Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Dec 2010

Vol. 206 No. 8

Croke Park Agreement: Statements

The assembled masses.

I wish to update it on the implementation of the agreement. I apologise that I will not be able to remain for the full debate, as I am due to attend the other House later. I last spoke to Members on this topic on 13 October. The country has since been through a traumatic period.

I want to put in context the role public service transformation and reform of public administration can play in national recovery. I will outline how public service management, staff and representatives work together under the terms of the Croke Park agreement and why the Government decided to stand by commitments made in the agreement. The national recovery plan published by the Government in November sets out a significant programme for change in the public service. It outlines the maximum ceilings on employment and public service numbers that will apply in each sector of public administration.

Public service numbers will be reduced by 24,750 from an end of 2008 base to under 295,000 by the end of 2014, a reduction of some 8%. This will return the public service to numbers last seen in early 2006 and the overall pay bill to a level last seen in 2005. The Government, however, has applied different ceiling targets between the various sectors of the public service, with front-line staff numbers protected as far as possible and consistent with more efficient public service delivery. Numbers will have to fall more quickly in back office activities and administration to allow front-line services to be protected. The redeployment arrangements in the Croke Park agreement will be used to ensure flexibility in the deployment of staff in the light of the reduced numbers. Were it not for the existence of the agreement and its operation, we would not have that redeployment arrangement available to us.

The numbers appear challenging and equate to an annual average reduction of approximately 3,300 in the number of public servants or around 1% a year. This can comfortably be accommodated through that unlovely phrase "natural wastage". The predicted rate of retirements should exceed the required reduction sought by the Government. In human terms, it means numbers will fall as people retire or leave for other reasons and their posts are not filled through a strict application of the moratorium on recruitment.

Public service management and the Government will have to be very disciplined in the coming years to meet the numbers targets. There will be some scope to prioritise limited recruitment in particular areas to meet a need for social workers or recruit specific ICT or economic modelling skills. It will not be possible to respond to special pleading on the part of any group that its case is a special one. It will not be possible for public service management to recruit its way out of an administration problem; rather the problem must be solved using better management of existing resources and better administrative solutions. Where unavoidable priorities for extra staff have to be met, this must be done to the maximum extent possible by redeployment.

Inevitably, there will be a significant saving to the Exchequer from this reduction in numbers. The Government has indicated that, when coupled with the pay savings from a range of reforms and efficiencies and other changes such as the reduction in pay rates for new recruits, it wants to save some €1.2 billion in the public service pay bill by 2014. That means substantial changes in the way public servants work are inevitable to increase productivity and sustain necessary public services.

Many have argued the targets are not challenging enough and that there should be deeper cuts to reduce numbers still further. However, the OECD has indicated that the Irish public service is relatively small in comparison to those in other OECD member states and that this is a significant move that will require big efforts on the part of management to ensure greater efficiencies. When I hear calls for faster reductions and compulsory redundancies, I ask myself whether those calling for extensive redundancies have worked out how to pay for them. As well as being very tough on the individuals affected by redundancy programmes, accelerated reductions in numbers cause what is known in the private sector as restructuring costs which must be paid upfront. Such costs are very large. The Government put aside hundreds of million euro to achieve a voluntary fall of a number of thousands through early retirements and redundancies in the HSE. Although not all of that money will be used, it gives us an idea of the potential costs if an accelerated fall of, say, an additional 10,000 was to be sought.

The targets brought forward by the Government are realistic and achievable within current resources and, crucially, will help to protect critical public services, with all sides co-operating, as they are committed to do and as they are doing under the Croke Park agreement. It is important that the proposals are realistic because, as the House is aware, our progress towards the savings targets that the Government decided upon will be the subject of ongoing reporting in the context of drawing down the agreed funding from the IMF and the European Union. The EU-IMF programme of financial support for Ireland which is based on the targets the Government has set states that, by the end of the third quarter in 2011, "the Government will consider an appropriate adjustment, including in the overall Public Service wage bill, to compensate for potential shortfalls in the projected savings arising from administrative efficiencies and public service number reductions".

