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Strategic Management Initiative.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 9 October 2007

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4)

Enda Kenny

Question:

1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the progress made by the quality customer service working group within his Department established under the Strategic Management Initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16805/07]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

2 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the progress made by the quality customer service working group in his Department under the Strategic Management Initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18783/07]

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Enda Kenny

Question:

3 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the objectives of the OECD study of the public service commissioned by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19843/07]

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Enda Kenny

Question:

4 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the projected cost of the OECD study of the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19844/07]

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Oral answers (19 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

In December 2006, the Government approved a major review of the public service by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. The review has two main objectives, namely, to benchmark the public service in Ireland against comparable countries and, to make recommendations as to future directions for public service reform.

A twin track approach is being taken to the review, namely, a review of the key institutional dimensions in the public sector as a whole and five case studies examining key questions in specific areas including, health and local government services. The terms of reference of the review have been published and are available on the Department's website. A high level steering group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department is overseeing the review.

While the review is not a detailed audit of individual sectors such as health, education, local government and so on, it is examining the effectiveness of arrangements through which Government objectives are translated into outputs and outcomes. It is focusing on the connections between the different sectors including, the links between Department offices and local government, health and education sectors with particular focus on the delivery of quality public services.

Separately, a major public consultation undertaken by my Department included an invitation to the general public, social partners and all interested parties to make submissions. My Department has also facilitated dialogue between the OECD and a consultative panel. For the OECD to develop this holistic approach to reviewing the public service as an entity and to apply it in the first instance to Ireland, we have increased our contribution to the OECD on a once-off basis by €490,000 to be paid over the two years 2006 and 2007. I expect the review to be completed by the end of the year and to be published early in 2008. Regarding quality customer service in the public service, the development, promotion and implementation of this initiative has been driven in recent times mainly by two groups: the QCS officers' network and the QCS research group.The QCS officers' network continues to work intensively on the development and promotion of a range of customer service issues, including promotion of the customer charter approach. This is an important initiative whereby public service organisations publicly commit to service standards and report on progress made. The QCS officers' network has met four times so far this year and is due to meet again in the coming weeks.

Similarly, the QCS research group has been active and was involved last year in the development of a major survey of customer satisfaction levels and attitudes towards Civil Service Departments. The research group has met three times so far this year and is due to meet again shortly to discuss the next such customer surveys, which are planned to begin before the end of the year.

A new task force on customer service has also been established to look at the further development of customer charters and various commitments to customer service in the programme for Government. This task force, which is made up of senior officials from Departments, offices and agencies, is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and will bring forward proposals on how best to enhance and deepen the quality of customer service in key front line areas of the Civil and wider public service.

Someone spent a long time writing out that answer for the Taoiseach.

Before the recent general election, the Taoiseach proclaimed, more than once, that we had world class public services. In early May, he said, "I am not saying this tongue-in-cheek or in a light-hearted way, but I should really have people congratulating me on the health service". The Taoiseach went on to say that "people are immensely happy with the health service". He should tell that to some of those who are on waiting lists or suffering as a consequence of the cutbacks by the Health Service Executive. If our public services were world class in early May, why has it been necessary to call in the OECD to review them and bring about world class public services?

The benchmarking review group is due to report soon. Will the OECD look at benchmarking? I would be the first to say public servants deserve to be well paid for the job they do. The vast majority work exceptionally hard. Will the OECD do what the benchmarking group did not do, which is set out tangible targets and performance indicators so that the public will know what improvements are achieved following increases in pay? This issue was fudged on many occasions although, as Deputy Sargent pointed out many times from this side of the House, benchmarking has brought no tangible efficiency benefits and achieved no objective targets which the public can identify.

Has the OECD been given the remit of examining benchmarking? Following its report, will we be able to get what we did not get from the benchmarking process, despite frequent questioning in the House? Will tangible targets and objectives be set so the public can see where their tax is being spent and how public services are benefitting?

The OECD review was undertaken last year. The work has been going on for the better part of a year. The report is not simply on the public service. It is the first comprehensive review ever undertaken on the public service as a system. It is holistic and is a service-wide assessment. It will identify many things but it has two main areas in its remit. It will examine how the Irish public service compares with other services that are recognised as representing good practice in various aspects of public management, using the unique insights of the OECD in its field. However good we are in areas, other people are good in other areas and we should always examine how we can improve services and systems across Departments and agencies.

