Organisational Review Programme: Statements

I warmly welcome this opportunity to share views with Members on the organisational review programme. I will focus on the second report, which was published by the Taoiseach on 4 October, and more widely on the role of the organisational review programme in the agenda of transformational change across the public service. It will be helpful to Senators if I were first to give a brief status report on progress to date.

The first report of the organisational review programme, published in November 2008, related to three Departments – the Departments of Transport; Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, now Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. Copies were sent to all Members of the Oireachtas on publication and may be accessed in the Oireachtas Library.

The second report of the organisational review programme includes the findings of the reviews of a further four organisations and follow-up action plans prepared by the management of each of them. The organisations were the Department of Health and Children, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Statistics Office and the Property Registration Authority. Regarding the third round, work is well advanced at this stage. Reviews are being undertaken of the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach.

By way of background to the organisational review programme process, the Taoiseach asked the implementation group of Secretaries General in 2006 to develop proposals on new initiatives for the next phase of modernisation of the public service. The group's proposals included a major external review of the public service which became the OECD review – a major benchmarking exercise of the public service published in the report Ireland: Towards an Integrated Public Service. The proposals also included an initiative on organisational health checks, which became the organisational review programme. The OECD and organisational review programme reviews complement one another.

When announcing the organisational review programme reviews, the Taoiseach suggested they should examine the "structures, capacities, procedures and leadership capabilities" within individual Government organisations. Thus, the reviews involve undertaking full 360° assessments. It is planned that all Departments and major offices will have been reviewed by the end of 2012.

The key purpose of the reviews is to assess how fit for purpose organisations are in light of the tasks set for them by Government and the challenges ahead. In that context, the reviews are designed to do the following: promote greater synergies across the various functions, programmes and services of an organisation; target practical support and advice on areas of particular concern for the future; examine the implications of an organisation's existing business strategies in terms of its capacity to deliver on them, including by reference to their procedures, processes and systems; assess the implications of externally imposed requirements, including obligations arising from changes in EU or national legislation; and assess the extent to which the various plans of an organisation are aligned, and if they are supported corporately so as to achieve the goals set out in the programme for Government and other national frameworks. In short, the organisational review programme reviews are designed to provide a check against an organisation's capability to do what it says it is doing or plans to do.

The organisational review programme reviews are carried out by a team comprising civil servants, not consultants. This provides significant added value. As civil servants, the team members have a good understanding of public service organisations, their cultures and their practices and, in that way, support and buy-in to the process by management and staff is promoted and strengthened.

The organisational review programme team is led by the Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr. Dermot McCarthy, and assistant secretary, Mr. Philip Kelly. The team also comprises three principals seconded from parent Departments or offices. Typically, each principal leads on the conduct of just one review, obviously without any involvement in the review of his or her parent Department or office. The team also includes three support staff from the Department of the Taoiseach.

At the outset it is important to make clear that the organisational review programme reviews do not make any recommendations about the statutory remit of organisations. This is a matter more appropriately dealt with at political level. Equally, the reviews are undertaken on a resource neutral basis, recognising that Departments and offices rarely have all the resources they believe necessary to fulfil their mandates. However, identification of areas where there are significant issues between commitments and available resources are not precluded.

At the heart of an organisational review programme review is an assessment of the capacities of organisations, using a common template covering three broad areas: strategy, delivery of customer service, and performance evaluation. Within each of these areas, ten attributes of organisational practice and behaviour are comprehensively explored. These include, for example, an examination of the capacity of leadership, internally and externally, whether a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation permeates the organisation, how well resources like HR and ICT are managed, and if performance is monitored and measured.

In reaching findings on issues, the team uses a research methodology that is both extensive and thorough. A broad review of secondary data is undertaken, including all major policy reports and legislation, HR strategies, customer charters and action plans, ICT programmes and operations, financial and audit reports, and value for money studies. The review also includes organisational-specific plans and strategies that involve cross-institutional collaboration with other agencies to deliver core objectives.

Second, on-line, web-based questionnaires are administered to all staff. In the interests of confidentiality and participant trust, the questionnaires are issued and analysed by independent consultants. No individual replies are seen by anyone except the consultants and aggregate results only are produced for the team. Third, there is extensive fieldwork, involving meetings, workshops and other forms of engagement with Ministers, Oireachtas committees, the management and staff of the organisation under review, its stakeholders, both public and private, and at EU and international level where particularly appropriate. In that regard, over 340 meetings and workshops were held in the course of the second round of organisational review programme reviews covering four Government organisations.

When the information gathering stage has been completed, the organisational review programme team analyses the evidence collected from all the meetings, workshops and surveys. It produces findings on each of the attributes covering the broad areas of strategy, managing delivery and performance evaluation. A core aim is to identify a small number of key issues which, if acted upon, would make a substantive improvement to the way the Department or office conducts its business. Each organisation then draws up an action plan to address the key findings of the organisational review programme team. Both the findings and the action plan are published in a composite report. I turn specifically to the second report of the organisational review programme which deals with system-wide implications. The report highlights significant progress made in a number of important areas. For example, a strong commitment to quality customer service is firmly embedded in many of the organisations reviewed. There are a number of excellent examples of the effective use of information and communications technology, involving innovative approaches and strong project management. The organisational review programme team has included in its report a chapter on information and communications technology best practice guidelines drawing from the research to date. Permeating the guidelines is the imperative that management at all levels in an organisation regard information and communications technology as a potentially powerful business tool that would enable, for example, the provision of management information systems, on-line customer service delivery and automated back-end processing.

