at the moment? As the Minister of State is aware, there is a get-out clause in the agreement. Is the comment of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, a warning? Is it a caveat for the get-out clause? What would need to happen for the get-out clause to be used? What level does the economic and budgetary situation have to reach before the get-out clause is used? Is that something which is on the Government agenda at the moment?

I refer the Minister of State to article 1.28 of the agreement. It deals with the unforeseen budgetary deterioration. That is the reality. When one reads the agreement there is a lot of good detail but there is an awful lot of idealistic comment as well. In the health section alone there is reference to getting more community care services into place and more front-line services. I know and everyone in this House knows that care services at community level are deteriorating dramatically. The agreement is aspirational in many ways. That is why we need to begin to discuss — not today because this is a scene-setting kind of discussion to see where exactly things are at — the implementation of the agreement Department by Department to see what the reality is compared with the goals that should be reached, albeit that they are idealistic in many ways.

Article 1.6 of the agreement provides for a review of public service pay next spring. Could the Minister of State outline the mechanism by which that will take place? For example, will the savings generated by reforms go back to staff in terms of pay, as was envisaged at one point and, if not, where is it envisaged the money will be used?

I also wish to inquire of the Minister of State about the flexible redeployment of staff within the public sector as per article 1.7. Last week the Minister for Finance said there had been little success in that regard. Could the Minister of State provide the House with an update on the redeployment agenda, perhaps not today but on another occasion? What has happened in that regard? Redeployment is a critical part of the deal.

The deal also refers to voluntary redundancies and incentivised retirement schemes. We need an update on how much progress has been made on them. Last month the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, told the Dáil there were still no proposals before Government in that regard. It would seem to be unfair to place all the blame for lack of progress on the employees when the Government itself has been slow to develop proposals for measures agreed in the Croke Park deal.

The agreement envisaged the production of plans on transforming the delivery of services from each public sector and Department. Am I correct in saying that only one such action plan has come in or did the Minister of State say they are all in?

They are all in now but there was a delay. We have many questions on what has happened since the Croke Park deal was agreed. Fine Gael is committed to public sector reform. We believe serious budgetary savings can be made in order that citizens will get a better deal. Public sector workers will be happier and will have more job satisfaction if we get some of the changes that are envisaged. It should not be seen as an attack on the public sector but it appears that there is a great deal of work to be done if progress is to be made in any real way.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary. We have a special responsibility for ensuring the Croke Park agreement is a key part of future Government policy. As the Taoiseach has said, it was a key agreement in addressing the immediate fiscal and economic challenges facing the Government. The Government has stated it is committed to implementing the terms of the public service agreement with absolute good faith. It is now moving ahead with the implementation in a timely and ambitious manner.

The agreed agenda for change outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, across all sectors of the public service provides a framework for greater efficiency and delivery for citizens which can be secured while providing the basis for confidence about pay levels and security of employment in the public sector. What we are all seeking is more for less. As we have been told, that is the motto and agenda of the day. Intrinsic to the agreement is the need to give an incentive for motivation to those who are working in the public service and also to give certainty to their employment, which is very important. As we all know, a happy workforce will respond. If incentives are given and the opportunities for such incentives exist in most cases, there will be a positive outcome. The Minister of State holds one of the most important portfolios in government because of our current economic circumstances. Those of us who have been here for some time remember the national understanding brought forward by Charles Haughey and Mr. Michael Mullen on behalf of the Government and trade unions which were on their knees at the time, but that agreement stood us well. We no longer have strikes involving those in the public service or the private sector, an example to the multinationals of what we can achieve when we work together. I congratulate all Governments, trade union members, employers, farming organisations and everyone else who had a part to play in the achievement of national understanding. With the benefit of hindsight, I must ask if benchmarking was a good idea; perhaps it was not after the first tranche. It is easy to be wise after the event, but we have a national agreement that has stood us well.

With current global economic prospects, everyone must re-evaluate our work and the return on it, an underlying factor due the emerging economies in China and India. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, I travelled to many countries with various Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. It was an eye-opener as a private sector employer and a Member of the Oireachtas. The greatest challenge is to ensure competitiveness. If we are not competitive when producing goods, we have no chance in the marketplace. Many good Irish companies have moved up to 70% of their manufacturing arms abroad, which allows them to keep their brands in the USA, Europe and Asia, and have survived as a result. If the private sector can do this while facing the serious challenges of the past few years, the public service can also meet the challenge.

The Croke Park agreement was an outstanding achievement by all those concerned. It is amazing what decent people will do to the detriment of their own incomes in the national interest. I do not know many who would not respond to the call to act in the national interest. We are all proud of our country and what we have achieved in the past 50 years. It is amazing that 75% of those who finished primary school in 1959 did not go on to second level. The boys and girls of today have great opportunities which they need because they must meet the challenges of the modern world. The challenge facing the Minister of State, the Government and Oireachtas Members is to lead and give leadership to the people by showing good example. That is what Senator Harris has explained on the Order of Business in recent days.

The Minister of State has said he will come back in November and, if possible, before Christmas to let the House know what progress he is making. He will also make accountable those who must be accountable to him because the Oireachtas is watching to see what progress will be made in the national interest between now and Christmas.

I welcome the Minister of State and appreciate the work he has done in recent months in this area. I also thank him for acknowledging the commitment of public servants. Those who are not part of the Croke Park agreement cannot have pay protection, pension protection and job security. The Taoiseach said something similar this morning and it is important trade union leaders who are not party to the deal explain this to their members.

I agree with all of the Minister of State's speech, but it must be more specific. We want to seek efficiencies, make savings and enhance the public service. We all know the intellectual investment that has been made in the public service by those who work in it. I want to see the people blossom and flourish as a reflection of that intellectual investment.

The Minister of State mentioned savings. He has said, however, that this is not a cost saving exercise, but cost saving must be one of the deal's objectives. I would like to know how much the Minister of State intends to save and the number of jobs by which the public sector will be reduced. We should be able to follow the progress made in these areas. I do not believe the Minister of State will get the support he thinks he should receive in the places that should support him.

I want the Minister of State to outline the timeframe and the review dates for the agreement. When he comes back in one month, I will not be hopping up and down, accusing him of missing a date, but I will hop up and down if I cannot measure progress. I could not stand up next month and do that after listening to him today, as the figures were missing and must be set out.

Will the Minister of State reassure me that every Minister and Minister of State has seen, engaged with and fully understood the proposals for reform and transformation in his or her Department or section? Any Minister who has not done that is not doing his or her job. Will he further reassure me that every proposal from every Department will have timeframes and key performance indicators attached in order that we will know if we have made progress and what we need to examine, with review dates for each Department? If these are not in place, we cannot know what is happening.

The Government supports the agreement, but it must understand that it must become physically involved. My objective in this regard is simple. The public and civil services have the intellectual capacity to create a model for all of Europe of best practice in the delivery and running of public services. I want this to be the objective and will not hold back from it. From the Minister of State's comments, however, I am not convinced it will occur. I do not have time to go into more detail now, so I will do so during the coming months.

Every Senator rises to speak about quangos. I would like a report from the Minister of State on those quangos. It should tell us which of the 750 are paying for themselves, which are being paid for by us, which have not met their legislative responsibilities to do this, that or the other and which have not got their accounts or annual reports to the Oireachtas on time. When I see that report, I will make my first judgment on whether they are efficient and fit for purpose. We could separate out those that are not meeting their deadlines etc. I could say more, but my point is that I want measurable benchmarks for quangos instead of a large discussion on getting rid of them all. To where will the services for which they are responsible be redistributed if they die? Some quangos could become semi-State companies on their own. How many of them are tied to the apron strings of their Departments and prevented from being autonomous and doing the jobs they were set up to do? These are the benchmarks that could be considered by the implementation people.