The second issue under consideration is how the different parts of our system relate to each other, for example, the relationship between central and local government and how objectives are translated into actions. It is examining the health and education sectors to see if there are better ways in which common issues such as child care and social inclusion can be tackled.

As I mentioned, a large number of groups are involved on a consultative basis and are giving their views. Some are international figures, including people from OECD headquarters and others who can bring fresh thinking, and they are talking to the leaders in the field. They have also engaged with the political system and have been talking to the chairpersons of various committees of the House, such as the Committee of Public Accounts and the health and education committees.

Individual sectors and parts of the public service have been reviewed in the past but last year it was felt it was time to take stock of the system as a whole with a view to making recommendations on the future direction of the public service in supporting the Government's drive for delivery of world class services and contributing to the sustainable national competitive advantage. Deputy Kenny would have seen the research findings of a detailed survey of 3,500 patients in the hospital system published some weeks ago. This showed clearly the satisfaction of patients with the health service.

Benchmarking was introduced to replace relativities and numerous old systems. It was made clear at the beginning that benchmarking was never intended to be a once off exercise, but a process that would be repeated at appropriate intervals and that is happening at present. Benchmarking is an exercise that examines the pay and conditions of similar jobs in the public and private sectors with a view to determining whether the pay levels of public service jobs should be altered. In this way, public service pay can be determined by comparison to real and competitive market demands. It is necessary to ensure that the public service can continue to attract and retain a high calibre of staff with necessary skills to provide an excellent service to the public.

I believe benchmarking is a substantial improvement on the old pay determinants in a system that operated from 1946 and was based on relativities. If one grade got an increase for whatever reason, that was followed by other grades leapfrogging and catching up based on no factual outcome. This was the system that existed for the better part of 60 years and it led to industrial disputes and unrest across the public service from 1946.

The second benchmarking group was established in January of last year. It is chaired by Dan O'Keeffe, SC, and is due to report at the end of this year. It comprises a number of eminent individuals from the public and private sectors and from the world of academia and will undertake a fundamental examination of the pay of public servants vis-à-vis the private sector. There are no predetermined outcomes. If there is little movement in the private sector salaries, then the same will happen to public service salaries.

In response to the question from Deputy Kenny, the benchmarking body seeks to ensure the optimum level of transparency in carrying out its work. Following issues that were raised after the last benchmarking process, we made the point on the need to ensure the process is consistent, effective and transparent. As has been pointed out to me by all the people involved, there is a need to handle some of the information in a confidential way in an exercise of this nature. The body can only do its job if it receives the information from the private sector and the system is based on using confidential commercial information. It cannot publish everything it receives, but it is conscious of being as transparent as possible. I understand the benchmarking body will consider practical steps to examine the level of transparency, having regard to its remit.

It is not true that previously the productivity measures to be delivered by public servants were not validated. In each Department and area they were validated and the benchmarking body reported on that basis. Although I accept there were issues in some areas, in most areas the body produced a very detailed report.

Does the Taoiseach still stand by the statement he made last May that people should congratulate him on the state of the health services and that the vast majority of Irish people are happy with the health services?

The Taoiseach mentioned that the OECD will examine a number of relationships. Will it examine the relationship between the taxpayer and the consumer in the context of increased efficiencies and better service in the public service? The former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, referred to people ringing local authorities and being instructed to press button five or 12 or whatever. From that perspective does the Taoiseach accept that, despite the volumes written and the amount of paper shredded within the benchmarking process, the benchmarking body failed ultimately to set out for members of the public, for taxpayers, many of whom are themselves public servants, any real and tangible benefits, any demonstrable advantages on foot of which they could say they are happy to pay their taxes because they get a level of public service which complies with best practice? That did not and does not happen in many cases. Vague generalities were published but there was no validation of tangible benefits. Members on this side of the House asked Minister after Minister to cite three areas in their Department where there was increased service to the public consequent on the benchmarking process. In every case the answer was negligible or complete waffle. Does the Taoiseach accept that the benchmarking process did not set out tangible benefits for the public? Is the OECD now going to move into that space and make recommendations in regard to what should be done in various Departments?