The report highlights areas in which there are significant capacity challenges which will require transformational change and development. For example, there is considerable scope for improvement in the management of people, particularly the flexible allocation and redeployment of staff, the management of performance and the introduction of innovative work practices. In these challenging times Departments and offices need consciously to make more effective use of resources, both people and technology, to enhance productivity levels. The report highlights that there is significant potential for new efficiencies to be gained. It is clear, too, from the research that Civil Service organisations are still struggling to put in place effective performance measurement systems, especially to tackle under-performance and measure outcomes. All these issues require both organisational level and system-wide responses.

In a special commentary in the second report by Professor John Murray, head of the school of business, Trinity College, who sadly passed away recently, he drew attention to a number of key challenges facing public sector organisations individually and collectively. He suggested a stronger emphasis on public service productivity was needed, especially given a future of scarce resources and higher service demands. He indicated focused actions were required to change aspects of HR management at organisational and public service-wide levels. There is a need to improve the measurement of performance, especially with regard to outcomes and also with reference to international benchmark indicators of high performance. Overall, there is a need to explore the possibility for radical transformational change in the public service, as well as pursuing incremental change programmes. In progressing the salient and insightful points made by the late Professor Murray, it is vital that the challenging programme of reform set out by Government in the report of the task force on transforming public services and reflected more recently in the public service agreement 2010 to 2014 is fully implemented.

Separate statements on this topic were made in the House this morning and I do not propose to revisit them. However, it is clear that these times of exceptional economic and social challenge are driving an urgent need for greater cost effectiveness, efficiency and innovation in many areas of all organisations across the entire public service. The Government is committed to far-reaching and effective public sector reform. The organisational review programme is a real illustration of its desire to examine honestly the public sector, acknowledge best practice in order that others may benefit, show areas for improvement and make concrete recommendations for action and change.

Regarding the findings on individual organisations in the second report, they relate to reviews of three processing entities and one policy organisation, the Department of Health and Children. The review of the Department provides a challenging critique in a number of areas, notably, the management of crises, role demarcation with the HSE and the Department's other 30 agencies, the performance and governance of agencies, and the internal deployment of resources, especially staff. The Department's action plan demonstrates an evident willingness to address these issues. It is particularly encouraging that each action is time-bound and targeted at a specific outcome.

The review of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners revealed significant strengths, especially in the development and application of information and communications technology-based solutions to meet business needs and improve customer services. However, as with other public sector organisations, Revenue will need to work on human resources management, especially with regard to the deployment of resources, the management of under-performance, as well as dealing with the significant challenge of replacing the organisational memory and expertise which has been lost in the recent past. The key challenge will be to maintain a culture of excellence.

The review of the Central Statistics Office shows an organisation with many satisfied customers. However, despite fully meeting increasing EU statistical requirements, it is not as effective as it might be, especially in moving from a reliance on surveys to the re-use of administrative data held by other Government bodies. Such a transition is necessary to achieve a tangible reduction in the survey burden on businesses and the citizen. It will require substantial engagement and investment in data management by many organisations across government.

The fourth review, relating to the Property Registration Authority, portrays an organisation which has a very satisfied customer base, gone through significant technological change and managed that change in a highly competent manner. Overall, it has a clear sense of direction and a strong capacity to meet forthcoming challenges.

Generally, the organisational review programme reviews have surfaced some issues that are particular to an individual organisation and others which are common to the Civil Service and the wider public service. Both kinds of issues featured prominently in the negotiations that culminated in the Croke Park agreement. There is a particular focus in the agreement on achieving efficiencies through changes in work practices and the flexible redeployment of staff. Such measures will be central to addressing the kinds of weaknesses and limitations in Government organisations that have surfaced in the organisational review programme process.

Regarding follow-up on the findings of the organisational review programme team, every Department and office reviewed must produce a follow-up action plan. It is clear that a plan's value is in the thoroughness of its implementation. While the efforts of the organisational review programme team are focused on undertaking the reviews and planning for the next rounds, there is also a need for a process to ensure the specific commitments made by organisations in their organisational review programme action plans are fully delivered. In that regard, the new public service board being established under the chairmanship of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, will advise on the design of a robust look-back process in respect of the organisational review programme reviews. The board will assess progress on public service transformation generally and advise on future directions.

All Departments and major offices will have been reviewed as part of the organisational review programme by the end of 2012. Individually and collectively, the organisational review programme reviews provide strong evidentiary platforms for sustainable transformational change across the public service.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, and the opportunity to have a discussion on the organisational review programme. As it is not something that is within my area of expertise, I have spent recent days investigating the activities of the programme and reading the second report. I have considered the issues to which the Minister of State referred.

A couple of points struck me from the outset and the Minister of State clarified some of them. One of my concerns is that the organisational review programme of the various Departments and agencies in the public sector was being, in effect, administered by their comrades in other parts of the public service. However, the Minister of State has outlined the fact that much of the information gathered was processed by independent consultants and that it fed into a process administered by civil servants from other Departments. I am someone who has been critical of the overuse by the Government and local authorities of consultants, but in this case I welcome as a good idea the process and system used.