I could ask all sorts of questions about the Civil Service, but I am looking at the Minister of State's decent advisers behind him. In 1981, the Department of Public Service was created and, as far as the world is concerned, shut down some years later when a Fianna Fáil Government entered power. No one except a few of us insiders knows that the Department still exists on Merrion Street inside the building housing the Department of Finance. Do we need two Departments? Is there a need for a Department for the public sector? I know what the Minister of State's programmed answer is, but I pose this as a challenging question. Why can the job not be done within an existing Department? Why is the structure of an additional Department required at line level? People over there will love my question, but at least it will give them something to discuss.

The Senator has one minute remaining.

I spoke with a senior person in education. I come from the same background and will touch on it, as I do not want the Minister of State to believe I am keeping away from anything. A new contract for teachers is to be negotiated, but there has been no meeting yet. There was an agreement three or four months ago — the Minister of State should correct me if I am wrong — and a commitment of an extra hour's work for teachers was given. There has been no movement in this regard. The promoted structure within teaching should reflect a new contract involving a workable, transformative and efficient middle management scheme that brings more to education.

I will conclude on local government. I spoke with some students this morning. Cheques for student grants are sent out from 40 places around our small country. Students do not know what cheques are because they have never seen them. That is our age. Cheques issue three times per year to a college, a student proves to that college he is Joe O'Toole, for example, another cheque is written and he takes it away and lodges it. All of this should be done centrally. We do not need 40 different places handling it or, for example, motor taxation.

I could go on and on. Many important actions need to be taken, but I want specificity, timelines, key performance indicators, KPIs, review dates and measurements, since those are real benchmarks.

It is good to have a young and dynamic Minister of State working on this matter. As I have told the House, the political class has been long institutionalised by the public service. As someone who formerly worked in an active body to protect the public service, my disillusionment set in at the time of Charles Haughey and the politicisation of the Civil Service. The current public service is not fit for purpose and needs radical reform.

I am concerned by the defensive tones of some aspects of the Minister of State's speech. It is not yet properly understood by the political class that the debate that started some years ago was not started by people fomenting trouble between the public and private sectors. Alone in Europe, Ireland's differential between public and private sector pay is 20%. It is wasting energy to believe that the productive private sector will put up with this situation indefinitely.

Where the public sector is concerned, I am not referring to the people standing on the iceberg, namely, teachers, firemen and gardaí, people whose work can be seen and measured. I am referring to the low productivity levels hiding beneath the surface of the ice. These need to be addressed by a Minister with a jaundiced view. I am not happy with the general view held by all Ministers, if not particularly the Minister of State, that we are still in the world of social partnership. We are not. It is all over, finished. From now on, there will be a rigid scrutiny of the public sector.

We are not in the era of Whitaker. We did not get the service from the pure Civil Service for the past 30 years that we deserved. There is a bolshiness among civil servants. Senators hear bad stories about Secretaries General not telling their Ministers what productivity measures they propose to introduce. We hear stories about people who believe they run the Government. We hear stories about people who believe if they hang around for a Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, they will get a cushy number. They would be mistaken, given the comments of Deputy Bruton or Sherlock or even Deputy Rabbitte, who spoke on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" recently concerning statutory redundancies.

The part of the public sector that is not producing openly is living on borrowed time where public opinion is concerned. Any Minister or Government that plays footsie with such people will be in big electoral trouble. The next general election will be decided by the political party that most honestly commits to reform of the public sector. Let us get this into our heads — there will be no more Pollyanna-type stuff. Ministers will need to learn to stand up to their civil servants. Politics must dominate. The Oireachtas must dominate. The Civil Service cannot continue as a permanent government. We must revert to the time of Whitaker, who always knew his place was to advise Jack Lynch. Lynch took or turned down that advice, but it was good advice. I am not a bit sure about today's advice.

Regarding the Minister of State's remark about political commentators, I take his point, in that the media like constant change. Some of those banging on about the public sector now want an end to the Croke Park deal. Make no mistake about it, though. The Croke Park deal should not be regarded by the Minister of State or the Government as some type of nice shadow of social partnership. That is all over. The Croke Park deal exists because public sector unions found out the hard way that there was no public support for their industrial action. They would have been crushed by the public. Any party supporting them would have been crushed as well. There is no support for public sector unions standing up to the people and justifying their position alone in the EU of being paid 20% more than their private sector counterparts, even taking the income and pension levies into account. Like any group of people, they will fight for their privileges to the bitter end, but they cannot be allowed to do so at the expense of the people.

The bankers are being dealt with. Some are before the courts and the rest are in bits. They do not have a bob or even a vote. The public sector must reform itself or it will be reformed.

The division that has opened up between the public and private sectors is of concern, but understandable. The deal contains a provision to focus savings on public servants earning less than €35,000 per year, but many in the private sector would aspire to that figure. As an employer and without breaching confidentiality too much, my staff would be happy to get €35,000, but they do not. They watched much of what occurred within the public sector. In particular, some of the benchmarking agreements were arrived at with great resentment. As someone who has worked to build a business and sustain employment in these difficult times, I share that experience of resentment. The gulf needs to be healed, otherwise we will continue on parallel tracks not understanding one another.

That the Croke Park agreement was voted on by the unions and supported by the majority is a recognition that the twin-track economy of the public and private sectors must come to a close and that the two sectors need to begin aligning. I will explain what I mean. The competitiveness of the productive private sector is highly dependent on the wages paid to those who work in the sector who, in turn, are seriously influenced by the agreements arrived at within the public sector. I am firmly of the view that our competitiveness as a nation was corroded by benchmarking in the boom times. We simply cannot afford it. The €19 billion deficit this year is proof positive of this, although there are many other contributory factors. However, there is no question benchmarking played a significant part.

I welcome much of what is contained in the Croke Park agreement, some of which I never thought would I see. I hope the implementation body will do what it has to do to ensure every box is ticked in terms of the sectoral implementation plans. I welcome that the Minister of State spoke of the need for the adoption of a dynamic approach to implementation. That is needed because we are on shifting sands and it is difficult to know where we should plant our feet to find solid ground from one week to the next. The country can find its way out of the radical difficulties which we face. A cross-party approach would be most helpful in the framing of the four-year plan.

We must take account of what the Croke Park agreement will deliver. It was conceived in difficult times, albeit not as difficult as those we currently face. It was conceived when some of the unpalatable but necessary choices about to be made were not on the horizon, when it seemed likely we could reverse the pay erosion that had occurred in the previous period. I note Mr. Willie Slattery's comment on that proposal that we could not afford it, which is persuasive.

Implementation is critical. Senator O'Toole's demand for a very clear assessment and measurement is timely and appropriate. He is right to highlight the need for this in the weeks and months ahead as we debate the Croke Park deal and its gradual evolution.

