I welcome the Minister of State.
National Shared Services Office Bill 2016: Second Stage
The National Shared Services Office, NSSO, Bill is technical in nature. It lays out the legislative basis for the establishment of the National Shared Services Office as a separate Civil Service office under the aegis of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The NSSO is already in place and has been in operation on an administrative basis since 2014. The Bill seeks to formalise the existing structure, clarify accountability, and provide added assurance and robustness to its operations. The NSSO is charged with leading the Government's shared services strategy and the implementation of shared services projects and operations within the overall public service reform context across the Civil Service. Shared services is modernising how we deliver common business services in the Civil Service. We have created one dedicated team that is taking operational business functions such as finance and human resources and transforming them through the introduction of common standards and definitions, simplified processes and higher levels of automation and self-service.
The move away from costly departmental-specific custom solutions and duplicated effort across Departments to standard automated processes allows the Government to lower the cost of these services and improve the quality of management information available for decision-making.
With the introduction of shared services, the same numbers of staff will no longer be required in each Department to perform these specific back-office functions. As a result, more staff will be available to work on other core service areas that are priorities in their own Departments and have a positive impact on the general public.
Since 2014, the NSSO has introduced many benefits for the Civil Service. They include the introduction of one set of standard human resources, HR, processes applied consistently and based on common HR policies. These standard processes are eliminating local interpretation, thereby increasing fairness for employees. Civil servants can now access HR services through a much wider range of channels, including online for the first time, giving them easier and faster access to important information on entitlements and services. For example, the HR portal receives more than 300,000 visits per month. HR analytics and trend analysis are becoming more readily available on a Civil Service-wide basis to inform policy and help drive improvements in the way we manage the workforce. The first online system for public service travel and expenses claims was introduced, with payments processed within a week. In 2016 more than 56,000 travel and subsistence claims were processed to a value of €20 million. Online payslips are now available to all payees, including pensioners, and there is immediate access to payroll information, including downloadable P60 forms. This is a significant change to the hard-copy payslips and paper-based receipts of the past. Insights gained through shared services have informed the development of relevant Government policies, such as those relating to addressing absence, leave and the recoupment of overpayments. Improved technology and automation give employees access to self-service in several areas, including the maintenance of their own personal information, such as address or marital status changes, and application for annual leave. This removes the need for multiple touchpoints and manual entry on the HR system. Almost 1.5 million annual leave updates were recorded in the past four years and more automation is planned. Government investment in shared services for the Civil Service has been significant, with €28.5 million capital funding provided to date. This reflects the importance of this major initiative under the public service reform programme. It is of utmost importance to the Government that our work continues to have a positive impact on citizens.
The NSSO provides common business services for more than 40 wide-ranging public service organisations. It is staffed by civil servants who are fast becoming specialists in best practice standards of business support services such as HR, pension administration, payroll and travel and expense processing. Due to the fact that the NSSO operates a single standard way of working, it is able to contribute to, and respond quickly to, the introduction of new policies, such as the recent paternity leave scheme, and introduce new e-HR initiatives such as e-probation and e-mobility that are under way.
The rationale for setting up a separate statutory office is to provide clear accountability for shared services and to separate the shared services expertise, and strong customer and service culture, from the broad-ranging policy-making functions of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, once separated, the two organisations will continue to collaborate closely. The Bill makes clear that the NSSO will be accountable to the Oireachtas through the Oireachtas committees and, from a Government point of view, will continue to report directly to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and that Department.
Service delivery and high-quality customer services are most effective when implementation is separate from policy-making. For greater effectiveness, the NSSO requires the flexibility to respond to operational matters that can distract from the focus of the Department. Creating the NSSO as a separate office also provides for the independence of shared service governance. This independence ensures clear accountability structures delivered through individual service agreements with public service bodies which specify the terms and conditions on which services are to be provided. When the new finance shared service centre is fully established and staffed, the NSSO will employ an estimated 950 civil servants and will provide payroll services to over 128,000 retired and serving civil and public servants. It will account for the estimated total Vote of €50 billion and administer approximately 50% of net Government voted expenditure. This makes the office twice the size of the Department and a significant operation when compared to other offices and shared services organisations in the private sector. This requires an office in its own right.