The Government's position on the Croke Park agreement has not changed since I was in the House in October. We have always said that we want to see full implementation of the agreement as soon as possible. There is now a synergy between the plan and the agreement. It was already the case that the Croke Park agreement, and the financial emergency legislation that preceded it, included a requirement to review the position concerning public service pay on an annual basis prior to 30 June. These reviews will take account of sustainable savings arising from the implementation of the agreement.

The reviews under the agreement will transparently show whether the agreement is delivering savings in the costs of public service delivery, through reductions in public service numbers, use of different delivery options, changes in working practices and so on. It will therefore be clear from each mid-year review whether sustainable savings are being achieved under the auspices of the Croke Park agreement. Under the EU and IMF programme of financial support, the Department of Finance will provide quarterly data on the public service wage bill, the number of employees and the average wage. This is the same data on which the review under the Croke Park agreement will be based. The targets we have set ourselves make the challenge even more real for all sides. We know now what we have to do. What remains is tackling all obstacles to achieving it. This is where management delivering on their action plans for change and the commitments given by both sides under the agreement to co-operate with drives to secure greater efficiencies across the board come into play.

It was always the case that the action plans drawn up this summer would have to be re-examined in light of the Estimates process. The implementation body, under the chairmanship of P. J. Fitzpatrick, triggered that process by requiring all Departments to examine their action plans and submit revised plans in January. Those revised plans will have to be more ambitious than those already produced because they will have to meet the revised ceilings on resources and pay that each Department has been set as part of the national recovery plan. I want to state clearly that I will not stand for any delay in the implementation of these plans, such as those which accompanied the original plans.

In the meantime, management and unions, under the auspices of the sectoral implementation bodies that are working in each sector, have been getting on with the job. We are perhaps being too low key about early successes. I want to highlight for Members a few tangible changes that have been happening in many workplaces across the public service. In the Garda Síochána, revised rosters have been agreed in the specialised detective units and the traffic corps. They will allow the gardaí involved to be deployed more efficiently to meet demands for their services. These changes to rosters foreshadow the much larger job of re-rostering across the country to meet police demands with a reduced number of gardaí. Talks have already begun on developing pilot schemes to achieve these changes.

The Irish Prison Service has opened new accommodation for prisoners at Wheatfield Prison and for female prisoners in Limerick Prison. These new blocks have been opened with a more efficient staffing model based on the principles set out in the Croke Park agreement. This has resulted in a saving of staff and significant costs have been avoided as well as, of course, helping to alleviate some of the accommodation issues that are a feature of our prisons.

Discussions are ongoing in the education sector on the introduction of new contracts, including the extra hour. Since I last spoke to Senators and used this House to challenge the teaching unions, all teaching unions are now engaged in these discussions and they are advancing quickly.

In the health service, the CEO of the HSE recently outlined some key performance outcomes in 2010 taken as a snapshot on 30 September. They include emergency admissions being more than 11% higher than the 2010 target and slightly more emergency admissions than for the same period last year; more than 2.5 million people have attended for outpatient services so far in 2010, which is just over 3% of the 2010 target and more than 5% ahead of 2009 outcome; and more than 9,600 home care packages were delivered to people, 0.5% ahead of the 2010 target and 9% more packages than were delivered this time last year. Also in the HSE, management and unions are working together to address the practical implications of the departures by the end of the year of thousands of staff under the voluntary early retirement scheme and a voluntary redundancy scheme introduced by the Government for certain categories of staff in the public health service. This type of co-operative approach would have been difficult to envisage only a few short months ago.

In the Civil Service, hundreds of staff have been reassigned from other areas of the Civil Service to social welfare offices to cope with increased demands. Similarly, staff will be redeployed to help process redundancy payments more speedily. A deadline has been set for the move of the community welfare officers into the Department of Social Protection with effect from 1 January. As all of us know, this is a highly significant move because, unlike the other redeployments mentioned, it is cross-sectoral with staff moving from the HSE to the Civil Service.