Regarding the division between those involved in the public service and the productive private sector, the Croke Park deal has the added benefit of feeding competitiveness back into the private sector. Wage restraint in the public sector leads to wage restraint among employees in the private sector and allows employers to focus on survival and making their businesses more competitive. Recently I attended a trades council meeting in my home town and spoke on the issue of Northern contractors who mended the roads. Senator Keaveney will be aware of this being a source of huge frustration for constituents who see it as jobs for people from the North of Ireland and wonder why we do not give the jobs to our own at a time of high unemployment. I proffered the view that the day I saw our own repairing the roads would be the day I would know the economy had regained competitiveness. Even on a small island with two separate economies, we are still some distance from achieving that outcome, on which we need to focus. In so far as the Croke Park deal can contribute to this, it will lead to a recognition within the private sector that the public sector is taking full account of the reality in which we find ourselves. The Croke Park deal will help to achieve the solidarity required between the public and private sectors if we are to work together and find consensus. That is subject to its full and dynamic implementation, taking account of changing circumstances and not becoming fossilised about the failure to meet a particular date or secure a certain signature or set of signatures from April or whenever the agreement was signed. It is most important that we maintain a flexible approach. That is not a mealy mouthed way of implying bad faith but simply a recognition of the need to stay grounded in reality, recognising that the benefits will be far reaching and unifying for the economy and the country as a whole.

There has never been a time, good or bad, when there has not been a debate on the need for reform in the public service. I do not make this point because I want to diminish the importance of this debate and achieving real reform in the public service. However, it is interesting to note that it is a constant dynamic in public debate and discussion. As we approach the budget, people are free to say what they wish, but I hope they will not contribute unwittingly to the re-emergence of a period of paralysis such as we had last year concerning the public and private sectors. I refer not only to the Government side but to commentators, Members of this House and others, to questions put about what workers in the public sector were getting that workers in the private sector were not, and to all of the other arguments that led to the creation of a toxic atmosphere, especially during the debates which took place this time last year about what needed to be done.

I do not wish to diminish the necessity for reform in the public service because, as has been demonstrated, there is a clear need for such reform. The OECD report in 2008 gave us a lot on which to chew regarding various steps that needed to be taken. There were a number of positive points made in that report about the public service. It pointed to the progress that had been made in areas that required reform, dating back to the 1990s, if I am not mistaken. One of its highlighted conclusions — I speak from memory — was that while many of the reforms were internal and process-led, there was a need to look outwards to allow a much more citizen or customer focused approach, with which I absolutely agree. No one could disagree with this, as it is essential. It might mean there would be fewer public servants; it will certainly require more flexibility and transferability across services. It might require or call for fewer agencies in order that core services might be reintegrated and provided from within the public service. There are proposed changes that would impact on individual members of the service. That is the case and it would be wrong for anyone in this House or anywhere else to think public servants are not aware change is needed and coming.

At the end of his contribution I heard Senator Dearey's speak about solidarity between the public and private sectors. In going about their daily work in their constituencies and attending meetings politicians meet many from both sectors. The most discerning — I hesitate to use the word "intelligent" because that implies one is looking down on others — and thoughtful people in the public and private sectors can see the value of and necessity for both sectors. One talks to private sector employers who require services such as public transport, child care and health services for their workers as part of any modern economy. They recognise the importance of having a vibrant and proper public service. Equally, workers in the public service will say, "We know we are nothing without the private sector. We cannot self-fund. Without a dynamic economy and private sector there would be no money to fund the public service." These points sound basic and are almost truisms, but sometimes we must remind ourselves. People understand the story and know change is necessary.

There is a problem. I refer to what the Minister of State said. I realise we are having this debate in an atmosphere where people are committed to progressing the issue rather than looking backwards.

One of the advantages of the Croke Park agreement is that we move a step forward from those speeches on the need for reform, and all the stuff about the "fat cats". People say they have no problem with those in the front line, the nurses, gardaí, prison officers etc. that are needed. However, it is that other block of people that are invoked in their thousands as wasters or for low productivity which is the problem. I should like to see somewhat more specificity in this. Who are these people and where are they? How come Governments of all hues have not been able to find them in 20 or 25 years? What are they all doing and where have those people on their big salaries who do nothing been hiding?

I believe the Minister of State will agree that it is not as simple as that, to simply shunt those people out because there is deadwood around the place for all these years. It is not like that at all. The way people's talents are used or marshalled, the manner in which they are involved in their work and sometimes the fact that people need to be encouraged to work harder are all issues that have to be addressed. The Minister of State will acknowledge that it is something of a slog really. One has to ask how we are going to change this office or agency, who is going to work differently next week and how we are going to manage this better. One has to go through it, almost line by line, office by office, service by service etc.

If it is a big area and a decision is not needed at all, that is easy to resolve, but I do not believe there are many examples such as that at this stage. We are down to nitty-gritty stuff in the individual Departments and agencies. The advantage of the Croke Park agreement is that it opens the possibility for the heavy lifting to be done finally. Let us move away from the rhetoric about the need for reform, the "fat cats" and low productivity. Let us have it out now and put it up to everyone involved including the public service unions. Let us see where and how this can be done in the best interests of the country, public and private.

Public sector workers are voters as well. They have an entitlement to be involved in public debate and public discourse. I disagree respectfully with what Senator Harris said: no election is about who will stand up to the public service or public sector workers. That is a gross simplification and it is not about that. No election is, or should be, about that. It will be about many of the issues he talked about. There should be issues in the election, but please do not characterise it in terms of who will take on those people who, apparently, are single-handedly holding the country back. That is no way to look at this.

The Minister of State has resisted today, but on other occasions he has had a crack as regards what position the Labour Party took in relation to the Croke Park agreement.

It did not take any.

I remind the House that when the Croke Park agreement was first published, my party leader welcomed and commended those involved in putting it together and said it would be a matter for the members of each of the unions to consider the proposals and vote on them in accordance with their respective democratic procedures. That was exactly how the Minister of State put it in his speech today, where he said he urged public servants to decide on the agreement on its merits, precisely the view the Labour Party took.

In relation to public service workers and public sector staff, as a politician and citizen I believe most of them I know really believe in the work they are doing and want to have a stake in the future of the organisations they work for. Another advantage of the Croke Park agreement is that it invites workers to be part of the process for change. No change is ever really truly successful if it is imposed. Everybody understands that at times there is need for a "carrot and stick" approach, but there cannot be a dynamic of change across a whole sophisticated public service if this is imposed, in some way, or done as a threat. One must involve and have onside the people who are going to do the work, perhaps in a different and more productive way, or whatever.

People have a stake in the Government agency, Department or public sector organisation they work in, as well as in their country. I have to agree, however, with the main burden of Senator O'Toole's remarks, as regards my disappointment with today. As I heard the Minister of State's speech and looked through it very carefully, as I do again, I see it is replete with references to what is now going to happen or what will happen. The word "shortly" appears half a dozen times. I believe the Minister of State, or at least the Government, owes the House an explanation as to why it has taken six months for anything to do with this agreement to happen at all. I acknowledge that the implementation body was set up, but the individual action plans appear to only have been activated within the last couple of weeks. In fact, the Minister of State expressed his disappointment that various Departments had missed their deadlines and so on, but had now met them. It is a very good thing they have so the process may actually start.

However, why has it taken six months? If it has taken six months to set up the basic mechanisms for this, are we not entitled to be concerned as regards how much longer it will take for the substance of the agreement to be addressed?

I will start where Senator Alex White left off. This is one area where leadership is key, and not only at Government level. Senator O'Toole, I believe, made the point that if most people subscribe to a particular roadmap, it is very important to have leadership to advance that right through the different sectors, not leaving it to one or other individual Department.

I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, on the work he is doing, because it is key to whether the initiative will be successful. The national newspapers today are talking up the situation in which Ireland finds itself. I am on the Council of Europe and last week we had a plenary session. Many people admire Ireland, including the Cypriots, Greeks, Portuguese and Spanish for the serious efforts they see taking place within the country to try and address the situation speedily. Even the British delegation commented in the knowledge that Britain, after the general election, had to face up to issues that had long been resolved by Ireland in terms of having solutions implemented.