I am not as convinced as the Minister of State was about the debate we had in the House earlier on the Croke Park agreement and the necessary efforts in which the Government engaged with the social partners in recent months to reach the agreement which was all about securing agreement on public sector pay in return for significant reform of how public services were delivered. Neither am I convinced the Government has pursued the reform agenda with any vigour in the time since. I accept it has faced significant economic and banking issues in the intervening period, but we have been promised consistently in this House and other places for many years, long before the Croke Park agreement came into being, significant reform of how the public service operates. The reality is that we are approaching the junction where there will have to be these major reforms, whether the Government has the necessary appetite or willingness to pursue them. Perhaps that is a matter for debate on another occasion. There is not much I disagree with in the Minister of State's comments about the different agencies and Departments that have been reviewed in the second report. It is quite complimentary of the efforts in the Revenue Commissioners, an organisation that is in good condition according to the report.

The Minister of State said, however, that as a result of the ban on recruitment, a significant number of people have left Revenue in the last 18 to 24 months, which may present difficulties in the future. The functions and role of the Revenue Commissioners are specific and everyone would hate to see a situation similar to what happened in the last recession, where significant effort was made by large numbers of people who were earning a lot of money to hide those earnings from Revenue, offshore in many cases. The job of the Revenue Commissioners is such that a strong individual case can be made for that organisation to retain its staff numbers to counteract such activity, even in these times when there is an embargo on public service recruitment. The Revenue Commissioners must be well resourced to perform their function in these difficult economic times.

Equally, when it came to the Property Registration Office, the review was largely positive. That is not surprising in that it only came into existence after the enactment of legislation in 2006. There were mixed comments on the Central Statistics Office but largely it was fulfilling its function well.

The main meat of the report centred on the review of the Department of Health and Children. It was scathing in some of its comments on the operation of the Department. It is remarkable that six years after the foundation of the HSE, this report must spell out grey areas that exist between the role and function of the HSE and the Department of Health and Children. It focused on allocation of human resources, finding that some officials in the Department are grossly overworked while some are grossly underworked. It is not something just the Opposition has raised, there is anecdotal evidence about activities within the Department and the output level from it. This report, however, is blunt in stating there are significant difficulties in the Department in the allocation of resources and staff across different sections.

I cannot get my head around the fact that we are still criticising the lack of demarcation between the Department of Health and Children and the HSE. The Department deals with many agencies, but six years after the foundation of the HSE, there is still no clear delineation between the Department and the executive and that is not acceptable. If that happened in the private sector, it would not be entertained.

The report is welcome. It contains mostly good news, with the obvious exception of the difficulties in the Department of Health and Children and the HSE. It is important that we discuss the second biggest spending Department in government when we are formulating a budget that will require huge cutbacks. That Department will face significant cuts which will lead to grave issues for all of those involved in politics. It is unfortunate that when we are trying to protect investment in front-line services in the HSE this report would heavily criticise the operation of the Department of Health and Children. I hope the remedies outlined in the report will be implemented and that we will ultimately see the complete transformation envisaged in the Croke Park agreement of how public services are operated.

At the start of the report, Mr. McCarthy outlined that there have been significant improvements in how agencies deal with the public. I welcome the fact that those Departments and agencies have transformed themselves over the last few years. There are significant issues, however, particularly in the Department of Health and Children, that have not been rectified. A job remains to be done there and I hope the Government has the bottle to do it over the next few months.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this worthwhile debate on the organisational review programme and its second report.

The advances in technology in recent years have transformed how business is done. The private sector has embraced those advances and enhanced them, becoming more efficient in the process. They have even allowed for our wages to be paid automatically into our accounts in the financial institutions. A transformation has taken place and it is the job of Government to see the same happen in the public sector. At a time of major economic and social challenges, it is more important than ever that Government Departments and agencies assess their capacity to meet the challenges of the future in the broad areas of strategy, delivery of customer service and performance evaluation. In particular, there is a need for good organisational vision and leadership, as well as the effective deployment of people, innovation, better customer service and increased productivity.

The rapid deterioration in the public finances we have experienced in recent years has brought greater urgency to the need to improve the way in which services are provided by the public service. A more efficient and productive public service can play a key role in putting the public finances on a more sustainable footing. That is in all our interests.

The scale of the public finance problem cannot be overstated. In monetary terms, the Government has to borrow around €20 billion this year alone to bridge the gap between its income and expenditure. A substantial part of this expenditure relates to public sector employment, so it is incumbent upon us to enhance efficiency within the sector. Labour market data published earlier this week indicate some stabilisation and while this is to be welcomed, we must be under no illusion as to the extent of the labour market problem. There are also signs from our main export markets that the competitiveness of our economy has improved. Indeed, our export figures are staggering relative to what is occurring in the world economy. Our competitiveness will help to underpin the improvement in our exports in the months and years ahead.

Despite these improvements, there is a real level of uncertainty. Even with projected economic recovery over the next few years, a significant hole will still remain in the public finances. The Government recognises that an efficient, high-performing public service is essential to economic recovery. It is true that the necessity to transform our public services has never been greater, but it is also true that this process has been under way for some time. Successive Governments, in particular ones led by Fianna Fáil, have recognised the need to examine the way the public service operates. As a result, we have had initiatives such as the strategic management initiative, SMI, and Delivering Better Government. These delivered tangible results across a range of headings and provided the building blocks for the work now under way. For example, SMI brought a new focus on customer service with the advent of customer charters and customer service action plans, a theme taken up by both the OECD review of the public service and the task force on the public service. The area of human resource management saw the introduction of performance management systems and greater use of open recruitment.