As has been highlighted, some clearly inefficient practices on credited time and attendance patterns are being eliminated. On this issue, there is a tendency in the media to focus only on the minutiae of discussions on efficiencies in the Civil Service, without looking at the bigger picture of change in more than 90% of the public service. As a consequence, there has been much chatter about bank time and privilege days. Instead, we should be welcoming the fact that Civil Service management have taken the opportunity presented by the Croke Park agreement to tackle upfront and early some clearly inefficient and outdated practices.

It will be necessary for all public service management to follow suit. They too will have to be resilient when staff or their representatives act as if we were living in another era. Change will have to be delivered in all public service workplaces and in the ways that all public servants do their daily business. It is worth re-emphasising that these achievements have been made despite the industrial unrest following the pay reductions early this year. It highlights the biggest achievement of the Croke Park agreement; priority services are being maintained and even improved despite a substantial ongoing fall in numbers, and there has been no industrial unrest to damage our reputation or impact on the most vulnerable despite two pay cuts.

The Government acknowledges that we cannot impose the scale of change we want on a system of more than 300,000 people without their agreement and leadership at all levels. This is the significance of the Croke Park agreement; it is based on shared principles between the Government and its employees, and specific agreed commitments on both sides.

It is also important to be conscious of the impact on individuals of the changes that are proposed. Redeployment at a strategic level means, for an individual, life changing decisions on changing the place they work, the colleagues they work with and the projects on which they work. What is at a strategic level an efficiency, results in a real impact on what an individual worker takes home in a week in overtime and shift allowances. Many, of course, have a right to be concerned about those changes. Active leadership will be necessary for the majority to accept that change must happen and over the medium term their working arrangements will improve. I have already mentioned the changes that have been made to certain rosters in the Garda Síochána. I have been advised that the changes made suited staff better in terms oftheir work arrangements, as well as working better in terms of management of the staff resources.

We must accept that some will never accept their work practices should ever change and that there may be a better way of doing things. At an individual level this can be addressed. It is more problematic where an entire group feels it can step outside the arrangements that apply to all and go in a separate uncharted way. I remind Senators what I stated in the House in October:

The Government considers that any party that chooses to remain outside the provisions of the agreement or that opposes its implementation cannot expect to benefit from the commitments [the Government] gave as part of the agreement. The principal commitments given were to no reductions in pay, no compulsory redundancies and an extension of the period within which the January 2010 pay reductions will be disregarded for the purposes of calculating public service pension entitlements.

This remains the position. However, I welcome the fact that since I stated this, the majority of public service unions have come into discussions on the practicalities of implementing the agreement.

I will use this occasion to repeat my invitation to the limited number of unions or associations, or would-be unions or associations, which have stayed outside the process to consider very carefully their position. To be blunt, I want to make it clear to those who want to stay outside the process that requests for negotiation of parts of the agreement or of the entire agenda for transformation of the public services will not be entertained, and attempts to thwart progress in the changes involved will be fiercely resisted. As far as the Government is concerned, the Croke Park agreement is the minimum needed to deliver the significant changes to public administration that will be needed as the numbers of public servants fall and as efficiencies are driven throughout the system. The Government has consistently made it clear, and it was repeated by the Minister for Finance last week in his budgetary statement, that these reductions in costs and numbers must be delivered if the Government is to maintain its side of the agreement.

I want to make a number of personal remarks on the agreement. I pay tribute to Senator Joe O'Toole who I understand is retiring voluntarily from this House. I thank him for his input into this agreement, his advice to me and the work he did behind the scenes to secure this agreement. He has made an enormous contribution, typically in a quiet manner. I also acknowledge the role that has been played by the implementation body, especially the role of P. J. Fitzpatrick. I stated that we possibly have not spoken up the agreement enough, but that is something we intend to consider next week. P. J. Fitzpatrick has driven the implementation body hard and has driven substantial change in the agreement. Despite political agendas that may seek to say we are not doing anything with the agreement, the agreement is delivering change daily across both the Civil Service and the public service. I acknowledge that the entire Government transformation agenda will not be possible unless we work harder at involving every public and civil servant in its implementation. It must be our priority in the new year to ensure the 300,000 people who continue to work in the system buy into the agenda. It is a challenge to have agreements at this level, but it is an even bigger challenge to ensure they are owned by those who work on the ground.

