Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

1 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date by the National Economic and Social Development Office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31079/03]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the proposed work of the National Economic and Social Council during 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1021/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

3 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the costs which have accrued to his Department in respect of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1043/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent work of the National Economic and Social Development Office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1044/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

5 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance. [1576/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

6 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the National Economic and Social Development Office. [1577/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

7 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent work of the National Economic and Social Development Office. [1843/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (34 contributions) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

The National Economic and Social Development Office, NESDO, comprises the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, the National Economic and Social Forum, NESF, and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, NCPP. Legislation underpinning the establishment of NESDO has completed Second Stage in the Dáil and, when enacted, will place the three bodies on a statutory basis as part of the office.

The primary role of NESDO is to add value to the work of its constituent bodies by creating the conditions under which synergies can be released, joint projects pursued and the potential for duplication minimised. The office promotes the development of a shared vision for realising these goals and encouraging the constituent bodies to maximise their efforts through collaborative policy development initiatives.

Over the past year, NESDO has overseen the provision of new accommodation for its constituent bodies in Parnell Square. All the staff of these bodies are for the first time located in one building. Not only does this facilitate the sharing by the three bodies of administrative costs and overheads, but also the sharing of knowledge and ideas and the devising of complementary work programmes. This was particularly evident during the preparation of work on the recent NESC report, An Investment in Quality: Services, Inclusion and Enterprise — No. 110. Both the NESF and NCPP had a considerable input into the drafting of the report. Another example of this type of co-operation between the constituent bodies was evident over the past two months when the NCPP linked with the NESC and NESF in developing teams for each of the panels on the Forum on the Workplace of the Future.

NESDO has also produced its policies and procedures statement, which defines the functions and responsibilities of NESDO regarding its constituent bodies, outlines its financial and human resources policies and procedures as well as its customer service principles. The statement is currently being circulated to all staff for their observations before formal adoption by the board of NESDO.

On the NCPP specifically, the centre was established to bring about change and improved performance in both the private and public sectors, through partnership in the workplace. It is doing this firstly by developing models of good practice in the area of partnership and improved performance. Examples of the centre's work under this heading include: the publication of case studies of good practice in the private sector, which will be followed shortly by the publication of similar studies in the Civil Service; a conference last November on best practice in the area of information and consultation within organisations, which, again, will be followed by the publication of case studies covering both the public and private sectors; and ongoing work on the development of guidelines on innovative forms of employee financial involvement.

A second strand of the centre's work is the development of practical supports for those involved in managing change through partnership. Examples of the centre's work in this area include: the preparation, in association with IBEC and ICTU, of two training modules on developing partnership and on joint problem solving, for publication later this month; the development and promotion of a competency framework identifying the behaviours, attitudes and skills necessary for the effective management of change through partnership; and the establishment of an interactive facility on the centre's website designed to educate and inform those interested in improving performance through partnership.

As a third strand of its work, the centre is in the business of promoting partnership and performance. Activities in this area include: the recent publication of a major review of the international experience of partnership, highlighting its value as a positive force for change; and the centre's ongoing work both with its Strategic Alliance Network, consisting of Departments and agencies concerned with workplace issues and with the Research Advisory Panel, which is a national network of leading Irish researchers in relevant disciplines.

The fourth strand of the centre's work is to further develop our overall thinking on how workplaces can best adapt to competitive pressures, improve the delivery of services, and respond to the changing needs of employees. It is doing this through the recently established Forum on the Workplace of the Future, which the centre both services and oversees. The forum is the main focus of the centre's work at present. Its opening plenary session was held in Dublin Castle on 6 and 7 October and four expert panels which were established to support it have held a number of meetings, most recently on 9 December. The forum and panels are to meet next week on 5 and 6 February and the forum is scheduled to report this autumn.

To assist in the work of the forum, a consultation paper was published in July and a major survey was commissioned on employer and employee attitudes and experiences. The paper and preliminary survey results are available on the centre's website, together with the centre's other publications. Over the next few months, the centre will publish the key themes and trends from the survey. The costs which have accrued to my Department since the centre's establishment in 2001 to date are just over €2.26 million.

On the NESC, Deputies will be aware that a new council has recently been appointed by Government, and it will continue the work on housing policy begun by the previous council. In the coming months the council will determine the remainder of its work programme for 2004, which will be done in co-operation with the two other bodies, namely, the NESF and the NCPP.