I agree that timelines are important as regards when things should happen, and I expect to be criticised for this in a second. However, timeframes within which progress can be measured are crucial.

Senator Fitzgerald, in her contribution, said that much of the Croke Park agreement was aspirational, and viewed this in a negative light. However, if one does not have aspirations there is nothing to aspire to. If the goals are too low, they are too achievable and therefore are not a challenge. We must have goals as regards what is attainable, but we must have aspirations too.

I am endeavouring to put balance into the discussion, because sometimes in topics such as this we can tend to bash one sector or another. I spoke to the Minister of State on this earlier today. When disaster strikes there are individual agencies and people that one looks to. There was a car crash earlier this summer in which there was serious and sad loss of life, and in the event the ambulance and fire services on call as well as the gardaí represented many people giving of their time, along with the voluntary sector working with the health sector, to support the families and community. In so far as we are talking about reform of the public service, it must be remembered there are very many individuals and agencies within the public sector that are more than willing to take up the cudgels and be part of the solution, as Senator Alex White indicated, to try and progress matters.

We cannot impose solutions on people. I agree with that point. A solution must evolve.

It does disappoint me that even though we have a framework for reform — perhaps not a roadmap or a timescale, but a framework — some major union leaders who have, I believe, signed up to the agreement, are still holding public meetings to assert their concerns, as they would put it. This raises the question of when one should express one's concerns and when one should lead. It is terribly important, as the Minister of State mentioned, that union leaders who have signed up to the agreement are not talking out of both sides of their mouths. We all understand the challenges and the hard decisions that must be made in implementing the agreement. There have already been hard decisions, including cuts in wages. I agree with Senator Harris in this regard.

I taught in Derry before I became a Member of the House, and I left quite a low-paid job with a lot of technology at my fingertips. I arrived here and was given an office in Kildare House with a phone with no answering machine, one computer and one fax machine for the whole floor. I came here in 1996, which was a technological age, but nothing that should have been there for my role was there. I am thankful that this has improved.

In this era of technology, those in business have access to time study reports, and companies are looking to their weakest areas and outsourcing them. I spoke to members of Business in the Community about this. If a company is spending too much on recruitment, it hires a recruitment firm to recruit for it. Companies identify areas that are not their core business and outsource them. That is the type of thing we have the capacity to do here. A time study done within all Departments and the different agencies would throw up many obvious difficulties that could be dealt with.

Human nature rebels against change because we fear it, but much of the change that could be accomplished is not to be feared but something that would make people's lives a little more enjoyable or challenging. It is important that we try to address this issue.

The Minister of State made the point that the agreement is a key step in addressing the immediate fiscal and economic challenges facing the country. European politicians and commentators are watching what we are doing and they are impressed that we are taking on these challenges. The moratorium on recruitment and so on have posed their own challenges, but we must be careful about treating such things as individual issues, because there is no such thing as a broad-brush solution that can apply to everybody.

There is much to be said in this regard and I am glad we will have more opportunities as the months go on, to consider issues such as joined-up Government, the one-stop-shop concept and the health service. It is important not only that we identify the problems but that we have a process to deal with them and implement solutions that have been offered. None of us wants to see services affected in our hospitals or schools, but we must maximise the potential within this and other agreements to ensure efficiencies and an effective approach. There is much scope for this and we must lead.

Ar dtús báire, cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Calleary.

We are in a desperate place as a nation and as a people. Thomas L. Friedman wrote an editorial piece inThe New York Times in May entitled “Root Canal Politics.” He wrote:

The Tooth Fairy died last night of complications related to obesity. Born Jan. 1, 1946, the Tooth Fairy is survived by 400 million children living largely in North America and Western Europe, known collectively as "The Baby Boomers." "We'll certainly miss the Tooth Fairy," one of them said following her death, which coincided with the 2010 British elections and rioting in Greece. The Tooth Fairy had only one surviving sibling who will now look after her offspring alone: Mr. Bond Market of Wall Street and the City of London.

That is where we are. There is a need for real reform in the public sector, and a full Cabinet Minister is needed to drive this reform.

I compliment the Minister of State on the work he has done to date, to which I will return. John Boland did this as Minister for the Public Service in the 1980s. We need to reform our public sector. I say this as an unashamed public servant who comes from a family whose members have given dedicated service to the public sector. My brothers and sisters work in the public sector, as did my parents, and so do many of my friends. We are not fat cats. Many public servants are struggling. I regret having had a slagging match yesterday with Senator Harris, whom I respect greatly, but I ask Senators to be careful in our use of language to avoid creating a war between the public and private sectors. We must bring people with us.

Reform is necessary. People are frightened because they do not see leadership or hope. I commend the unions that brought their members to the ballot box to vote for the Croke Park agreement. Fine Gael was the first political party in the State to say that the agreement must be passed and we will, to take up Senator Harris's challenge, lead reform in the public sector. We will not divide people, but we will tell the truth and be honest. There must be pain and austerity, but the way in which we drive reform will show our leader, Deputy Kenny, as the Taoiseach he can be.

There has not been enough communication between the Government and the people, and there must be more. As Senator Alex White rightly said, this deal was passed six or seven months ago. What has happened since then? The Minister of State spoke about commitments to reductions in pay and redundancies, but gave no guarantees. The Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Carey, made a similar comment on "The Week in Politics" recently, and the Minister of State himself spoke in an ambiguous manner. What is the Government telling people? We must bring people with us. The Minister of State was correct when he said that it was not today's statements in the House that would achieve reform in the public sector. We in the House will not drive the budgetary process, but we can help by ensuring that people become involved.

There is a challenge for all of us in the middle of this economic collapse. The unions, the ordinary workers, the Government and the political classes — the Labour Party, Fine Gael or whoever — have a responsibility to implement change. It is better to be employed than unemployed, but I ask Members of the House to stop describing sectors as non-productive or productive. Are they telling us that the ordinary people who work in the Houses of the Oireachtas and in our hospitals are not productive or that services are not being delivered? In many cases services are being delivered properly. Senator O'Toole was correct in stating that we need milestones to measure progress. We must set targets.

Benchmarking was a disaster for this country. Yes, as a teacher, I benefited from it. I received X euro per hour to do supervision, which I would have done every day anyway because I wanted to. I met the students and got to know them, engaging with them in football and hurling training. We did not need benchmarking. It added large numbers of staff and wage increases to the public sector, many of which were not necessary or surplus to requirements.

In acknowledging the need for reform, it is important that we set out the context of the great work that is being done by our public sector workers. President McAleese made this a central tenet of her remarks at a conference at the Institute of Public Administration. It is worth noting that at the same conference, Brigid Laffan spoke about the fact that middle management grew by 82% from 1997 to 2009, despite the fact that overall Civil Service numbers fell by 27% in the same period. As Professor Laffan pointed out, there is a need for a renewal agenda. This must address the issue of governance in the public sector. I fully subscribe to the view about the HSE, central government, the Civil Service, local government, semi-States and Senator O'Toole's point about the distribution of grants from the VECs. What is happening is crazy. We must be imaginative and real. That is how we can drive consensus, not by playing some phoney game about consensus.