All public servants, staff working in emergency rooms, teachers who have spent the day in front of children, staff working in this House, people who are on call tonight and who may be called upon at 4 a.m. to grit roads throughout the country contribute daily to our economic recovery. Their numbers have decreased sharply and they are working harder within tighter budgets to ensure services are being delivered. CSO figures have shown that public servants have taken a bigger hit in terms of earnings than their counterparts in the private sector. Like all those who pay tax and social insurance, they will share the burdens imposed in the budget last week. By delivering the changes outlined in the Croke Park agreement, they will contribute again, not just to national recovery but to making this country a better and more prosperous place to live over the longer term and to ensuring their workplaces are more rewarding professionally and financially.

I welcome the Minister of State. I will begin by outlining my support and that of Fine Gael for the Croke Park agreement. This support is evidenced in the document produced by Deputy Richard Bruton, Reinventing Government, in which Fine Gael outlines a series of proposals within the framework of the agreement which are aimed at reducing the cost of the public service while retaining the vital services it provides. Like the Minister of State, I thank our public servants for the work they do, which often goes unheralded. We should never lose sight of the fact that they perform an important function within society.

Sadly, however, I cannot agree with the Minister of State's claim that the Government has given political priority to this agreement. I do not believe it has. I do not know Mr. Fitzpatrick personally, but I have heard him on a number of media outings recently. To be brutally honest, he did not inspire me with confidence in terms of the agenda he is driving on behalf of the Government. The agreement is not just his responsibility but the responsibility of our political leaders, the Taoiseach, Cabinet and the Ministers responsible, including the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary. They must ensure this issue gets the urgent political attention it requires. We are at a juncture in the history of our country where we need to see fundamental change in how we spend taxpayers' money and we now have an opportunity, at this difficult time, to put in place new procedures, practices and systems for the future. I see no understanding of this on the part of Government.

Much of the Minister of State's comment has been predicated on kicking many of the objectives of the Croke Park deal into the middle of next year when it is more than likely we will have a new Government in power. I have nothing against the Minister of State and believe he is a good man, although he has not been long in his current position. We have heard many promises of reform of the public sector over the eight years I have been here but they have not been delivered upon. I have heard nothing from Government that will convince me it is committed to achieving what has been set out by the Minister of State. I do not get the impression there is a particular sense of urgency, which is disappointing.

The Minister of State mentioned that some unions were still outside the process and perhaps he will outline these in his concluding remarks. I understand the nursing union and all the teaching unions have joined the agreement, but what unions are not taking part in the negotiations on the Croke Park agreement? He also mentioned how management are delivering on action plans for change. It may be unusual for me, but I take the unions at face value and believe they have bought into the Croke Park agreement. I get the sense from the union leaders that they want to see the agreement work, but I do not get any sense from management at senior levels in the public service that they are determined to come up with the action plans that will implement change. This is not the fault of the unions, although I may have been critical of unions in this regard in the past. I do not see a commensurate urgency among the people charged with management in our public services to see delivery on the Croke Park agreement. The Minister of State said he believes that commitment exists but I do not believe it does.

The Minister of State also said that he would not stand for any delay in the second batch of reports from management in the public sector. He has accepted the delay up to now. I am not convinced by what he says because it is very easy to say one will not stand for delay when one knows one's partners in government intend to call an election at the end of January. He will possibly not be the one who will be in the position of standing against delay when the election takes place.