The Government is also mindful of the need to test the work being undertaken and to subject it to external evaluation. For this reason, it asked the OECD to conduct a whole-of-public service review, the first time the OECD had undertaken such a review. This review was completed and reported on in 2008.

The first report of the organisational review programme, published in November 2008, focused on three Departments - Transport, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, now the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. The OECD gave a generally positive assessment of the public service and the role it played in our national development. It recognised that Ireland had continually sought to modernise and reform its public service systems and practices to ensure they can continue to meet the needs and expectations of Government and citizens.

The OECD also recognised that Ireland was looking for new avenues in which to further its agenda of public service modernisation in order that it would continue to deliver improved outcomes for our people and the country, respond to changing and complex social needs and support business in gaining a competitive advantage, thereby contributing to economic growth. The organisations also recognised that there was much more to be done. According to the OECD, there is a need for a more integrated public service and a greater performance focus, with more information being gathered on outputs and outcomes and what has actually been achieved.

With this in mind, the OECD recommended that the requirement to produce output statements, introduced under SMI but largely confined to Departments and Government offices, should be extended to every State body. Thus, the second report of the organisational review programme under discussion today includes the findings of the reviews of a further four Departments and follow-up action plans prepared by each of their managements. The Departments and offices in question are the Department of Health and Children, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Statistics Office and the Property Registration Authority.

I note from the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, that a third round is well advanced and that reviews are being undertaken of the Departments of Education and Skills, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach. Clearly, the Government attaches the highest priority to the transformation agenda, as reflected in the arrangements in place for its implementation. The Taoiseach chairs a Cabinet committee which includes the Ministers for Finance, Education and Skills, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Health and Children and Justice and Law Reform. A steering group of Secretaries General meets regularly to prepare the work of the Cabinet committee.

There have been important developments in the way we approach our business as a result of the transformation agenda and progress has already been made under a number of headings. In terms of human resources, measures have been put in place that continue to contribute to the implementation of expenditure savings. These include the incentivised scheme of early retirement in the public service, the special Civil Service career break scheme and the shorter working year scheme, together with restrictions on the filling of public service vacancies by recruitment or promotion.

Without a doubt, a more integrated public service that is leaner, more effective and more focused on the needs of the people it serves is required if it is to contribute to the process of returning Ireland to economic growth and prosperity. I agree 100% with the Minister of State, according to whom it is these times of exceptional economic and social challenge that are driving the urgent need for greater cost effectiveness and efficiency in many areas of the public service. It is clear that the Government is sincere in its desire to examine honestly the public sector, to acknowledge best practice in order that others may benefit and to identify key areas for improvement.

I welcome the Minister of State and this opportunity to do some thinking on the new organisational review programme. I also welcome the review, although I was not familiar with it until it was put on the agenda and I began reading about it.

This discussion is timely. Given the major national economic and social challenges, it is more important than ever for Departments and Government offices to strengthen their capacities and consider how their performance should be rated. Leadership and customer service are the key areas in any organisation. They must also consider how to modernise the public service. While there is undoubtedly a culture of excellence within the Civil Service, a laziness has set in among us all during the past ten years. There was so much money in our country that could be thrown at a problem instead of examining the fundamental changes to be made that the ethos of excellence slipped.

I must give the Civil Service ten out of ten. It is an excellent body of people. The brains of the country are in the civil and public service.

That said, public servants must be challenged. They know that any reform must come from within. In all walks of life, they are well able to examine how best to make changes to develop the country's future, to get more effective use out of information and communications technology, to improve the way in which management does its business and to make effective use of resources and technology. Transforming the public service is what is at stake. That is a key concern. It is about doing more for less, the advice I give to all. It is not always about money but about better outcomes, managing our resources and dealing with customers, personnel and projects. It is about pushing ourselves to our limits, something we have not been doing, and I am first to take the blame because I became lazy. There are times when we all decide to get somebody else in to do a job for us rather than do the thinking ourselves. We must start again in this regard. Ireland is one of the best countries in the European Union. Its people rose to the challenge when they had to and will rise again. We must start at the core with the transformation of the public service.

The report publishes findings on the following bodies: the Department of Health and Children, the Central Statistics Office, the Revenue Commissioners and the Property Registration Authority. There is a weakness in the operation of the HSE, to which the Minister of State referred. The report concludes that the Department of Health and Children had not succeeded in clarifying its roles and responsibilities in this area. The HSE was established in 2005, but the transformation to the new concept from the original health boards took time. I am not convinced that the HSE marks the way forward, but we cannot return to the health boards. The concept behind the HSE may have to be looked at again and the adoption of a regional focus might be the way forward. There are too many pitfalls in the HSE, as constituted. Even though the executive was established in 2005, the Department of Health and Children still has a staff complement of 433, most of whom have no clear picture of what their role is or who their customer is. It is not that they do not want to work. They are fine and terrific people with great brain power who face great challenges. However, too many of them are doing the same jobs and the organisation of work has not been streamlined. That must be examined and the impetus must come from within. In that regard, I ask each Department to look at itself and provide an action plan in order that each produces changes by examining work practices, seeking efficiencies and having an overall vision. That is the only way forward and I have no doubt it would greatly improve morale.