The objective for us must be to create best practice in the delivery of services, and I fully agree with Senator O'Toole on that. We do not achieve that by lampooning and denigrating public sector workers. They are frightened. I challenge anyone in this House to meet teachers, doctors, gardaí, nurses and others in jobs that pay less than €35,000 per annum who are doing well. They are not doing well. They were asked by their friends in the boom time why they were working in the public sector when they could have been making money elsewhere. I know past pupils of mine who refused jobs as porters in hospitals or as care assistants because they were working in building and were making a fortune. Where are they now? They have emigrated or are unemployed.

There is a massive amount of work to be done. The public sector is productive. The private sector has taken a huge hit. There are difficulties in the private sector, but we have a duty to bring our people with us to have real reform. If we want a motivated public sector, then its workers should not be driven away. They should be given encouragement and hope.

I will conclude by quoting from Thomas Friedman's article, of which some political parties should take note:

After 65 years in which politics in the West was, mostly, about giving things away to voters, it's now going to be, mostly, about taking things away. Goodbye Tooth Fairy politics, hello Root Canal politics.

That is the choice we face, but we must be honest.

I welcome the Minister of State. In spite of what everyone says, I see consensus growing all over the place. Yesterday it was with the CAP agreement and today we have it on the public service. It is good to have someone young and dynamic like Deputy Calleary in his current position. I hope he will be inspired by Senator Harris's fearless assessment of the situation as he tries to make change happen. His assessment was spot on. He is not afraid, be it for electoral or other reasons, and he went to the core of the problem and how we need to solve it. I agree we must try not to put the public service and the private sector at odds with each other, but we must face reality.

I was very interested in Senator O'Toole's contribution today and he also went to the core of the matter. The agreement is already six months old and we have had a bad experience of those six months. The Minister of State alluded to it. Who is in control? Who is running the show? Did we sign up to an agreement that was going to get dates and indicators? The first hurdle was not crossed as these deadlines were not met. I am sure the Minister of State is not one bit pleased about that. They have now been reached but what kind of tardiness does that show? What kind of commitment to change does that show? The one thing we do not have right now is time. The other thing we do not have is money. The absence of those two means we need to get a move on and drive the reforms.

I noted with interest the comments of Senator Alex White. He said that for more than 30 years public service reform has been a perennial item on the agenda. I do not mean to dismiss what he said but we cannot continue along with the wispy words he was using and that manner. I was a little disappointed when he stated that public servants have votes too. I found that threatening. I do not care who does or does not have a vote. The public service is for the public. It is for all of them and not the workers. It must be about what kind of services we can afford for the people. The world has changed so much in technological terms since our public service was established. We have to cop on to flexibility, redeployment and all these phrases which appear to be new in the jargon of the public service but are a common practice anywhere else. That is why I hope this agreement works because it must work.

As Senator Harris pointed out, the public service unions recognise that change will happen, not least because we cannot afford it any other way, and they are ensuring the agreement comes to pass. At the end of the day, we have to look at affordability. I am glad to see the Minister of State will be tough on unions that are outside the agreement. If it is to mean anything, those who signed up to it will get some benefits whereas those who have not are not prepared to get them.

Does the Minister of State think we have too many people working in the public service? We need to safeguard against morale falling. People are constantly getting kicked in the public service. We need to provide a much more streamlined service and bring it kicking and screaming up to date. I do not know if he is brave enough to tell me honestly whether we have too many people in the public service. How will we streamline it? If we do this, we need to look at ways of reducing the numbers. We need to be honest about that because we certainly cannot continue along the route we have set ourselves. We need to be honest about where we need to make the savings.

I was aghast when the Minister of State said it was important to emphasise that the Croke Park agreement is not a cost saving plan in itself. If there is one thing we have to do to implement this agreement, it is to save money. I accept its practice will bring about changes and economies, but the Minister of State should not be afraid to say that this is about saving money. That is what it should be about because we need to curtail the cost of our public service.

Who is in control? I was inspired by what Senator Harris said about the need for politicians to drive it on. This is where the decisions are being made. If politics is to mean anything, then decisions about taxation and so on are political decisions. We all have to face the electorate at election time and explain the decisions made about who is to be taxed and how they are to be taxed. That is where we are answerable to the people, and that is only right. We cannot have other people such as union leaders and so on telling the Government how to tax workers or whoever, or so called rich people, when they will not stand before the public themselves. The only people who have the right to dictate taxation policy are politicians. Equally, we should push forward the change agenda for the public service. I do not think the Minister of State should be one bit afraid of what needs to be done. It will be the making of him if he really tackles this issue. He should do the public service and the people a favour and drive the reform that we desperately need.

I would like to share time with Senator Doherty. I welcome the Minister of State. I am concerned about his words. They are not strong enough. If we were running a business and we found we were taking in far less than is going out, we would have to reduce our costs. We would go to our customers and employees and tell them we could not survive. Somehow or other we would find a way to convince them to change. That has been done well with the Croke Park agreement and most of the unions have been willing to come along and offer to do something about it. Change is never easy and while I am in danger of being accused of denigrating public service employees, I believe a number of them did not understand the gravity of the situation and that we cannot survive otherwise.

A few years ago it was highlighted that teachers, when they came back in September after taking three months' holidays, were and still are unwilling to give up one evening for parent-teacher meetings, which means that workers need to give up a day's pay or part of a day's pay to hear how their children are getting on at school. There is no understanding among many in the public sector about how the world operates. The public sector costs approximately €16 billion each year, which we cannot afford and must find savings. The McCarthy report recommended 17,000 job cuts in the public sector and changes in a raft of special allowances and other benefits. There has been no real movement and there have been no job threats. The Croke Park agreement sought no compulsory redundancies or further pay cuts and promised that job security would continue more or less to be guaranteed. It is amazing to consider that even with the reforms in the public sector, the pay cuts might be reversed anyway. Unions such as the Teachers Union of Ireland remain totally opposed to their members working an extra hour a week. Last year's CSO figures indicate that the public sector average weekly wage was €960 and the private sector wage was €630. That gives some indication of the disconnection between the two. People need to be much more patriotic. There is a need for patriotism at this time and instead of asking where the bailout is, they need to realise they have a job and show they are willing to sacrifice something to help the country at this time.

Let us consider what happened in Latvia recently where everyone had to take a pay cut of approximately 40% when the IMF arrived. That could well happen to us; it is no longer a question of crying wolf. If those men in the black coats arrive in Dublin Airport, we might find ourselves taking steps that are far worse, as Latvia had to do. Latvia managed to get back very quickly and that is the hope for here.

It is incredible the public sector pay and pension bill increased by €6 billion, which equates to approximately double the savings we need to find in the next budget. As Dr. Colm McCarthy recently wrote: "[I]f the budgetary correction is ducked the alternative is an IMF/European bailout, which would mean the loss of economic sovereignty and huge reputational damage." Our economy was in a worse state in the 1980s and we managed to get out of it and did well in the years that followed. Let us not talk ourselves into saying that we cannot get out of this. We can get out of it, but it will not be easy and we need to take steps to do so. The reforms mentioned by Senator O'Toole are now in our hands and we need to make them. It is not just about pay. It is very much about pay and other reforms in the public sector. I believe we can do it. Let us put our hearts into it.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Quinn as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. Obviously the debate on the Croke Park agreement is also taking place outside this Chamber. I recently met some of the business leaders and large employers in my constituency. One of them told me that the minute the Croke Park agreement was signed, sales increased but as soon as there was speculation and Ministers starting to hint about a renegotiation of the Croke Park agreement, sales plummeted. It is all about confidence and with people not knowing what is happening, it is important that confidence is restored.