Will the Minister of State outline what has been achieved to date outside of the reports submitted in recent months from the different Departments and agencies? What has been achieved and why is there such a snail's pace to progress in this area? While I understand we are talking about a workforce of more than 300,000 and that a detailed process must take place, progress has been very slow. Why was there little or no mention of the Croke Park deal in the Budget Statement last week and why was there so little provision for the savings envisaged under the agreement? We have heard varied media commentary in the past month of the impact of our agreement with the IMF and EU. What impact will the agreement we havemade with those new friends have on reform of the public service and on the Croke Park agreement?

I get no sense from the Government that it has reimagined how we should look at providing public services. We have a unique opportunity to do that now. One of the proposals announced by Deputy James Reilly a few months ago in our Fine Gael health document was a complete reform of how we fund our health services, based on funding following the patient rather than on the existing system where hospitals get block grants based on historical figures. Why has the Government not conducted a more root and branch review of how we fund our public services for the future, especially when it has this opportunity to reimagine how government works here?

More than 1,500 offices around the country deal with various types of entitlements, including local authorities, VECs and Government agencies. There must be scope for rationalising back office services.

We are faced with a choice between the slow strangulation of public services or the complete reinvention of how government works in this country. The Government has gone down the route of slow strangulation when we should be more optimistic for the future.

I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State. The Croke Park agreement is the most ambitious agenda for change ever negotiated for the public service. Drawn up against a background of economic crisis, including unprecedented cuts in public spending, the agreement commits public service management and trade unions to significant changes across the public service. It is more than a pay deal because it works towards the Government's high level goal of creating a leaner and more effectively integrated public service that focuses on the needs of citizens, as set out in the OECD public management review of Ireland. When the OECD's review was launched with great excitement in autumn 2008 we believed the transformation would be rapid but it turned out to be slower than expected. Philip Kelly, who is assistant secretary general in the Department of the Taoiseach and a member of the implementation body for the Croke Park agreement, has pointed out that the public service needs to be transformed regardless of our current crisis. He further stated that the need for innovation in how we do our business is embedded in the actions set out in the Croke Park agreement. This requires us to capture ideas about redesigning the processes we use to manufacture the services we deliver and to change our administrative structures.

Public services are an integral component of business in Ireland. It is critical to ensure this sector provides efficient services, such as State support in marketing, technology and infrastructure development and in the training and upskilling of the workforce. As a business woman in Leinster House, the word "innovation" is dear to my heart. Every business has to innovate constantly to survive. As I have previously stated in this House, I find the way the Government does its business to be very frustrating. It carves new policies and arrangements in stone and never returns to them six months later to see how they are working. That is the opposite to doing business and it is absolutely crazy. If one introduces a new initiative, one must improve on it to ensure it delivers what was originally promised.

Last Friday, I called an emergency meeting of the most high powered people in the area of suicide. As my colleagues in the Seanad will be aware, I have drawn up a policy document on suicide in the new Ireland. I called the meeting out of frustration because little has changed in the area of suicide prevention. Every day, at least two people die from suicide. A further 60,000 are self-harming. Children can suffer from mental illness but the incidence of suicide rises sharply from the age of 13 or 14 before it stabilises at 18 years. It breaks my heart that 2,500 children are waiting for public sector assessments because they cannot afford to pay for psychiatrists for assessment or treatment. As a former teacher, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Áine Brady, will understand what it is like to teach children with problems. Approximately 30% of the children on the waiting list have ADHD, which can be traumatic in the classroom, 17% have been waiting for one year and 63% have been waiting for three months purely because they come from an underprivileged background.

The top honchos are driving me to blow the issue out of the water in the new year. Little has changed in the area of suicide prevention over the past 20 years. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, is doing his utmost to highlight the issue of stigma but having worked in the public sector on two occasions, I have experience of the under utilisation of human potential and the absence of management. This can be contrasted with any self-respecting company which is creating employment and exporting. Such companies exhibit energy and passion to increase business and create employment.