Deputy Kenny and I regularly discuss problem areas in the health service. It is not me that people should congratulate. They should congratulate the staff in the health services. Across a large part of our health services, including cardiac surgery, children's cardiac surgery, liver transplants and maternity services, we are up there with the very best. We have eminent teams of consultants and other medical staff. More than 3,500 people were surveyed, far more than normally would be surveyed in consumer and political surveys, and it showed the level of satisfaction in percentage terms is approximately from the mid eighties to the early nineties. Of 52 accident and emergency departments, there are problems in half a dozen, or eight or ten at times. However, across the health sector, we have a service of which we can and should be immensely proud. There are problems in some areas and we must continue to provide resources and work to resolve these.

In regard to benchmarking, I have no difficulty with consistently seeking transparency showing why increases should be given, which should be the basis of it. Where there is movement in pay in line with the public or private sector, issues should be agreed and put forward. In the last programme, Towards 2016, it was agreed to build on previous achievements in the modernisation of the public service to provide more responsive better quality customer services, which is happening, and better management of performance both individually and organisationally. There is better financial and human resource management right across the Civil Service, although that might not apply to the entire public service. The Civil Service has implemented new financial management and human resources systems that are far better than they were even five years ago. There is also a greater flexibility to openness and change, including the extension of opening hours so that services open earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings. The Civil Service has reformed the system to widen the use of open recruitment to take account of the requirements of a modern public administration and the age profile of civil servants. It has taken some years but that is the difficulty with industrial relations. Co-operation has been introduced in the form of shared services between public and related organisations and there are many other areas where initiatives have been taken. Some believe public servants should do these things as a matter of course and should not be paid for them but that is not the way the system works.

A huge number of technology-related issues emerged from the last benchmarking discussions. Access to services has been enhanced through information technology and there is now 24-hour access to information in the Civil Service and other public services. The motor tax on-line system came directly from discussions involving local authorities. In the area of agriculture, food e-services were developed for livestock registration, identification and movement, which has been hugely important to farmers and those involved in the food sector throughout the country. The Revenue on-line service is considered probably the best in the modern world and has been studied and followed by others. There has been huge progress in the area of social welfare, where 1 million payments per week can now be made in a very efficient way. Other initiatives relating to the General Register Office and visa office came out of the benchmarking process. The single farm payment scheme was sorted out on the basis of people committing themselves, in benchmarking negotiations, to doing things in a different way. The scheme used to be a very difficult area and Members, particularly those from rural areas, will remember all the difficulties we had with agricultural payments in previous years.

If Deputy Kenny asks me whether there is much more that can be done then my answer is "Yes" — I readily admit that. A huge amount of change is still necessary and many new initiatives will be required in the next round. If any Ministers stood up in the House and said they could not remember three benefits in their own Departments they must not have asked the question but I do not believe that to be the case. There has been a huge amount of progress in every Department.

I will forward the evidence to the Taoiseach.

We should not give too much credence to the Taoiseach's remarks last May that people were happy with the health services. It is eminently possible that, given the number of people with whom the Taoiseach engages, a number may have expressed such a view but I do not know what they are talking about. Deputy Kenny might reflect for a moment on the comment by the Minister for Health and Children, who apparently spoke to somebody on a trolley in an accident and emergency unit who described the experience as comfortable and happy. Can the Taoiseach give any credibility to that claim?

Is there a cut-off point for the strategic management initiative in its present form? It was supposed to improve services to the public from Departments and it is arguable that it has performed the task to some degree. However, it has also produced a lorry load of long-winded reports. In his response today the Taoiseach talked about examining effectiveness and efficiency but how effective and efficient is the whole exercise? Should improved services to the public, including greater access to and understanding of the role and function of Departments, not be part of the ongoing review Departments are undertaking into matters within their own ambit? Can the Taoiseach give us a sense of where the strategic management initiative stands at this point in time? How long does he see it continuing in its current form? Can he also indicate what improvements he would like to see in its work?

I am talking about the Civil Service and not the wider public service, although there have been huge improvements in the latter as well. My Department is involved in driving the quality service initiatives. The sections in my Department that deal with this, deal with people across the Civil Service.

For several years, the Civil Service has had declining numbers in the overall management system. It was given a target of 3% in recent years and most areas have achieved it. It is constantly taking on extra work and functions while reducing staff. As a country, our Civil Service is small. It is very small on a pro rata basis compared to most other countries. In fairness to civil servants, it is because they have worked particularly since 1992 to strategically manage their area and to focus on their customers, evaluating what their customers require while taking on a huge amount of services and technology. New technology was embraced with little or no industrial problem or unrest, as has occurred in many other countries. Whether the issues involved relate to business, farmers, the social partners or the general public, the reviews carried out by independent organisations have demonstrated that although the service is not perfect, it has exhibited a constant rate of improvement. That does not mean there are not many other issues to be dealt with.