The report makes it clear that a substantial change such as the establishment of the HSE cannot happen overnight. I agree. It is a journey which requires many changes within an organisation. People had fixed minds heretofore regarding work practices, but things must change for the future. Society has changed drastically in the past three years. We are going back to community orientation, having primary care services and dealing with local issues. There is decentralisation, although it may not be decentralisation as we understand the term. There is a lack of leadership at middle management level, but change is happening. I am glad the Government is committed to the process but I am concerned about the timespan involved. Given the methodology used, how long does it take to conduct interviews and surveys and produce an action plan suggesting improvements for the future?

I wish all organisations and Departments well in the transformation of the public service. More than anything else, we need excellence in the civil and public service. The workers are the ones who will make this happen and make Ireland the best country in the European Union. That is the way forward and I wish all concerned every success.

We had a good debate earlier on reform in the public service and, as the Minister of State acknowledged, statements were made on the overarching policy and wider political issues that arise in seeking such reform. I will not repeat what I said. However, the debate was interesting and might be continued at that level. I am not sure what this debate is intended to achieve.

Perhaps it should have been the precursor.

Perhaps, or maybe there should have been a single comprehensive debate. However, the Leader is not present and I do not wish to talk behind his back.

There is a clear necessity for a rigorous analysis of the public service. I have no difficulty with this and welcome the initiative that led to the production of the ORP reports. While I have not read them in detail, I can see their analysis of the problems and recommendations arising therefrom.

I am sure the Minister of State will not take it as a personal criticism because he knows me well enough, but he did little more than tell us what had occurred in the organisational review programme and the reasons for it. There is nothing wrong with what he said about these issues, nothing I can criticise. He gave the House an account of the two tranches of the published reports and told us what the programme was to promote. He also treated the research methodology employed in the reports. No criticism can be made of what he said about any of these matters, as there must be a methodology and with my untutored eye I can see nothing wrong with the one employed. I reiterate that I do not offer this as a personal criticism of the Minister of State, but only towards the end of his contribution did he mention the report that has been exercising most people since its publication recently. It deals with the areas mentioned by Senator Ormonde, in particular the Department of Health and Children. There is a need for us to be frank about what is happening, as Senator Ormonde was. She might even have gone further, but the Minister of State did not——

This is Dublin South camaraderie.

I do not see what this has to do with Dublin South.

It is a fine thing.

Maybe so. From a cursory glance of the report, the issues that emerged and were reported on in the press were much more serious for the Department of Health and Children than the Minister of State was prepared to acknowledge. Senator Ormonde got closer to what was stated in the report. The first thing we must do in all debates is be frank and put our finger on the problems. I thought that was one of the reasons the ORP reports were compiled. We can have a debate and argument in this Chamber about what to do, but we must all share the data and description of the problem and understand its nature.

The report provides a challenging critique in many areas but goes to the heart of the problem in the Department of Health and Children which is, if I may describe it as such, in an existential crisis in regard to its role. This is not surprising. Every day of the week Members on both sides stand up in the Seanad and the Dáil to vent their frustration and highlight the difficulties people have with various aspects of the HSE. This points to a continuing problem in terms of democratic accountability in the provision of health services.

Some of the public relations concerned with the setting up of the HSE related to the fact that many meetings were held throughout the country to which people travelled and for which they claimed expenses, that it was all too local with too much so-called backyard stuff and so on, and that the service needed to be professionalised and put on a proper footing, as had been done in other countries. While I do not want to express a view on whether there were abuses in local health boards, we have thrown away an amazing amount of potential democratic accountability of our health services, given that the HSE has become such an enormous monster. I hear this being said daily by colleagues on both sides of the House.

Two years ago the then head of the HSE was invited in to answer questions from Deputies and Senators, an exercise which I do not believe has been repeated. I described this as a spectacle because elected public representatives were vying, with their hands up, to ask questions of the head of the HSE about particular concerns they had in their respective constituencies. That is no way to manage health, which is still the biggest voted expenditure in the public service. Reducing public representatives to people vying to get their "spake" in, as it were, at this public meeting told a big story, namely, that we have a genuine and serious problem in dealing with our health service and matching the need for democratic input, involvement and argument with the provision of health services

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the ORP discovered five years on that the people working in the Department of Health and Children had yet to come to grips with managing the HSE. I know Senator Ormonde said that things do not happen overnight, but there are many nights in five years. If they have not got to grips with it yet, when will they?

Even if we park the partisan aspect for a moment, there is a genuine problem we must address, and that is what is coming out in this report. It is quite damning of the Department of Health and Children and goes much further than the Minister of State is prepared to go in what it has to say about the allocation of staff being uneven, the issue of staff morale, the confusion among staff about the role of the Department, the lack of clarity around who the Department's customers are, coupled with the feeling of being constantly under fire politically and in the media, and so on. It does not surprise me that this issue exists with the Department of Health and Children.