Significant progress has been made in advancing shared services within the Civil Service in the three years since the NSSO was set up. It is important to point out that its merits have already been established in committee and in the Lower House and are being referred to by Members there. The NSSO has already established two shared services centres that provide employee shared services, namely, the HR and pensions administration shared service centre for the Civil Service, in operation since March 2013, and the payroll shared service centre, PSSC, for the Civil Service, in operation since December 2013. Recent updated analysis has estimated that €6.4 million has been saved in the annual cost of delivering transactional HR services. In 2016, the PSSC made over 2.7 million payments to the value of €3.24 billion. This figure is set to rise this year. The PSSC is in the process of replacing 18 payroll centres that had different versions of payroll systems with one shared services centre. Once payrolls migrate from Departments to the PSSC, the technology costs and payroll for staff who used to process payroll are suppressed. A project to integrate HR, pensions and payroll into a single service organisation has already commenced.
The development of a new finance technology solution for government is also under way. A single finance technology platform will replace 31 financial management systems and 31 reporting systems across Departments and offices and facilitate transaction processing in the new finance shared service centre. This centre will be co-located with payroll in Galway, Killarney and Tullamore and will start providing financial management shared services next year. It will improve resilience and performance, increase financial control and deliver a sustainable reduction in the annual cost of finance of approximately €15.4 million through a reduction in the cost of support for finance technology and a reduction in the resources required to provide financial management processing.
Turning to the Bill, the legislation provides for the office to carry out business administrative functions on behalf of a public service body. The legislation will specify the chief executive of the NSSO as its Accounting Officer. This issue has been raised in committee and the Lower House. The chief executive will, as a result, be accountable to the Comptroller and Auditor General and, in turn, to the Committee of Public Accounts. The NSSO board, which will have an advisory remit, is also provided for in the legislation.
The Bill is set out in five Parts. Part 2 allows for the practical structures in the establishment of the NSSO. It confers on the office all such powers which are necessary in the performance of its functions. Part 3 is concerned with the establishment, membership and functions of the board. Parts 4 and 5 contain technical provisions dealing with transitional arrangements and consequential and miscellaneous provisions.
It has always been envisaged that the NSSO would become independent in the delivery of its functions. Shared services constitute one of the biggest change programmes the Civil Service has experienced. The statutory establishment of the NSSO will help us to meet the requirements of international best practice in this area and provide clear accountability arrangements, very strong governance structures and the operational autonomy needed to achieve the goals of high performing shared services. It will also allow the Civil Service to lower the cost of these services, improve the quality of management information available for decision-making and ultimately assist in enhancing front-line services for the public.
I welcome Members' contributions. I apologise again for being slightly late. I thank Senator McDowell for coming to my rescue, with my officials and the usher.
The Minister of State is still above ground.
We have no problem with the Minister of State being slightly late. We were slightly late coming from the previous debate. What would have been helpful was a copy of the Minister of State's speech. We usually receive copies, but we did not receive them on this occasion. It would have been helpful as he was articulating his points. I do not know where the copies are. In the future it would be helpful-----
I understand it is at a Minister's discretion as to whether he or she circulates copies of a speech. I know that it is commonplace-----
I accept that. I am just making the point that it is helpful to have a copy, typically.
I welcome the Minister of State. I think this is his first time in the Seanad in his new role. I congratulate him on his appointment.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. Fianna Fáil will support the Bill and the position that the office be put on a statutory basis. It makes sense. We have 31 local authorities and many other bodies with payroll functions. It would be much better if we could get this to work properly and have an organisation with the necessary expertise and the skill set, whether it be in ICT, pensions or payroll, if it is to deal with travel and subsistence claims, as the Minister of State mentioned. I am not sure whether we in the Seanad are involved with the system, but it does make sense that we set it up.