With regard to where we should go, the QCS research group has been involved in overseeing the management of the recent evaluation of customer charters. Fitzpatrick Associates, the economic consultants, have been engaged to undertake this evaluation independently and they have now put out their survey. The QCS networks are also overseeing a process of promoting customer charters in the wider public service. These charters exist to spell out what staff are doing, how they are doing it and to report on how they got on with it. These are published every year and people can examine them.

Staff are also involved in the Public Service Excellence Awards, the final ceremony of which I have attended along with many others in this House. Individual public servants and civil servants who bring in new efficiencies in their areas can put ideas up for awards. Although awards are not everything, this shows an interest in being able to take a new project and deliver a better service to the public. Many Members have attended the final ceremonies of these awards, where we have seen some 20 schemes put up for case study. There is much happening in that area.

An example of what is ongoing at the moment is that in the health sector, the feasibility of implementing an advisory charter of patients rights, similar to the European charter, is being examined. In the agricultural sector there is a commitment to monitor outcomes being delivered under the farmers' charter and to modify it in light of new findings. There is a commitment in the justice area for the introduction of a Garda charter, setting out targeted Garda response times and the level of service the public can expect.

As part of the significant commitments in local government, there is a commitment to put customer service to the fore and develop a customer charter. There are many other areas now being developed to bring about what the public require, with staff challenging themselves to deliver the service. In most cases such action is not easy. Much of the easier work is probably finished and the technology has been implemented. Key personnel of the Civil Service, including the commissioner and other senior civil servants such as the head of Revenue and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, are working on these issues.

There is a genuine effort to make a good attempt to build on what has been done in recent years and to improve the service to the public.

I have listened to the Taoiseach answering these questions for the past half hour and I confess I am still unclear on the reason the State is to pay another €500,000 for another study on the public service from the OECD. Among the various other studies that have emerged are that published earlier in the year by the NESF, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, published in June, which states that problems remain in a number of State agencies regarding value for money, the benchmarking report and the strategic management initiative. As the Taoiseach indicated earlier, there is also the work being done by the QCS research group, Fitzpatrick Associates and the QCS officers' network.

Is it now time to stop studying the public service and to start reforming it? What does the Taoiseach expect the OECD to tell us that we have not already been told in many of the reports published heretofore? The NESF report indicates that there is often a wide gap between what public service providers believe they are providing and what people actually receive. Does the issue at hand not revolve around narrowing that gap? Is the latter not what Ministers are supposed to be doing? If, for example, there is a gap between what the public service believes itself to be doing and what people actually want, is it not the responsibility of Ministers to ensure that line Departments and agencies under their remit deliver what was originally envisaged?

Why are we continuing to study the public service? Is this merely some kind of substitute for inaction on the part of Government to introduce the reforms required? Some of these reforms are extremely simple in nature. I refer, for example, to putting in place staff to answer telephone calls instead of requiring members of the public to push various buttons, be transferred from one voice message to another and not have access to a facility whereby they could talk to someone who might assist them with minor queries? In a country with a population of just over 4 million, it should not be impossible to organise the public service in a way which makes it accessible and which ensures that it delivers that for which people are paying.

I will answer the second part of the Deputy's query first. Most of these systems and schemes have been in place since the period 1992 to 1997, the year when the Public Service Management Act was introduced. Reforms relating to Revenue customer charges and those that brought about improvements to the social welfare system, improved services for pensioners, replaced the mess that used to be the agricultural scheme and facilitated the introduction of the motor tax on-line system and the registration offices, have all been fully implemented. A host of other reforms of a very high standard have been introduced in every area of the public service, including those relating to information, communication and technology services, in their broadest sense, through to others that apply to an entire range of schemes. In education, for example, many reforms have been introduced regarding the examination system.

The OECD will acknowledge that these reforms measure up to the best on offer elsewhere. Ireland does not need to look to the example of any other country as regards how it operates its systems. Compliance with Revenue stands at 94% and there are very few queries relating to the 1 million plus people on social welfare. Our systems are as good as any that exist elsewhere and Singapore might be our only competitor as regards many of them.