My experience of dealing with the HSE on the issue of suicide suggests it is very relaxed and easy going. It recently appointed a new national director of child and family services as part of a drive to improve child protection. Everyone in this House is aware of the failure of people who are employed in the public sector to produce reports and do their jobs properly. The people responsible for child protection in the HSE would not be kept on by a business. They lack the courage, energy and passion needed to do their jobs properly.

I ask the Senator to conclude.

The new director, Gordon Jeyes, is from the UK. We are being inundated. All the people who are running the banks appear to be British. AIB is currently being managed by 30 people from PricewaterhouseCoopers. They are all English people. There is Mr. Elderfield and Mr. somebody else. We really want to wake up. I hope to God Mr. Jeyes will inspire in his staff a pride in their work. It is not only a question of flexible work practices and better hours. That is all rubbish. It is a matter of doing a good job with passion.

The Senator should conclude.

During the severe weather, the Garda and those responsible for gritting the roads showed energy. They were inspired but then they went back to their lackadaisical ways. I acknowledge that teachers, nurses, doctors and gardaí cannot behave like that but in bureaucracy, people get lulled into thinking it does not matter whether they do their jobs. Let us hope that the new head of child services will have the fire needed to protect children.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, and acknowledge the generous comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary.

I was stunned by my colleague's remark that P. J. Fitzpatrick does not inspire confidence because I know he has a vision. Perhaps there is a communication issue and people need to have clearer understanding. I will undertake to organise for Mr. Fitzpatrick come in some time in January to brief a few people informally on what is happening. Fair questions have been raised on this side of the House and I am not for one second saying otherwise. There are questions which need to be answered. I have stress tested Mr. Fitzpatrick on difficult issues on a number of occasions, however, and he has taken difficult telephone calls from me. I am seriously impressed by his commitment, diligence and effectiveness, and I will come back to that. Mr. Fitzpatrick's previous role as head of the Courts Service should also be noted. Senators can have a good look at what is happening there. He certainly turned it around in terms of efficiency. If one can do that with the legal profession, one can do it anywhere.

Senators should be reassured and should question and demand to know where we are going on these issues. We need to start this debate in two places. On tonight's news I saw tear gas and fire-bombs on the streets of Athens, and there will be something similar in Brussels tomorrow. We saw it in Rome yesterday and we have seen it in France all along. When the IMF came here, it saw the Irish trade union movement hold a demonstration which was peaceful and where people expressed their point of view but did not attempt to wreck the city, apart from the couple of dozen which one finds everywhere, but they had nothing to do with the main thrust of the demonstration. That was important.

It is equally important to recognise the most important sentence in the Minister of State's contribution which I guarantee will not be quoted by anyone in this House except by me because it goes against the prevailing narrative. He stated that public sector workers have taken a bigger hit in terms of earnings than their private sector counterparts. That goes against the narrative and will not be reported. They have taken a hit, there is peace and people are negotiating. That is very important.

People say we cannot afford the Croke Park agreement. What part of the Croke Park agreement can the country not afford? The Croke Park agreement will result in at least 25,000 job reductions and will generate savings of €1.2 billion per year. What part of that can we not afford? What part of that is bad news for the country? When people say we should get rid of the Croke Park agreement, how will they achieve those two objectives? They take the easy option but offer no solution. We have peace on the streets and a clear commitment.

Senator Phelan asked an important question with which the Minister of State did not deal, that is, what progress has been made to date on those two objectives? We will ask for the figures the next time we have this debate but I will also ask Mr. Fitzpatrick, when he comes to talk to Senator Phelan and others in January, to bring those figures. We are at least one third of the way in terms of the job savings but I cannot put a figure on the savings.

The last time we debated this I said it would provide more than €1 billion in savings, and that was before the Government said it. I reached that figure after some discussion with Mr. Fitzpatrick who did not want to put a figure on it for me because he is too honest a man. I said in the House that if it did not deliver more than €1 billion, the game was not worth the candle and that we would have to go in another direction.