That brings me to the second point I want to make and to which I have referred. The real story is what we are going to do with all these reports. I am not resiling from saying the reports are important, but what happens next? I would expect this debate to be about what happens next. That is why I am mildly critical of the speech because there was virtually nothing about what happens next other than in the last couple of sentences which referred to the look back process the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, is to initiate. If we are going to have a serious debate, by all means distribute the report. We can read the report, look at the back and see the methodology. We can find out all these things, but then we want the Minister to say what the Government will do in these matters. Sadly, we have been told very little today about what will occur as a result of these reports.

Unfortunately, I am not sufficiently well-informed about the Department of Health and Children to know whether it has produced the action plan.

It has been published. I thank the Minister of State because I was not aware of that. A better focus for today's debate in that case would be to table the action plan of the Department of Health and Children to let us see what the Minister of State and the Department intend to do about all these issues.

It is important we have these debates and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. While the reports are important, they are only the starting point. They should not be the full debate, merely what facilitates it.

The second report of the organisational review programme is interesting in terms of the four agencies it has chosen. I refer to them in an order different from the report and will refrain from alluding to the elephant in the room until last. We should start in a positive sense. The Revenue Commissioners and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, highlight best practice in the area. We should recognise the improvements made in both organisations in recent years and put them forward as models for how other areas of the public service can be improved.

Interestingly, I believe the CSO, which is based in Cork, is the only positive example of the relocation programme. I have always had difficulty in describing it as "decentralisation" since in essence this is not a matter of moving from Dublin to another part of the country but rather about distributing the services. The CSO, however, was the only national organisation that could be moved to an out-of Dublin location and could still perform the same functions, as it has continued to do excellently. If any lesson is to be learned from such office relocation it is that it has been the wrong type of decentralisation. Having an office in Sligo and one in Longford for social welfare while maintaining centralised activities is not decentralisation. I hope future ORP reports will investigate how we might have offices throughout the country dealing with the local regions in the areas of social welfare as well as, perhaps, health and education.

The decision announced yesterday by the Tánaiste concerning the VECs is welcome. I am not sure whether a reduction from 33 to 16 is sufficient in review terms but it points things in the right direction. I hope the lesson that was not learned from the amalgamation of the health boards into the HSE, whereby everyone was reallocated to new positions, is not repeated with the VECs. It is an important lesson we cannot afford to overlook.

The report referred to the Property Registration Office which, in a sense, is somewhat in abeyance as it is subject to reviews elsewhere. It might be reviewed differently, perhaps, from the Land Registry and Ordnance Survey Ireland. The report is useful in highlighting what the office does well and could do better in a more expanded, streamlined structure.

The essential elements we need to learn from the ORP are where the critical mass lies and where economies of scale may be achieved. That is where we come to the sore thumb, as it were, in this particular report. It is no great joy to describe the Department of Health and Children in such a way. I believe several Departments are not fit for purpose, not solely because of structure but also because of culture. There is a mindset prevalent among many decent, well-meaning, well-serving civil servants to the effect that change needs to be slowed down and challenged. We have suffered from this in the past. The Department of Health and Children is one of the Departments that have been too slow to recognise the need for change. I hope the organisational review programme and the need to put its own action plan together will overcome many of the anomalies in the future.

One of the main difficulties has been that it is still well-served in terms of personnel. Several hundred people work in the Department of Health and Children for the sole purpose of producing policy. This has very little linkage with the actual delivery of health services. That is the role of the Health Service Executive, which many of us in public life have come to believe has failed in its reorganisation. Questions need to be asked about the best way of reorganising, whether it is to set up a new structure or reintegrate with the Department of Health and Children. Given the personnel within the Department of Health and Children, I would argue there is a better fit in bringing the health service back into central government and making use of personnel there rather than reinventing the wheel and creating new health boards.

That said, there are two levels in which the health services need to be provided. Community and primary care are best provided within local areas. Where health boards were successful was in delivering such requisite services. Economies of scale are needed, however, in terms of large facilities and the specialist policies that have been put in place for cancer care and other forms of specialised delivery. That would embrace the role of bodies such as Comhairle na nOspidéal in terms of how hospitals are built, their location and the type of services they provide.

Our organisation of the health service, instead of trying to lump everything into the HSE, should be in two different directions. We should absorb some aspects of the health service back into the Department of Health and Children, have a national body solely concerned with large-scale health facilities, and re-allocate to various forms of local government the delivery of primary and community care in this country. Once we come up with that formula, we will have overcome many of the difficulties we have in the delivery of services. This will increase accountability and the involvement of public representatives, which will result in increased public confidence in the system. I hope the net result of this review will be that this lesson is learned. I look forward to the next reports and action arising therefrom. Any changes in our health service can also be applied in the delivery of social welfare, education and many other public services.

There is a major mismatch between personnel and positions at the moment, with many able public servants in the wrong places, doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. The spending of vast sums of public money is not being done correctly. Based on the report we are discussing, as well as others such as the McCarthy report and the White Paper on local government, I hope we will get the answers we need in the coming years which will enable us to fill in the gaps. After 90 years of the State's history, there are too many gaps. Perhaps the greatest mistake we made was in failing to change a Civil Service that was largely colonial in its make-up and never adapted to Irish conditions, even though the country itself has gone through several changes in its administration and form of government. I hope the debate in this House will be informed by these lessons, and I know many Members will express impatience for action on reports such as this.