Many people within the trade union movement had reservations about the Croke Park agreement in the first instance. It would be difficult to argue with the verdict at the time of Jimmy Kelly of UNITE, who said: "The agreement seeks to copper fasten this Government's misguided policy of taking money out of the real economy to prop up the very institutions that caused our economic meltdown in the first place." That is exactly what we have seen take place with the continued pawning of the future of this country to failed banks, failed bankers and the property speculators and gamblers who have brought the country to its knees economically and financially.

Despite the reservations, the majority of unions ratified the agreement, many with the attitude of better the devil you know, and it was backed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Despite whatever flaws the agreement may contain and that its implementation from the point of view of workers depends to a great extent on the good faith of this or any future Government, it has been given the backing of the majority of organised workers. As such the Government which drafted the agreement and which exerted considerable pressure on workers to accept it is honour bound, one would think, to ensure its terms are upheld. Instead we have been hearing persistent reports that it is considering jettisoning the agreement in pursuit of even more draconian measures against workers and their families. This needs to stop.

The Government is being encouraged in this by business groups and right-wing economists who believe the solution to the economic crisis is not to deal with its source, which was the criminal and incompetent speculation and mismanagement at the top, but by driving into poverty public sector workers and other workers, including those who have been put on the dole. That would be bad enough if people were not able to see the contrast between that and the protection and feather-bedding that is still provided to the failed bankers and speculators who cry poverty while still managing to hide large amounts of wealth and enjoy the same sort of lifestyles they enjoyed when they were busy gambling away this country's wealth and future.

As my party has previously outlined, the manner in which the Government has treated public sector workers and the manner in which it is now being suggested that it abandon the Croke Park agreement proves that social partnership at the end of the day was no more than a convenience to be abandoned when it no longer suited the Government and employers. The solution to the economic crisis is not to sack tens of thousands of public sector workers or to slash their wages. They, no more than any of the rest of us, have a moral obligation to foot the bill for Anglo Irish Bank and AIB or the FitzPatricks and Fingletons. Neither is the solution, as suggested by the business organisations, to abolish the minimum wage and agreed wage rates in different sectors. Neither is it to destroy the health service, schools, public transport and other areas of public provision in order that we can pay the debts of the Government's friends.

My party is unique in rejecting the current politics of austerity and in proposing, as we will set out in our detailed budget submission, a positive way out of the crisis that will create jobs and address the financial crisis. We reject the attempt to place the onus for solving those problems on public service workers or on any other workers and in that spirit we reject any attempt to tear up an agreement with the unions. It is important to restore confidence and have certainty through strong statements that this agreement will not be torn up or renegotiated.

I could not help but think about the tooth fairy and I would be very interested to see Sinn Féin's detailed budget submission. Senator Doherty had some emotional talk about thousands of workers being put out on the dole and a slash and burn attitude. I do not believe that either the Government or the unions which have signed up to the agreement saw that as the ultimate end of this process.

I welcome the Minister of State. I also commend to the House an article by Kevin Myers in yesterday'sIrish Independent. In dealing with the new buzzword of consensus, he takes to task commentators outside these Houses who seem to be hell-bent on dividing society and constantly focus on how they can divide the public and private sector and create division in what is a growing consensus within these Houses about at least the parameters under which we should proceed in trying to reduce our deficit by 2014.

I am glad the Minister of State referred to the national procurement service which continues to leverage the public service's buying power. Last year, in addition to getting better value for money, total savings of €27 million were achieved and a figure of €40 million is being targeted in 2010. I am particularly pleased that this is happening and it is being driven by the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, who as Members on all sides of the House will agree is young, dynamic, imaginative and in the right place at the right time. I wish him well in the efforts he is making to achieve savings in both areas and to push through the elements of the Croke Park agreement.

In that context, I refer to the British Government's initiative in recent months to bring in from the business sector the head of Topshop. Essentially, he was brought in to do the job the Minister of State has outlined in the national procurement service. Some of his detailed analysis in his survey is extraordinary, particularly on the amount of waste in the public service. I will not take up the time of the House by going into detail other than to say some of it was horrendous. It echos to a degree many of the conclusions reached not just in this year's report of the Comptroller and Auditor General but those of previous years in that there is still extraordinary wastage.

It dates back to the idea of social partnership when the trade unions and the Government of the day embarked on a series of debates which initially, if my memory serves me right, from 1987 onwards were about pay and conditions but by 2002 were about wider Government policy. Throughout that process the political eunuchs in both Houses were impotent and had no input whatsoever to what was happening. I understand the frustration of Senator Harris, but I can tell him that if he had been here during that period, particularly on the benchmarking issue, he would have been tearing his hair out because Members of this and the other House — I am talking about Government and Opposition Members — had no say. In fact, persons operating in the voluntary sector were appointed by small cohorts from around the country and given direct access to Government Buildings. They had their 15 minutes of fame on the evening news standing in front of Government Buildings telling the rest of the nation what they intended doing to make sure their agenda was pursued. The greatest flaw in the social partnership process was the deliberate exclusion of the elected Members of both Houses. If there had been a political input — I am not talking about the Government but elected Deputies and Senators who on a daily basis dealt with real people — many of the mistakes made during the process, particularly on benchmarking, would not have been made and reached the point of excess. I will readily admit that during that period I was receiving cheques and that when I gave them to my wife and she asked what they were for, I could not tell her because all that was written on them was the word "arrears". Everything was backdated. We completely lost the run of ourselves and now the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, and the Government are trying to pick up the pieces. The Government and the trade unions might have learned a lesson, as we are facing this new reality. I mention this in passing because we definitely lost the run of ourselves in terms of the priorities set.

Also, a culture developed within the public service which now has to be addressed——

——that because it was not their money to spend, they could spend it. The ultimate justification is provided by the fact that the Minister set up a national procurement service.

I recall the period in which I was a member of the Council of Europe between 2002 and 2007. The way the system worked — media commentators should take note — was that in respect of travel arrangements a contract was given to an outside party, a corporate entity, but there was an office within the political process which handled all of the travel arrangements. I am aware things have changed to a degree since 2007, but I recall, not just on one occasion, being quoted a price to travel from Dublin to Strasbourg in the order of €800 and €900 for an overnight stay. When I questioned it, the office got back to the travel agency and a few hours later I would be told it had managed to secure a rerouting. Instead of flying direct from Paris, I could be routed through Brussels at a cost of €200. How many such instances of waste were there during the years, as outlined by people working in the journalistic field? I am particularly pleased that the Minister has taken on this issue in the Croke Park agreement.

The Minister of State has received the support of Members on both sides of the House for his attitude towards those trade unions which have not signed up to the agreement——

——particularly, although I do not wish to single them out, the teachers' unions. I have been involved in education for a long time, as a member of a vocational education committee, and the unions which benefited the most from the benchmarking process were the teachers' unions because a range of assistant principal posts and other work titles was created. Not only were the postholders given extra money, the posts were pension linked. They built that structure and now have the temerity to remain outside an agreement to which the vast majority of public service workers have signed up. Good on the Minister of State. If they are not living in the real world, they should be pulled kicking and screaming into it.

Much has been said about the Croke Park agreement and a lot more will be said about it, but we should accept civil and public servants have taken a significant pay cut in the past 12 months. Some grades have seen reductions in pay of up to 15%. If we take into account what has happened in other jurisdictions where they have tried to extend pension age by two years and, essentially, seen those countries grind to a halt, it should be acknowledged that sacrifices have been made by civil and public servants. We should not demonise them for what they have been prepared to accept to this point.