Of course, there are concerns, to some of which the Minister of State alluded. We do not want a situation where the NSSO ends up like the HSE, that is, something that is not under ministerial control or that is passed off. The Minister of State said this would not be the case and that it would be accountable to Oireachtas committees and to Ministers and so on. It is important that it would be.
It is also the setting up of another quango, for want of a better phrase. Fine Gael in 2011 announced the abolition of 145 of them and, if we look back at that list, we see most of them are still there, and quite a number more have been created. To be fair, as a party in government, perhaps Fine Gael has revised its view on that policy of culling all these quangos and making a fuss about how much more efficient it would be if they were all gone.
This makes sense. I do not want to go through all of the examples in the Minister of State's speech, but there are examples in terms of HR and pensions administration when having 30,200 employees across 37 Departments and public sector bodies, as well as 48 public service bodies being dealt with under provisions for cash receipting, fixed assets, general ledger accounting and so on. These are all valid reasons to set up the NSSO on a statutory basis. As the Minister of State said, it is going to have almost 1,000 staff, which is almost twice the number in the Department. It is going to give us cost savings and efficiencies, better management information and, I hope, will free up senior management resources in many bodies around the country from doing relatively day-to-day administrative tasks in order to focus on proper policy development.
I want to reiterate our concerns. This is another public service body being set up and while there is a fairly valid reason for it, I do not want a situation where, like other bodies, it becomes unaccountable and loses control of itself. Equally, it is very important that it answers not just to Ministers but to Oireachtas committees, that it would publish an annual report which is circulated to Members of both the Dáil and the Seanad and that we see a situation where we can save money for better use by the State generally.
I strongly support the Bill and the initiative of the Minister of State and the Government in bringing it forward. Like Senator Horkan, I take the view that, normally, when we are told another statutory body is to be created, our antennae go up for a moment. However, on this occasion, I can see the reason that it should have a statutory basis. If it is to be accountable, if we are to have an Accounting Officer and if it is to be answerable to a Dáil committee, then, obviously, it needs a statutory basis. The second point is that although it is yet another State body, it should result in very substantial savings right across the public sector.
The Minister of State mentioned Killarney. I remember, when I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, going to Killarney, where there was a payments section that was quite a large payroll operation conducting a number of departmental functions. Some of the payrolls were fortnightly, others were monthly, and there was quite an odd collection of things happening there. In regard to An Garda Síochána in particular, the number of deductions was colossal and the paperwork involved in paying members of An Garda Síochána was fiercely complicated. This is from memory, given it is some ten years ago or more since I visited, but I remember thinking at the time that there must be a better way of dealing with this. If the payment function, for example, for members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána can be approximated and standardised and if payment periods can be standardised, I think that would be a good idea.
I remember on one occasion the annual budgetary process taking place and my officials in the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform were very pleased because they had managed to keep from the Department of Finance's keen observation - there was no Department of Public Expenditure and Reform at the time - that there was one less pay day in the year in question such that we got a very significant boost in our payments budget. It occurred to me that these kinds of things were anomalies which should be tidied up.
The second point is that, on the HR side, it should be the case that semi-State and State bodies which have considerable HR aspects to them should have shared services, in so far as these things can be standardised and shared. There are many academic institutions, local authorities and semi-State bodies which are replicating the same functions and, while I do not want to attack anyone's area of business, they are also hiring in IT consultants to work out small solutions for smallish operations at huge expense to the management. It makes sense that there should be a single body doing all of these things.
For these reasons, I completely support the legislation. I hope the National Shared Services Office has every success in doing the valuable work it is doing.
I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well. I have no doubt that he will do a great job in his new post of responsibility.