During the Irish Presidency of the European Union, NESC and the European Economic and Social Committee, EESC, are jointly organising a conference entitled, Public Services: The Role of Civil Dialogue in Provision of Quality Economic and Social Services. The conference will take place in Dublin Castle on 6 and 7 April. The conference is motivated by two challenges facing the provision of economic and social services in the European Union: the challenge of internationalisation, arising from European integration and globalisation; and the challenge of complexity, arising from the need for high-quality services tailored to citizens' needs and provided from constrained public revenues. The purpose of the conference is to consider the role of the economic and social councils, the social partners and the other components of organised civil society in addressing these challenges.

I am grateful to the Taoiseach for the long answer and I promise I will not put this question down again for at least six months. The Taoiseach will not have to read any script during his time as President that will beat that. I hope he knows what it means because I do not. The Taoiseach told us, "The primary role of NESDO is to add value to the work of its constituent bodies by creating the conditions under which synergies can be released." Can the Taoiseach give us an idea what that means? For example, would it apply in the case of Aer Rianta or Dublin Bus? Would there not be a role for all this partnership, cohabitation and assistance in those companies? Sometimes one gets the impression that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, gives the same amount of thought to policy initiatives in transport areas——

A question, please, Deputy.

——as Britney Spears does to marriage. The Ceann Comhairle should time his interventions more appropriately. Believe it or not, this is absolutely pertinent to the question. What is the practical application of all this bureaucratic gibberish that we listened to for the first 11 minutes of Question Time?

I hope Deputy Rabbitte is not saying that the three organisations that make up NESDO are involved in bureaucratic nonsense. They all play an extremely useful role — I will not remind him who runs the three organisations.

I would not write that answer.

They do extremely good work that is clearly focused on what they are endeavouring to do, to organise best practice and disseminate best knowledge on how good partnership, change and adaptation to change works across the public and private sectors. All the work NESDO does helps to improve both industrial relations and change management, and is relevant to all organisations because all organisations are involved. NESC works on the strategic analysis of what we do in much of our public policy, NESF works on the social dimensions and the NCPP works on deriving best practice, based on research in other countries and case studies in Irish industry. All three function well together with a small number of staff to assist the public and private sectors. I know Deputy Rabbitte does not mean it, but they do an extremely good job. If there are faults in the system, no one in the three organisations can be blamed for them. I gave a long answer because they have been criticised in reports about what they have been doing recently and those involved are anxious that we show the good work they are doing.

Returning to the practical application in the sundered industrial relations in Aer Rianta and the unilateral imposition of change management in various areas of the public sector, I am at a loss to understand how the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, are in keeping with the long answer the Taoiseach read out. They seem to believe in the unilateral imposition of change.

Will the Taoiseach clarify the purpose of the NESDO umbrella? He published with great fanfare recently a "less red tape" document on regulation. The fanfare and trumpets were to signal the message that red tape was being cut back. How is this cutting back on red tape? Is the NESC still going to exist, quite distinctively and separately? Are the NESF and NCPP going to remain in separate existence? Is there any amalgamation of staff? Is the number of staff employed under the single organisation less than the number employed under the three? Do the three continue to have a separate existence? What is the point of NESDO? We are trying to establish the practical application in terms of this initiative and how it is in keeping with the Taoiseach's stated commitment to the minimisation of red tape.

It is saving money. The NESC has seven people, the NESF has six and the NCPP has nine. One person has a dual role in NESDO. The director of the NESC is included in both sets of figures. He is also chief executive officer of NESDO, so that is essentially the co-ordinating body for administrative purposes. There is a saving. The budget for 2003 was less than 2002, so not only have efficiencies been achieved from the fact that the three bodies are in the one place, but money has been saved in real terms. The figure saved is 8%. This year their Estimate will be increased because they received an allocation for their major project — into which they have put enormous effort — the Forum for the Workplace of the Future. They have generated a vast amount of interest in that regard across the public and private sectors. Members of Deputy Rabbitte's party were at the launch of one aspect of the project earlier last year and again in October.

The priority of NESDO for the coming year is to promote the complementary programmes of research analysis and discussion by the three organisations that are already there. NESC has been in existence for about 30 years and the NESF for about 12 years. The NCPP is a more recent organisation. They will continue to provide shared administration and support services for the three bodies to obtain the best value for money. Each is a small organisation. I have given the number as 24 for the three bodies. They are giving value for money and making a contribution to those who engage with them, because there is a cross-over between the social and reporting objectives as carried out by the NESDO. The fact that they are working together and co-ordinating is good. All of the social partners and others who deal with them believe this is an effective process and it was widely welcomed in the House when the Bill was introduced.