The Croke Park deal is about reform and changes in work practices and there is a huge number of players involved, inlcuding the Government, the trade unions and the civil and public servants in the upper echelons of Departments who are expected to enforce the terms of the agreement. Unfortunately, what we have seen so far is the easy target approach of the Government to pay cuts. For instance, within the Health Service Executive very little regard has been had to the Croke Park agreement in terms of extended working hours for health care professionals. I am a general practitioner, yet I am not aware of any significant discussions between the Government and general practitioners to transfer some of the workload from hospitals to general practice. We are not seeing such engagement and not seeing that work being done by either the Government — the Minister of State is the driving force in this regard — or in the upper echelons of each of the Departments. What we are seeing is the pursuit of easy targets — cuts in capital spending which will prove detrimental in the long term. Another easy target is temporary staff who are being laid off. We are not seeing expenditure on upgrading medical equipment or school equipment.

There is a need for a process to be put in place to drive this agenda much harder. The Minister of State may have to walk on egg shells to get the job done, but it must be done because otherwise we will reach a stage where civil and public sector workers will see another reduction in pay, one of the options open to the Government to close the deficit. However, if there were significant reforms and greater productivity in a wide range of public services provided by the Government, there is the possibility we could avoid the worst of this. If there are tax increases or fewer benefits, they will affect every person drawing a salary, whether in the public or private sector. Unless we all face up to the changes required, we will be left with no choice in the matter.

The waste within the health service, the area I know best, is unbelievable. PPARS was a classic example. A computer system that cost €240 million was just switched off and forgotten about. I took my child to a hospital for an outpatient appointment in recent months. I had not been in an outpatient department in the best part of the ten years since I had left the hospital system and as I sat there waiting to see the consultant, I watched clerical staff as they pulled big trolleys containing paper notes. If I am working on the on-call, out-of-hours GP service which is now used in this country — the co-operative type system, which is a radical change — and I type a consultation into the computer from the patient's bedside, it is sent directly to that patient's doctor. The idea of not using computers in general practice is considered backward, particularly when dealing with blood results and administrative work. Not only that, other changes have taken place in the amount of work done by practice nurses and in the area of secretarial work.

In the past ten years, we have radically reformed how general practice works. That is public private partnership, not just private industry, in that there is huge input from the HSE and from GPs as independent contractors. If that sort of radical change took place in hospitals, we would probably not be discussing issues like this.

These are the issues we must consider. It is the ethos we must set out for ourselves in the coming years. Otherwise, the row that takes place here about the divide between the private sector and public sector and about the cost of the public sector and the deficit we are facing will become an endemic problem that will lead to a very simplistic, blunt instrument solution within a year or two. We must face up to this reality immediately, and I hope this is how the Minister of State will approach it.

Mr. Gerry Robinson undertook several programmes in regard to change in the HSE in recent years. When he went to the hospitals, he found he could talk to the hospital managers, consultants and nurses and was able to bring about some change. However, when he was asked his view on what was the greatest impediment to change, he said it was the upper echelons of management and their refusal to engage, take responsibility or be accountable for billions of euro of taxpayers' money that was the major problem in the HSE. It is probably the same in regard to the wider public service as it is an institutional issue.

We need to throw out the old ways and become sharper, stop blaming each other and looking for excuses to blame each other and stop pointing the finger. We need to take a few risks and do things differently. That is how we will make changes. I do not want to take advice from people like the man from Topshop. I accept he can point out changes of which we are all aware, as can politicians and those who work in the service. That individual sold his company for €1.2 billion. He is not in the same world as the rest of us, so let us not quote him. There are more than enough Members in this House who can point out similar changes. I compliment Senator Harris, who comes out forcefully on these points, and perhaps I can myself be radical and fundamentalist at times. There are options for change. There is a need to listen to everybody but, most of all, there is a need to make those changes happen.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him, acknowledging the challenge he faces. I know well he is up to it and I wish him well because it is a difficult task.

I am not a fan of the Croke Park agreement. I can see the benefit in having consensus and in working with the unions to achieve a transformation in the public service. However, while the social partnership model which evolved in the late 1980s was an example to many countries, it lost its way in the past decade or so. Some of the current economic challenges arise as a consequence.

The Minister of State said he intends this agreement should make significant savings, as it must, and it must also improve the delivery of services. It is difficult to be confident about it, however, and even the Minister of State was critical in some respects. The implementation has been very slow in getting off the ground. I do not know whether this betrays a certain reluctance on the part of senior staff or not. However, the letters coming to the bodies from the Departments arrived very late in the day. I had discussions at a joint committee meeting this morning with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, whose representatives told me it had done nothing as yet in regard to the agreement and that it is waiting on guidance from the Department. Therein lies a significant problem. I hope it succeeds but I am far from optimistic.

If we do not get to a situation where managers at lower levels are empowered, we will get nowhere. This is being controlled from the top. From my experience in management, I know that when I wanted to make savings in a company in difficult times, I went to the managers in the different areas and I set them a challenge to identify savings. They did it, and the really good managers identified themselves by tackling waste and identifying where savings could be made. Those who were not up to the job also identified themselves by not coming back with anything. The point is that they knew there would be an audit of their findings, they would be accountable for their suggestions and, where they had not come forward with suggestions which they should easily have identified, there were consequences. Unfortunately, we do not have a public service where there is that level or, for that matter, any significant level of accountability.

I want to preface these remarks by noting there are many excellent people in the public service for whom I have tremendous admiration and who would command top jobs in the private sector. However, there are also many in the public sector who are hiding — they are punching in time until they get to retirement age and, unfortunately, some of them have decades to go before they get to that stage. For example, I hear of people in certain segments of the public sector who are playing DVDs to occupy their time simply because they have no work to do.

We must create employment for them.

I would not hold them accountable. Whoever is in charge of such staff should be identified and dispensed with. It is their responsibility to identify areas where there is such waste and where it is not being tackled.

I understand why the Croke Park agreement includes an incentive that some of the savings will be repaid to those whose salaries were reduced and who are earning under €35,000. However, if my memory is correct, that commitment is given to all public servants across the board, even those on high salaries, when eventually the savings accrue to enable that to be done. In the current economic climate and with the serious fiscal position we are in, where we could well be facing a collapse in our public finances, I ask the Minister of State what is the justification for repaying moneys at this stage, by which I mean next year, to anybody whose salary has been cut.

Also, what proportion of the savings has been committed to for repayment in order to replenish those wages?

The area which needs to be considered and which identifies itself easily when we look back over the past decade is that of overstaffing. From 1998 to 2008, the public sector increased from approximately 220,000 on the public service payroll to 370,000, an increase of 150,000. The cost went from €9 billion to €20 billion, which is absolutely not sustainable. Using my experience of mathematics from a business perspective, if we do not get back to somewhere in the order of €14 billion to €15 billion, we will not be sustainable going forward. Obviously, action is needed in that area.

We are sometimes challenged in regard to levels of pay. A Dutch report was carried out on the pay of university professors and, while I accept I am singling them out, this could apply across the public service. The report was based on a purchasing power parity system of evaluating pay across a number of European countries. In the Netherlands it was €46,000, in Germany it was €34,000, in Belgium it was €38,000, in Switzerland it was €78,000, in Sweden it was €31,000 and in Britain it was €60,000, although in the top universities there it was €82,000.

It is time for the Minister of State to be called so I must ask the Senator to conclude.

In Ireland, the salary is €117,000 but when it is related to the other figures on a PPP basis it is €103,000. That is not sustainable in any economy.

The Minister of State has ten minutes to reply.

I thought I would get a few minutes to speak.