Like other speakers, I welcome the introduction of this legislation to put this office on a statutory basis. Yes, I suppose it is another quango but it is both necessary and wanted. Will it do what it says on the tin? I hope it does. Will it save money and create efficiencies? It should. Will it cut the cost of payroll? I believe it should but, when I go through the Minister of State's speech and the content of the Bill, I wonder whether it will do so. I do not see where it will cut the costs. One of the gripes I have with new quangos being set up is that new staff are always put in place. They are never taken from Departments, local authorities or the HSE and put into this new office to make it more efficient and to reduce the staffing in the other areas. I believe we should be able to see where staff are being transferred from local authorities, the HSE and the Departments. If we could see staff from those areas being transferred into this new area, I would say that is a way forward and something to which we should all sign up.
The Minister of State said that, eventually, there would be 970 people employed in this new set-up. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said there would be a saving of 145 jobs in the areas of pay and pensions and other shared services. To me, that means a considerable extra number of staff will be employed owing to this new legislation when it is fully operational. As I said, this is one of my gripes in that I cannot see, physically, where the staff are being transferred from the various Departments. It would be a good idea if we had that information and if we could see the level of staff reductions in Departments, local authorities and other shared services areas. Nonetheless, I believe it is good legislation and that it is wanted. Most of us in the House can remember PPARS, which was an absolute disaster. Its cost was estimated at €8 million but went up to €150 million, principally owing to some of the issues referred to by Senator McDowell in regard to nurses and staff of the HSE. For example, a nurse in Castlebar was on a different pay level from a nurse in Sligo, Galway or Letterkenny, and there were many scenarios within the organisation.
Senator McDowell said the same thing had occurred in the Army and Garda, but they got over that. I hope it will be possible to get over all those obligations as well with this legislation and that we will not have another PPARS on our hands, because what happened there was outrageous. I do not believe that will happen because I have read the Bill and we have started on the right footing before putting it on a statutory basis.
All in all, I welcome the Bill. I will have further questions on Committee Stage.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. The National Shared Services Office, once established, will have significant power in issuing public procurement contracts. It is vital that those who spend public funds, in whatever manner, are answerable to the Oireachtas, not just the Minister. Public trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. Either we recognise this and work to build it up again or we abdicate our responsibilities, as legislators, and feed the apathy.
The Government had initially excluded this new office from the scrutiny of the Committee of Public Accounts. This was unacceptable to Sinn Féin and my colleague, Deputy David Cullinane, tabled a number of amendments to address the issue. Some of those amendments were accepted and the national shared services office, once established, will be fully accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. However, other amendments which would have provided for the pay of board members being subject to review by the finance committee, as well as oversight of consultants' fees, were rejected by the Government. There have been too many scandals involving pay and allowances above and beyond ministerial guidelines simply to ignore the issue. Unfortunately, the Government rejected these amendments on Report Stage also. This was a set back in terms of public oversight of public funds and contracts. Overall, there must be more openness and transparency in the public sector and Sinn Féin will continue to work towards that goal.
Sinn Féin recognises that having shared services does not mean a concentration of services in one office, but falls into the overall principle of improved analysis and service. Departments are operating in silos, of which we all have had experience. We often hear words such as "cross-cutting" and "interdepartmental" used, which are often just a cover for the fact that Departments are operating in silos in shared services and policy terms. I agree that it is important to move away from the silo mentality to a much greater sharing of services to achieve efficiencies.
International studies tend to show that there are five attributes of shared services. They comprise distinct governance, namely, a distinct organisational structure with a dedicated management team delivering the operational aspects of corporate services for one or more organisations; standard processes, which is where processes are standardised and streamlined; economies of scale, which means that scale is achieved through combining processes previously executed independently; customer driven, whereby a culture of service delivery is ingrained within the shared services centre; resources committed to key account management, monitoring key performance indicators and the achievement of service level agreements. There is also continuous process improvement, with dedicated project teams managing process change to drive improvements in both efficiency and levels of service.