It is funny that today we seem to be speaking about the same topics, in which I have an interest. The publication of the organisational review programme is welcome, particularly in the context of our discussion this morning on the Croke Park agreement. I mirror the comment of Senator White that the important thing is where we go from here. This is probably a greater challenge than identifying the issues. If one speaks to two or three people in any group, they can all tell one what are the problems. It is much more difficult to obtain a consensus on how achieve a solution.

Like any other report, this one acknowledges what has and has not been done well and, on the whole, the organisations and Departments involved in the exercise are credited with embracing technology in running their operations. IT is constantly involving and, therefore, it is of the utmost importance that investment in the latest technologies is supported and encouraged. I mentioned that when I first came to the House I had come from a school environment with every technological advance at my fingertips, but there was little here, although that has changed since.

Access to public services is the cornerstone of any democracy, but access for younger generations can be technologically led, particularly in comparison to decades past. Clearly, substantial strides have been made in this regard. However, much remains to be done in realising the full potential of IT within Departments and various agencies of the State. One of the issues that is always raised is that of duplication. Even though one Department has put all of the information into its system, it cannot be transferred from one computer to another. For example, if a person who is working in Northern Ireland but living in Donegal becomes pregnant and wishes to apply for maternity benefit, the relevant information must be obtained from the UK, and is then put on the system in Donegal. However, if she tries to apply for maternity benefit again in the future, she will have to go back to square one, even though the information is close by. The logic of linking IT systems is obvious.

While it is imperative to grasp all that technology has to offer, I am conscious that for many people technology is a totally alien concept. Therefore, a balance must be struck between embracing technology and ensuring that all clients have adequate access to services. While the report today credits the agencies as generally having a good record of customer service, we must ensure no one feels alienated or restricted in accessing information. I refer in particular to older people who through no fault of their own do not have sufficient IT skills to interact with many of the online services currently being offered. Also, in some cases broadband services are not as available as they should be.

I must also mention people with a disability who wish to work or access services. I have a new intern who will not, I think, be embarrassed if I mention that he has a sight impairment, and it was in working with him that I realised the importance of the technology that is available. His ability is much greater than his disability, and the difference made by technology, for both employees and service users, has highlighted its importance, even over the last day or two.

It is crucial to ensure that all sections of society have the ability to access the same level of services through traditional means. This means there should be face-to-face contact or the possibility of picking up the phone and talking to a real person rather than an automated system. This is still as relevant as it was a decade ago. When it comes to making cuts in budgets in the future, spending on customer service must be protected as much as possible. This cannot be forgotten about. My great fear is that because a service is available online or through some gadget, the human touch will be removed as the box is ticked.

The reforms we all crave in the public service need to be customer-centred and not purely an accounting exercise. It is my firm belief that savings can be found while protecting the public's access to services. We could follow the example of the UK, where the doors of centres for public services have been opened on Saturday mornings and certain evenings. This could instantly improve access for all as well as reducing lengthy waiting lists across the board. To allow it to happen, however, there must be co-operation among all agencies and their personnel. The discussion this morning on the Croke Park agreement is relevant here. Such co-operation will not be easily obtained; however, it is required. The current systems within the public service are not performing adequately for the personnel involved or for the public.

When reading the report this morning, I was not surprised to learn that morale is low among public servants in some of the agencies. This is a well-documented fact. The question is whether we are going to do anything to tackle it. The majority of people agree that the way to introduce reforms is with a motivated workforce, as was mentioned earlier, although the report clearly states this is not currently the case. There is a vicious circle in this regard. In my region, there was a problem last week when the county council sent out a notification that people were three months late in paying their second home tax. People were charged €20 per month, that is €60 extra, for being late. Of course, an avalanche of people then complained that they had not realised the due date was July because they had paid the tax in October of last year. Had the notification come out three weeks before the closing date, rather then three months afterwards with a penalty of €60, the avalanche of criticism would not have occurred. The people within the system must work within the system that is there, while the public complains about the lack of service.

I can understand that public servants are frustrated by the constraints put on them by systems. They are at the coalface every day and they have an insight we can only dream of. The lack of motivation in these agencies is bound to become steadily worse if resources become scarcer. Resources are important at the moment, but money is also tight. Therefore, we need to interact differently with public servants if we want to see an increase in motivation and thus productivity. This is a goal we must all desire to achieve as soon as possible. The necessary policies and frameworks need to be put in place to make sure this is recognised. Again, I refer to the debate on the Croke Park agreement. One realistic and simple step to improve spirits within the service would be to foster and develop the relationship between people at management level and those below. This report seems to identify the gulf that exists between the two elements, which is undoubtedly contributing to the chronic lack of morale. The responsibility for this falls at the door of management. Managing personnel is a basic role of any manager. The report suggests managers and agencies are failing in this duty to a certain extent. Therefore, the question needs to be asked if enough pressure is being exerted on managers to perform the function. That brings me back to the main point I made this morning. There is a need for leaders to lead in as charismatic a fashion as possible. Is there a chance managers at the very top have been included in the Croke Park deal but have failed to feed its provisions down the chain to the lower ranks? Managers voted on the agreement and must sign up to it, but have people at the top forgotten their duty to continuously sell the message to those at the grassroots?

I welcome the report. I would like to add further comments, but as time is short, I wish the Government well with other reports in the same vein.