There are other areas in respect of which, for a number of reasons, reforms have not been introduced. We have, therefore, asked the OECD to benchmark our levels of performance in certain areas, particularly in terms of the disconnect. We have not been good at cross-departmental and cross-agency co-operation. Traditionally, civil servants have been viewed as working for particular Departments and Ministers and, as a result, the co-operation to which I refer did not exist. The main reason for the OECD's work is to discover how connections can be made and how people can work for the system rather than for individual Departments or agencies. The record of other countries in this regard is better than ours.

The OECD's review will concentrate, in particular, on the aspect to which I refer. It is, however, not the only aspect involved. People from the private sector are assisting the OECD in its work and individuals from the latter's head office in Paris have been engaged for most of the year in examining this matter. We will consider the OECD's recommendations and we will, it is hoped, learn something from them.

On the broader issue of our own charters, the Deputy is correct that what has shown up in surveys in new areas is that people would like to get information faster and want clear guidance. This applies to the Garda Síochána and other areas. In the customer charters, every Department, tying in civil servants across the system, is to work out what it is prepared to do as a service and benchmark itself against whether it can deliver this.

In respect of the Civil Service and its trade unions and staff associations, we are at a stage where most of the reports from the Departments, if they are not finished, will be finished by the end of this month. These reports will set out for the period from 2008 to 2010 the next challenges they are trying to deal with as Departments. That is being overseen by Ministers and probably the management advisory committees in every Department. It is the next level of how we can make our Departments more user and customer friendly.

This issue comes up all the time. When we are talking about reform of the public service, we tend to be marvellous at bringing it down to the telephone system. Many of these systems have come from the great and the good of the private sector where everyone believes that if one follows the most efficient parts of the private sector, everything will work and all one has to do is press this button or that button. The old Shanks' mare of the Civil Service was perhaps better. I was here five years ago answering questions about why we could not use the great technology in some parts of the private sector which would allow people to press buttons rather than having to explain themselves to various people. Now that we have all the buttons, everyone wants to go back to the old system. I agree that in life, one sometimes goes around the merry bush and then goes back to the way it was. That is where that came from.

It is the same with the voting machines.

I am in favour of voting machines. We have an enlightened——

A total of €15 million down the swanny.

We would still have the same result so it would not matter. The technology sometimes works but it does not do so in other cases. In most cases, the schemes in which the research groups are involved are good and they are doing precisely what Deputy Gilmore is requesting. They are not trying to think up things themselves but rather to reflect on what the public is telling them. Civil servants are genuinely trying to do that.

Like the Taoiseach, I am not besotted with the latest gadgetry from the private sector. In respect of customer charters and evaluations carried out in the public sector, has this not simply created another tier of paperwork? If one calls a Garda station, one wants a garda to appear. One does not want to be sent a copy of the customer charter, or if one contacts a Department, one wants to receive a service from it. Has this method of reforming the public sector, which involves the use of charters, evaluations and so on, not simply created a new culture of box ticking where, instead of delivering the service directly to the member of the public who asks for it, one must make sure the procedures are all being followed and that the boxes are all ticked so that it complies with whatever charter or evaluation document must be complied with?

I return to this simple idea that in a country of 4.25 million people, should it not be possible to have a service culture in the public service generally that holds that the job is to provide the service to the public as quickly and efficiently as possible. I believe this culture exists in many areas of the public sector and among probably the great majority of public servants. I am concerned that we are creating a parallel universe in the public service which is about complying with charters and evaluation documents and ticking boxes, and we are spending more time doing that than delivering the service to the public. That is a complaint I hear repeatedly from public servants — even nurses in hospitals — who find the amount of time they spend on paperwork is taking away from the time to provide direct services to patients, for example.

I will not disagree with that in the context of the wider public service. For example, if gardaí catch an individual robbing a car, they must fill out ten forms to justify they caught the person robbing the car. However, that is called justice and one has to go through these procedures. If we keep going this way, we will have more gardaí who are better at handwriting than catching criminals. This is the problem. Procedures are in place and people check on gardaí as to how they caught someone and whether they got the right person. That is part of modern life.