These are all fine objectives and hard to argue against, especially in a large public service which covers different Departments and large expenditure which could potentially lead to duplication. On the proposed office, its function is to enter into contracts for the procurement of goods and services required for the provision of shared services. The Government intends to give the office all such powers as are necessary or expedient for the performance of its functions and that the office shall be independent in the performance of its functions. The Bill will allow the shared services office to enter into agreements with public service bodies and draw up the terms and conditions on which shared services are to be provided for these bodies. It will make payments to, and communicate with, persons on behalf of public service bodies for the purposes of providing shared services. It will receive and process personal data provided to it by public service bodies for the purpose of carrying out its functions. It will develop and implement policies on the manner in which shared services are to be provided. It will provide guidance, where appropriate, in the public sector on the provision of services comparable to shared services.
That is quite a transfer of power to an independent body. The areas of responsibility which will be transferred cover employment contracts, wages, pensions and financial accounts. The office will cover 40 public bodies. That means a great deal of sensitive data will be put out to tender. This has to be a concern, especially the information on personnel within the legal and judicial system. It was for these reasons that Sinn Féin tabled amendments to strengthen the public oversight of the office.
For once, I will be brief.
The Senator has said that before.
I am enthused.
I welcome the Minister of State. I congratulate him on his new portfolio and look forward to working with him.
There are many strong, commonsense aspects to the national shared services office, as have been put forward. I note that the Citizens Information Board, CIB, was recently debated at the Joint Committee on Social Protection. Citizens information and Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, offices put forward proposals for how there could be a sharing of human resources, HR, and payroll. They believed that to be a more efficient response to the proposal put forward by the CIB which effectively involved the dissolution of numerous MABS and Citizens Information offices throughout the country to facilitate amalgamation. We heard in the testimony to the committee that there are mechanisms whereby we can have multiple companies and entities doing work and sharing this aspect of that work. It would be useful if the Minister sent this to the Department of Social Protection and encouraged it to look on it as a potentially different approach from the approach being taken in that restructure, an approach which has been opposed in a vote in the Dáil and at the Joint Committee on Social Protection.
My concern about this area is similar to that raised by Sinn Féin. Deputy Cullinane did excellent work on this issue. The Minister of State responded to some of those concerns and I welcome the new section 35. I believe there have been changes since the Bill was drafted and it is welcome that section 35 contains a more constrained definition of the data that might be shared. That is advisable and positive. I commend it, but I also hope we can get reassurances that there is no intention to extend it back to the wider capacity it had initially. I am concerned about section 8 and the power of entering into contracts for the procurement of goods and services. From my reading of the transcripts of proceedings in the Dáil, I understand the Minister has given assurances that there is no intention to tender in this regard. I am still concerned that this is an independent office and I do not know to what extent we can set the policy on decisions as to whether these areas would be tendered. The current European procurement rules move in one direction whereby if an area is opened to tender and competition it potentially remains open. It is extremely difficult to move back to a public delivery of that public good. I would appreciate hearing the Minister's explanation of the safeguards to ensure we do not move towards tendering and that we do not leave ourselves in a situation where we will be unable to reverse out of it.
There are particular concerns about data in some of the contracts we have. We are aware that the Safe Harbour pact was stuck down at EU level as being an inadequate protection of the data of European citizens. Its replacement, the Privacy Shield deal, is now being challenged in the courts. There is concern. In some of the contracts we have, for example, there is the issue of American companies being able to process that data. The issue is the adequate protection of data. Again, that arises only where we have a situation of tendering and procurement, but our intention is not enough in that regard.