The savings and the job reductions are two aspects but the third aspect are the efficiencies in terms of how business is done. I wish to restate some of the things on which the Minister of State touched. The first is the changes to the Garda rosters. I have been listening to people talk about trying to make changes to Garda rosters for ten years but this has now happened in two or three sectors of the Garda. What people said would never happen is now happening. That part of the implementation is being handled directly by Mr. Fitzpatrick. It is interesting to note he is getting down and dirty and is doing some of the work in some areas himself.

One of the most difficult areas in which to introduce change has been the prison regime. The Minister of State gave examples of two or three new prison areas which have been opened with brand new models of work practices within them. I cannot explain to anyone who has never been around a negotiating table what that means in terms of savings and how difficult it is to achieve. The fact it has been achieved is quite astonishing.

The education unions are negotiating a new contract. A new contract has never been negotiated for teachers and the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, will be well aware of that. They have agreed to the equivalent of two additional weeks teaching and that is being put into contracts. That is extraordinary movement by any standard.

The Minister of State dealt with the health targets. The movement of community welfare officers to a new section in the Civil Service was handled directly by Mr. Fitzpatrick, but I was told that would never happen. It is an extraordinary achievement to have done that. This is a huge leap forward for us.

I refer to bonuses which are an extraordinarily useful incentive in the public and private sectors. They have been brought into disrepute by being badly, or by not being, implemented or by being used as a way to give away money. It is very important that the Government does not rule out the use of bonus payments as long as there is a paper trail for every penny paid out, that it is always conditional on previously agreed targets and that it is proved that those targets have been delivered. That is what it is about. It is a positive thing which has been brought into disrepute but let us not throw the baby out with the bath water.

I compliment Mr. Fitzpatrick on the progress he has made in implementing the Croke Park agreement and I look forward to introducing him to Senator Phelan and a few others, perhaps over lunch. We will put the hard questions to him.

I remember the dark days of winter 2009 when discussions on the 12 days unpaid leave and so on broke down. The level of ill-will and distrust that existed at that time among those who had been negotiating with the Government and who thought they had an arrangement with it was palpable and it did not promise much success for the new year. I was absolutely delighted when I watched the process being reignited, a level of trust begin to be re-established and an agreement being concluded in the spring of this year. I saw it as a momentous occasion in which the public service agreed to some painful measures. Change is always painful but these were necessary measures. I paid due tribute at the time.

Recently when Mr. Kieran Mulvey addressed the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, he spoke about how the terms of implementation got off to a slow start. I believe he described the Croke Park agreement as taking the scenic route from April to June this year, and he was probably right. It meant there was a fair degree of incredulity as to whether the deal could ever work.

I suspect some of the momentum in terms of reimagining the public service came from that period. I really liked what Senator Phelan said about reimagining the public service. In a way, it is not possible to deal with it in the Croke Park agreement. I want to read a passage from the agreement to demonstrate that while new procedures and work efficiencies can be generated, none of it really touched a chord, about which Senator Mary White spoke and to which Senator Phelan referred when he spoke about reimagining government. The agreement states:

In order to maximise productivity gains, both from how work is organised and from streamlining procedures, processes and systems to allow for shared service in e-government developments, a substantial commitment to the redesign of work processes will be necessary. The Parties will co-operate with the drive to reduce costs through organisational rationalisation and restructuring . . . The aim is to minimise duplication of effort . . . through the introduction of new technologies . . . reuse data . . . Inter-operability and standardisation of specifications and systems . . . will be mandatory.

All of this is necessary. All of us who use the public service are aware of how many of these items need to be addressed urgently and they are being addressed.

I was very encouraged by the Minister of State's speech and his patent commitment to the Croke Park deal. I share that commitment and want to have the same confidence in it. The four year plan will make its implementation much more likely. The third quarter of 2011 is, effectively, a date with destiny because if the savings have not been generated by that date, cuts within the public service will have to be found to make up the difference. This will certainly focus minds and drive the change agenda.