No. The order is that the Minister of State will be called upon to reply at 1.50 p.m. and it is now that time, unfortunately. Other Senators wished to participate as well but could not.

On a point of order, I understood this would be a rolling debate. The Leader stated as much.

The Order of Business has dictated that the Minister of State must be called at 1.50 p.m.

It is not a rolling debate.

No, not according to the Standing Order.

The Leader said this morning the debate could roll over in a month.

It is now time to hear the Minister of State. That is the order of the House.

It is important for the Members who wish to speak today to know that. It could be far more dramatic speaking on it a month from now.

On the procedural issue, I have no difficulty returning to the House regularly. Those who take pleasure in kicking the work of this House of the Oireachtas should have been present this morning because we have had a good debate. Many proposals have been put forward for me to consider and implement and I have no difficulty with returning to the House in four or five weeks in whatever capacity.

We will give the Minister of State some more. We know his heart is in the right place.

I have taken many notes and Members can be sure that I have taken on board all the suggestions and thoughts voiced this morning. Some general points must be made.

I have taken the chance again today to outline the Government's position. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, have also done it. I wish Senator Doherty would change the album a little to reflect the times we are in, for a start in terms of macro policy and also in terms of the commitments that have been given. The Government is committed to this agreement but it is critical that both sides, management and the unions, deliver on the promise and potential of the agreement. Significant change must be delivered in the public service to accommodate a reduction in service numbers in a climate of industrial peace. It is a two-way deal, and everyone must deliver on it. If one side fails to deliver on the deal, we do not have a deal.

There was a question about why the plans were late being submitted. Yes, that is unacceptable. It is a bad start to the agreement and I have indicated that it is not acceptable for deadlines to be treated as flexible. They are not. We do not have time on this issue. I noted Senator Twomey's and Senator Walsh's point about their interactions with bodies of the civil and public service that have not been informed about the plan. I will refer that to the implementation body. Every section of the civil and public service, regardless of what agency it is, must start implementing this without any further delay.

Implementation plans are one thing but much work is already under way across the service in terms of change. Senator Twomey touched on an issue with regard to PPARS. Due to the way the PPARS project progressed, there is a fear in some places about venturing into information technology projects in particular. We must get rid of that fear. For that reason the Government is committed to two appointments, a chief information officer for the country and a shared services person to drive forward IT. The aim is to use IT better to deliver services more effectively and more cheaply. Let there be no doubt that the Croke Park agreement is a cost-cutting measure as well as a reform measure. We must reduce our costs and there should be no doubt about my commitment and that of the Government to it.

Some civil servants need to know it is about that.

With regard to the savings and the assessment of the savings, that is the role of the implementation body. That body is now looking through the activation plans and when I return to the Seanad in four or five weeks I will give a better sense and model of how we will implement that.

Senator O'Toole and Senator Buttimer raised the need for clear objectives and performance indicators. I agree with them. A number of Senators asked where the implementation plans could be seen. They will be published on-line and will be available for people to see. The implementation body is engaging in a process of dialogue with Departments about querying the plans and, as will be inevitable in some cases, asking for better plans and information. That process will not be hidden. We will use the technology Senator O'Malley mentioned to involve this House and the public in sharing that process.

It is good to have Senator Harris back at full throttle to the benefit of the House. He is correct that this agreement is very different from those that preceded it. Senator Mooney, Senator Walsh and others referred to the culture of agreements that preceded this one. This is not social partnership but an agreement between us as an employer and those who work for us. It is about us giving guarantees that if those who work for us change the way they do things and make savings, we will consider giving some of those savings back to them. It is the same way that private companies across the world operate. We are asking for very significant changes in practices that should have been changed a long time ago. In this country we set out a way of doing things but we are very bad at deciding later to stop doing them that way. We need to have more sunset clauses, as they are called, across the sector.

The Minister must also have the power to redeploy people where necessary.

A number of Senators raised the issue of non-productive public servants and the number of such people who are hiding in the system. There are undoubtedly many poor public servants and we have been incredibly restricted to date as to how we deal with that and poor performance. Every person one speaks to has had a bad interaction with one, two or three public servants. Equally, however, there are many good people as well. Senator Keaveney made that point. I was in Inishowen a week after that tragic accident occurred. Public servants were the first people at the crash scene. They brought patients and the dead to the hospitals in Letterkenny. It was public servants who had the job of telling a parent their child was dead. Can any of us put ourselves in that situation? It is public servants who continue to deal with it. The media and everyone else has moved on to the next headline but the public servants are on the ground dealing with those families and with such unimaginable scenes. That is replicated throughout this country. It is important to realise that we place public servants in situations which we ourselves would not tackle or wish to tackle. With regard to those who let the public servant down, however, their days are numbered. We cannot allow poor performance to hide behind the good reputation of our service. We must make changes there and I agree with Senators in that regard.

Senator Quinn raised the issue of unions that oppose the deal. I have been clear on that. If one is opposing the implementation of change in the public service, one does not have the benefit of the protection in the deal. I reiterate to the unions that oppose the implementation of this deal that these are not hollow words. I am determined to see that through. It is unfair to christen all the teaching unions as Senator Mooney might have done inadvertently. The INTO has taken this agreement and run with it from the start. It cannot have been easy with the other two unions, although, in fairness, the ASTI has come on board. The general secretary of the INTO, Ms Sheila Nunan, serves on the implementation body. The INTO has taken the ball and run with it and I believe it is committed to seeing this process through.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of procurement. We are a doing a great deal of work on that. Procurement is very important in a number of areas. While we must get more value for money, something to which I am committed, equally however, spending that amount of money in public procurement is a way to create jobs. This summer we eased some of the regulations to allow smaller companies to access Government contracts and to remove the paperwork burden that cripples that process so those companies can sustain employment and create new jobs. It is important to do that.

Senators asked if there were too many public servants. That is a very broad issue and we might have that discussion on another occasion. However, the OECD, which does not necessarily hold back when it thinks there is a problem, said in its report that we are not over-staffed in comparison with our European neighbours. It should also be borne in mind that we reduced the number by approximately 11,000 in 18 months. There will be further reductions. On the next occasion I visit the House we can get into further discussion and detail about that.

Senator Twomey referred to some of the changes required such as technical changes in the health service in particular. I am sure the House will join with me in wishing Cathal Magee every success as he takes over as chief executive officer of the HSE. He has identified the need for large-scale IT projects and this will happen in a different environment with the appointment of our chief information officer and our shared services officer. This is an area about which I knew very little when I began this job but I have taken some time over the summer to look into shared services and IT generally. As Senator O'Malley said, there is significant potential in this area and it is an area to which I have a particular commitment.

I thank the House and the Senators and I thank the Acting Chairman for her good wishes. I have a personal commitment to this area. I share all of the frustrations that are being expressed about this House and the other House and the manner in which politics in general has lost much of its power and role over the past number of years. We are the people who are answerable for what happens. To those who think this agenda may change under different management I say "Dream on". A different management will have to make the same decisions——

I assure the House that as long as I am in this position I will be committed to this agenda. It is an agenda which the Taoiseach is directing and he is putting pressure on me to deliver on it. I am conscious of the remarks about specific information. We will work with the House over the next five weeks to produce more specific information and implementation plans.

I thank the House for holding this debate. I will finish as I started. Those who kick this House need to stand back. This House can step up to the mark when it comes to Oireachtas scrutiny of this process.

I thank the Minister of State. The House looks forward to welcoming him in five weeks' time.

Sitting suspended at 2.05 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.