The issue relates to human resources. We know, for example, that in the United States at one point there was a decision taken in respect of the payment of the living wage to staff members across a number of public bodies, in terms of seeking to drive forward good practices such as social clauses on employment standards, rewarding higher employment standards and giving a more positive weighting. Where does that positive practice relate to employment and will the State's capacity and the Minister of State's capacity to influence be diminished? Will we be told in the future that there are positive measures which we wish to introduce but that we are precluded from doing so because this is an independent office and it is abiding by a narrow definition of procurement guidelines?
We discussed the fiasco in this House of procurement in terms of library services. We were told that we could not find a Minister to take accountability in terms of where the decision was made to bundle the library contract. It was moved from Minister to Minister and the Office of Government Procurement, back to the Department of Education and Skills and around the houses. We could not find a Department to take responsibility for the issue. Those are not necessarily complications; they are potential complications. I accept that the Minister of State has indicated that this is not the road he wants to go down, but I would like a sense from him of how he plans to ensure this independent office does not choose to go down those routes in the future. I again thank him for the Bill which makes sense.
Senator Higgins had 50 seconds to spare, for which I thank her.
Literally 50 seconds.
I have my breath this time which will be a help. I welcome the support that has been given to the Bill. I apologise for the confusion over the script. We had not been asked to have copies for circulation but I assure the House that in future when I come here to deal with legislation in particular that scripts will be circulated.
This is not a quango. A quango in the true sense of the word is a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation. It is not a statutory body. I am fully in favour of the de-quangoisation of Ireland. That is the genesis of this project, which came about by streamlining, as Senator McDowell said, the complexity in relation to HR, payments, payroll and other matters. That is why it is referred to as a shared service. If anything, this is not a quango. The NSSO is up and running since 2014 and has delivered a lot of efficiencies already. We are not creating anything here; what we are doing is giving the NSSO statutory recognition because at the end of the day the people who are operating the system are not procured from the outside. We do not find them on a buy and sell service. They are civil servants and they have a right to be put on a statutory basis, if nothing else. It is very important for Oireachtas Members to note that we are anxious to make sure the staff of the NSSO receive the statutory recognition they deserve and the protection that affords. We could leave the body in limbo, but that would be the wrong thing to do.
We are not creating anything new and we are not imparting any new power. What we are doing is extending a level of accountability that currently does not apply. That point has been missed by many. There were some calls for the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts to have special regard for it. One does not accord special treatment by the Committee of Public Accounts or the Comptroller and Auditor General to a statutory body because it is inferred from the Comptroller and Auditor General Acts that the body is already within its remit. Therefore, there is no point in doing it. The Comptroller and Auditor General Acts trump everything.
Everything that is established by statute will have an Accounting Officer, in this case the chief executive, who is accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. He or she is also accountable to the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. That in itself is an improvement on the current situation. The CEO will be asked to come before the Committee of Public Accounts. That was not plucked out of the air in the Dáil or in the committee, that situation is inferred from existing legislation on the Statute Book. The Department's role in this regard is very clear in that the Department will maintain a monitoring function in the same way as it does with everything else. I am also the Minister of State with responsibility for procurement; therefore, Members will be delighted to hear I will be back to them in that guise also.
Accountability was mentioned in the other House also and it was mentioned at the committee. Yes, there will be an annual report and it will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and can be debated in the Seanad, the Dáil and in committee. That is good. That is not and cannot be the case; therefore, if anything, this is an improvement. The body was set up in 2014 and, as Senator Paddy Burke has alluded to, has already made a lot of efficiencies. The very fact that we can centralise the services is important. This is nothing new. We have not designed something from scratch. A lot of us in this room were members of local authorities, which have been doing this for many years. They proceeded on the basis of consultation with employee representatives and city and county managers and they have delivered an efficient service. Local authority workers have become used to the system and it has allowed staff to be used in other areas of local authority service delivery. It is important that they are able to serve and be of value to the people who ultimately pay the piper, namely, citizens. From that point of view, this change has to be good.