I am very grateful for all of the contributions made. I have a couple of specific points to make in conclusion. It is interesting that we have had this debate today in conjunction with that on the Croke Park agreement. Perhaps the Seanad could have decided the preferred order. Having listened to some of the contributions, we know that if we do not change the way we do things, we know what the outcomes will be. If we continue to deliver programmes in exactly the same way and have inputs without change, we will have the same outputs. This programme provides the basis on which change can occur. Everyone agrees that we must have change and this is the research that facilitates some of it. In that respect, the debates today are timely because there is a common theme.

Senator Alex White said that in my opening contribution I was not specific enough on the second report. That is a fair point, but the statements are on the programme, as well as the second report. That is important because the second report is only one specific element. Four organisations are reviewed in the report, but the programme will review every Department between now and 2012. Yes, it comes up with reviews, action plans and proposals, but it is preferable in this respect that there is a wider debate. This is not just a snapshot but a programme and a process over an extended period, covering all Departments, as part of which they will be reviewed individually and there will be specific action plans, the implementation of which will be measured. That is important. I am glad, therefore, that the debate is about a little more than just the second report.

Senator Phelan spoke about the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, an organisation for which I have a lot of appreciation, especially since my time as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, when I got to understand its workings. The Senator spoke about the risk attached to foreign investments and things that had happened in the past. I have noticed that the Revenue Commissioners have improved their practices in risk profiling and random audits and that the challenge is not to do more of the same but to keep pace with what is happening. The Senator makes an interesting point about the challenges posed to the organisation, given the fact that key staff have moved on. It is not peculiar to the Revenue Commissioners but is occurring right across the private and public sectors, when people acquire certain skills which are lost to an organisation when they move. As a result of the review, the Revenue Commissioners are putting in place a programme aimed at greater internal mobility, offering greater skills to a greater number of staff in order that the level of dependence on one key person will not be as great. The Department of Health and Children which is also the focus of the second report is bringing forward a similar mobility plan for its staff.

Many comments were made about the Department of Health and Children. Particular concern was expressed about governance procedures and so on. The Department has an action plan and undertakes to strengthen governance of directly funded agencies. I indicated there were about 30 agencies involved, between the HSE and other agencies. This will include the early development of a memorandum of understanding between the Department and the HSE to give greater clarity to their respective roles. I understand this is to be agreed by the end of the year. The action plan is time-bound and specific outcomes have been targeted. It was not just a review to identify the issues, the identification of issues was to be followed by an action plan. It is a pity Senator Alex White is not here to hear me say this. The action plan for the Department is time-bound and the next phase is to monitor its implementation.

The core objective of the programme is to assess the capacity of organisations and, based on these assessments, to bring about improvements, where necessary, and champion best practice. The team conducting the reviews has been struck by the commitment of staff at all levels to the process. In every Department and Office reviewed to date the willingness of management and staff to participate in interviews and workshops has been exemplary. This has been the case with all stakeholders and customers. There were over 340 engagements in the second round reviews. In addition, the response rates to the staff surveys are well ahead of what one might expect in such surveys. For example, the response rates to the second round surveys ranged from 67% to 74% across the four organisations reviewed. That is a clear indication of the willingness of staff to participate in identifying improvements and best practice and engage in the process. The figures demonstrate clearly that the staff and customers of Departments and major Offices are eager to see improvements and appreciate their views being sought. The key lesson is that change and innovation should be regarded as inclusive processes. The deeper the consultation, the more sustainable the change process will be.

My second main point is about sharing information on best practice. Across all of the organisations reviewed to date the ORP team has found examples. In my statement I referred to the chapter in the second report on ICT best practice guidelines. The Property Registration Authority and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners were found to be leaders in the development and application of ICT-based solutions. A core reason for this is that management at all levels in these organisations understands the capacity of ICT as a powerful business tool. That mindset opens up opportunities, be it in management information systems, on-line customer service delivery or automated back-end processing. The ORP team also surfaced high quality customer services. For example, there is good consultation in the Central Statistics Office when major changes to statistical outputs are being planned. The names and contact details of staff are printed on all statistical releases and staff are available to speak to users after press conferences.

A third key point relates to human resource management. The ORP reviews show there is considerable scope for improvement in the management of people in Departments and Offices. In particular, the flexible allocation and redeployment of staff and the better management of performance are seen as especially challenging. Change in these areas will require focused actions at organisational and public service wide levels.

I would like to refer briefly to the measurement of performance. This can be especially challenging in some public sector organisations, especially policy-making Departments. Nonetheless, it is important that senior management leads an invigorated effort to improve the measurement of performance. This should be done with reference to outcomes, as well as international benchmarks of best practice.

There was a very valuable debate earlier today on the Croke Park agreement, in which the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, heard Senators' views. The agreement presents many challenges to the public service and will require concerted and effective responses. By enhancing the capacity of Departments and Offices, we can ensure greater levels of productivity and the more efficient use of resources. For these reasons, the organisational review programme has an important enabling role to play in facilitating transformational change in the public service. I do not believe one goes into a Department or an agency and introduce change. It has to be founded on research. The research findings identified in the ORP report form the basis for change by developing best practice and through the greater use of ICT.

I again thank Senators for their valuable contributions to both debates.

Sitting suspended at 4.20 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.