The Deputy is correct that it is an annoyance to people in the health, education and justice services. In the Civil Service, however, it is different. When drawing up its customer charter initiative, the Revenue Commissioners asked members of the public, such as those involved in small businesses, what they wanted in, for example, turnaround times. This was done in tangible terms, looking at what standards of service customers could expect to receive from a section or division. With this in mind, over the past several years each Department and Government office has drawn up and is committed to a charter of service standards for customers that will be delivered. These are measurable in order to establish a benchmark for future improvements in services. It requires work in setting it up but it is not done by a group of civil servants in isolation but through consultation with the people they are serving.

There are many benefits to these charters. The process of drawing them up is based on consultation with customers and frontline staff. It establishes clear performance standards which are committed to publicly. It introduces a series of methods to measure standards performance and service delivery through, for example, surveys and the publications of results.

Public service organisations must make these public statements and must be accountable in this way. I accept they should not spend all day drawing up reports and plans when they must deliver services. However, the idea is that if the charter is in place, they must deliver. It puts pressure on the system to deliver. This has worked well in my Department with regard to the speed at which queries from the public are replied to. These replies contain an acknowledgement and detailed information. The process has changed the way public service organisations think.

All Departments and Government offices have published customer charters. The extent to which service targets have been met are reported in their annual reports. It is not just an excuse for paperwork but a commitment as to what they must do and the time it should take to provide a service. Delivery of these commitments is then detailed in the annual report.

The process is making the Civil Service more efficient. The Deputy will recall how it was difficult to introduce new technology in the Civil Service. Both the Civil Service and the public service now embrace new technology. Is it enough? No, it is not. Is there room for improvement? Sectors, such as the HSE, need far better technology. We had rows about PPARS but some services need better technology. There are too many different systems with different procedures. Leaving aside delivery of services to the public, the management of systems can be too complicated and cumbersome. There were too many systems in the health board and there still are. It is a major task, on which I have been spending some time recently, to see whether we can put in place a system that makes sense in terms of better management performance and financial data.

I agree with the Taoiseach that the Revenue Commissioners, in particular, have improved communications and now have texting facilities for customers, which is genuinely innovative. Social welfare provision has also been reformed. However, in recent times, partly as a consequence of decentralisation, as the Taoiseach knows, people are told they must submit their applications months in advance if they are coming to retirement and as regards child benefit, lone parent allowances etc. When we had limited technology the total turnaround time was less than 12 weeks and it is now much longer. The point is that when something happens whereby the service visibly deteriorates, all the jargon about better regulation, better Government and so on is meaningless to someone who is coming up to pension age having paid his or her contributions and finding that it is far more difficult to get the State pension than he or she first thought. Will the Taoiseach agree that what we are doing in the public service at the moment is growing middle management, people who write reports? What is being done about this type of proliferation?

Everybody in senior management in the public service gets a bonus. How is a distinction made between some Departments which palpably do not produce the goods and those that do? They all get bonuses and there is no distinction. Even the head of the HSE received an €80,000 bonus.

The Taoiseach rightly said that the customer deserves a service. Will he agree that where the State imposes an obligation on the public, such as NCT testing, a service provided on behalf of the State as a result of legislation passed in this Parliament, the customer should be facilitated? Is he aware that in some testing stations, at present, where previously car owners were sent a date and an appointment time for vehicles to be tested, now they have to phone up and be put on a waiting list? This is a perfect example of somebody who must adhere to the law, but whose date might have expired before the company carrying out the service on behalf of the State had changed the rules. Does the Taoiseach agree that it is important that this Parliament be answerable? When a Deputy such as myself tables a parliamentary question as to why this has happened, the Minister responsible passes him or her on to the Road Safety Authority. We should be able to talk about service in the Dáil. I ask the Taoiseach to get the Minister to look into this matter and ensure questions are answered in the House reflecting the service, as he rightly says, that the customer deserves.

The point Deputy Burton makes is the very reason charters are important. If there are delays in any of the areas she has mentioned, pensions in particular, targets should be set towards dealing with the issues, getting the paperwork in and turning matters around as quickly as possible. The Department of Social and Family Affairs, given the volume of work it handles, has a good record, but if there are certain areas that are slow, that is an issue for the charter.

The same may be said as regards the point Deputy Barrett makes. Where there are statutorily bound public services for which people must pay, then it is up to the Civil Service to facilitate matters. I shall raise the particular issue he mentions as regards the NCT test. It is a matter of getting shorter time spans so that real efficiencies and savings, where applicable, can be achieved in the time that public servants take to turn around the services the public needs.

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