We are taking on board the point made by Senator McDowell about Killarney and his trip there. He made a very good point, not only about justice and defence but across a range of Departments and agencies. There is a range of payment systems. I recently looked at the number of different forms of leave within the Civil Service and standardising it alone will take time. It is not as if we are trying to cut out anything. The changes are being introduced by way of agreement with representatives. This is not something that we are unused to.
When one talks about the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in general, people are keen to see how much money has been saved rather than looking at the efficiencies that have been delivered. The next phase of reform in that Department might not get the same amount of air time as pay deals and other such matters but it is about the intricacies of how one delivers civil and public service reform in order that Joe and Mary Public can see a better and more enhanced service. We are not going to go off and recruit tens of thousands of people. This will not be a HSE because it already exists. It is not a quango.
The NSSO will require specialist staff. Both HR and payroll expertise will be required, but that is not an exhaustive list. I hope to see this approach being replicated in other areas also. I cannot remember who raised the point, but there is no reason not to replicate this approach in education. A "Prime Time Investigates" report was carried out on HR in the education area. There is no reason this cannot become a template for other areas of public expenditure and that they cannot be encouraged to share services because by so doing one would have increased levels of oversight and also increased levels of accountability if the system is established according to proper foundations and precedent. There was never any intention to exclude the Committee of Public Accounts. I accepted amendments on Committee Stage in the Dáil debate. I am pleased that was noted because they made sense but they did not change the construct or tenet of the Bill, which was very clear.
I laboured the point both in the committee and in the Dáil about the expenditure of board members that to have a statutory agency where a joint committee of the Oireachtas would set payments would grind this institution to a halt. One could not have a situation where an Oireachtas committee would decide that, for example, Patrick O'Donovan is worth €5,000 and someone else thinks he might be worth €15,000 or whatever else. Ultimately, the Public Appointments Service and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have a role, as has the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. If we are to set rates of pay for non-governmental organisations and statutory boards in committees then one could say good luck to new politics achieving anything because we would not do anything other than striking rates of pay and that would grind the entire system to a halt. There has never been a precedent for it and it would also establish a very dangerous precedent for politicians to set the rates of pay for anybody. I do not think anybody would think that is a good idea.
In terms of Citizens Information, I agree with the point made that there is a precedent for other agencies and Departments to do exactly the same thing.
I welcome the good wishes of Members. We are certainly open for business should Departments believe further improvements could be made. We are not in the business of tendering out the work. It is important to point out that all the staff of the National Shared Services Office, NSSO, in situ are civil servants. That will continue. We do not see the staffing of the NSSO being put out to tender in the way that a road building contract is put out to tender. The NSSO is subject to the requirements of the Office of the Data Commissioner. The NSSO is also fully compliant with EU data management regulations. We are sensitive to the data of the people who work for the Government. The Government does not want the data of its employees shared in an inappropriate fashion. I will bring forward legislation in the autumn on how data is used and managed properly.
The purpose of the Bill is to make life easier for the civil or public servant to access the services they need, be it sick pay, holidays or widow's payments. It is working, but it is also about driving efficiency. This is not a quango, but a means of reducing the numbers involved in the functions of Departments that had no boundaries. Senator McDowell alluded to his experience as Minister in the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and he probably saw it at first hand. There are no boundaries and I hope that as the legislation beds down, accountability will take shape. As the Oireachtas joint committees, the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General see the efficiencies and the level of accountability of the NSSO, we should extend its boundaries. The concept on which the Bill is based, and which I hope will be enacted, is correct and either my successor or I could be back looking to amend it. By enacting the Bill, we will make it statutory and thus make the NSSO accountable. It is correct to give people certainty because they are civil servants. It is the right thing to do to drive efficiency and for the public. It is also the right thing to do in terms of civil servants who want to have a central point of contact for information on their personal situation, or somebody on their team.
I commend the Bill. I propose to take Committee Stage later in the week.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Is that agreed? Agreed.