The change agenda is detailed in the preliminary sentences of the Croke Park agreement. It is, however, a case of reimagining the public service, to borrow a phrase from Senator Phelan, which is very important. New ways of working and finance policies must be used. These may be found outside the terms of the agreement and perhaps the period following the next general election might be a time when much of the thinking will take place.

I regard the Croke Park agreement as being attendant to political reform. It is wise to learn from the trauma the country is experiencing and make changes. While I welcome much of what I heard from the Minister of State, there is a gathering of pace in implementation and dates such as the third quarter of 2011 will be crucial. While the four year plan will help to deliver the agenda, I do not see it generating the new public service the country needs, one that will borrow some of the passion and innovation by which the private sector lives or dies. Part of the reason might have to do with the fact that there are not too many consequences for failure.

Senator O'Toole spoke about reward for success and the bonus culture. I do not agree with him on that point with regard to the public service. If people are well rewarded for doing their job, that should be sufficient. The bonus culture has led to the most catastrophic failures in the private sector, the banks being the most obvious example. There need to be consequences for failure, but I do not see them. I would like to see a more passionate public service in the future.

I thank Members for scheduling time to deal with this important matter.

The Government and the leaders of the public service unions decided in March that, in order to boost our prospects of economic recovery and in the interests of those reliant on public services who would be affected by significant industrial action, an agreed way forward was best. The Croke Park agreement sets out the framework for the public service to change for the better in ways that public servants themselves wish. It also secured acceptance of the 14% average earnings reductions and reductions of up to 30% for top earners which the Government imposed across the public service, made up by the pensions levy and the pay reductions, and brought to an end the escalating industrial action which was beginning to have a serious impact on services, not least for Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

In the context of the national recovery plan and the budget, the Government has reaffirmed that it wants to comply with the commitments it gave in the Croke Park agreement but that it is critical that both sides deliver on the promise and potential of the agreement, namely, that significant change will be delivered in the public service to accommodate the reduction in public service numbers in a climate of industrial peace. The Government has indicated that it intends to secure a further saving in the public service pay bill of some €1.2 billion over the four years of the national recovery plan through reductions in numbers and other efficiencies, including those provided for in the agreement. This comes on top of the €1.8 billion in savings secured through the pension levy and the pay cuts imposed in 2009 and 2010.

The Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, has outlined that the reforms are happening. We now have fewer public servants and they are cheaper to provide, yet we are maintaining the same level of public services. The introduction of a general moratorium on recruitment and promotion, together with incentivised early retirement and career break schemes, with natural turnover of public servants who retire or leave, have led to a reduction in the number of public servants employed by approximately 12,000. The continued strict application of the frameworks across the public service will result in a further reduction in public service employee numbers up to 2014. To accommodate this reduction in numbers, work practices in the public service, ways of delivering services, new technologies and redeployment will all be required. The effective implementation of the Croke Park agreement and the efficiencies and other measures which will arise as a result will provide a sustainable framework to manage the provision and delivery of essential public services, despite the reductions in public service numbers in a period of unprecedented pressure on resources.

Senator Phelan has asked what has been achieved. The Minister of State listed a number of achievements. He also pointed out that we were not giving enough publicity to these achievements which will gather pace in the next few weeks and months. The Senator also queried why there was little reference in the Budget Statement to the Croke Park agreement. The Minister for Finance specifically highlighted that the Government was standing by its commitments to the agreement and noted that, if the Government was to be held to its commitments, the reductions specified had to be delivered.

Senator O'Toole referred to and praised by Mr. P. J. Fitzpatrick. I support the Senator in that regard. Mr. Fitzpatrick is delivering effectively in the role given to him and I will ensure the Senator's invitation is conveyed to him. I emphasise the role of delivering real change belongs to public service management and it is to these managers the Senators' attention should be directed. No matter how energetic he is, Mr. Fitzpatrick cannot do the work single-handedly. Public service management must step up its level of activity. The next test will be its response to the challenges posed by the national recovery plan and the revised action plans due in January. As other Senators noted, the review to be undertaken in the summer in advance of the third quarter of 2011 reports should help to focus minds.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.