Will the Taoiseach outline the case studies to be published this year to which he referred? Following Deputy Rabbitte's question on the practical implementation of the verbiage surrounding these bodies, the National Centre for Partnership and Performance was established to support and drive change in the Irish workplace. That was designed to enable public and private partnerships to respond to change, to build capability and to improve performance. In the case referred to, it seems as if the Minister for Transport, in sending a detailed letter to the president of SIPTU, has taken unto himself all change and all partnership. In respect of the practical implementation as regards the consumer, the customer and the ordinary person, how does the Taoiseach see these bodies being able to do the job for which they were set up when Ministers send letters of comfort or letters of assumption of job stability, thereby creating confusion and conflict within workers in various semi-State bodies? Is the Taoiseach happy that the remit of the bodies referred to is working in terms of practical results and consequences for the average person on the street?

I do. The three organisations, two of which have been in existence for a long time, are fulfilling their roles. NESC has been compiling reports for almost 30 years but that does not mean everybody has always agreed with them. The NESF has been doing a good job and there has been active participation by Members of this House in its work for the past 12 years. The National Centre for Partnership and Performance is highlighting best practice. There has been enormous change and many issues have been resolved through their advice and work. There will always be difficulties. These organisations are not in the business of changing the entire industrial relations structure but they can significantly help in the efforts towards change. I could outline numerous reports and work undertaken by these organisations but I do not think that is necessary because Members are aware of them. Many of the publications issued by them illustrate the work they are doing.

These organisations are modernising our workplaces, delivering more competitive and social visions and achieving higher performance in partnership works in the public service. They have provided effective learning and training programmes through the Civil Service conference and are involved in a great deal of work involving management, employers and unions. All those involved in the three organisations are fulfilling their roles and doing good work. Since the organisations came together the executive chairperson has done an excellent job and is highly thought of by employers and workers.

It is with some regret that I ask the Taoiseach if he agrees that the National Centre for Partnership and Performance is but an expensive talking shop? Is it not the case that this is a departmental quango that justifies itself through the publication of occasional bulletins and through creating meetings for the sake of creating meetings? What product does the centre produce; what is the outcome of its work?

The Department of the Taoiseach suggests the centre has an important role to play in supporting and facilitating organisational change based on partnership in the public and private sectors. We are told the overall aim is to improve performance and to provide better public services and so on. Would the Taoiseach not agree that in this the 21st century, all these objectives could be achieved through two important and simple measures: the recognition of the right of employees to trade union membership; and the requirement on employers to recognise trade unions as the negotiating team of workers for workers' interests? These are the critical changes needed. Will the Taoiseach accept that it is outrageous that workers' rights in terms of trade union membership and the recognition of trade unions——

The Deputy is wandering from the questions submitted.

No, I am not. This is a substantive area which this body has been established to address.

The Deputy is wandering from the substance of the questions.

Sadly, I wish that were the case, but it is not. I am dealing with what is at the core of this matter. Looking ahead, are these the workplaces of the future where workers' rights are not recognised and the right of trade unions to represent employees is denied?

The National Economic and Social Forum, which is now part of the NESDO, produced a very damning report in 2002 on equity of access to hospital care. I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the outcome of the work of the NESF and the NESDO. The report made a strong case for the evaluation of the waiting list initiative. What has been done, for example, in regard to that recommendation, given that it is now January 2004?

The Deputy should submit his question to the Minister for Health and Children.

The collective aim of my question is to stir some attention and interest in all this. These bodies are not being given the opportunity to make an effective contribution——

The Deputy is making a statement. He should allow the Taoiseach to reply.

——because the Government refuses to implement any of their recommendations. That is the core of the problem.

For about the past 30 years the NESC has prepared the reports upon which social partnership has been based for the past 17 years and has done more than anyone else to influence the key policies of successive Governments in that time. The current report addresses very effectively housing issues. Were any of the reports to be examined it would be seen that they have influenced thinking in Departments, at the Cabinet table and in society. They have driven the approach to many social, economic and environmental issues.

For the past 12 years, NESF has driven social issues such as unemployment. It was set up to deal with such issues at a time when we had the highest level of unemployment in the history of the State, approximately 360,000 people. A great many Members of the Oireachtas are involved in the organisation, therefore, it is not necessary for me to outline its work because Members are familiar with it.

The NCPP works to help the process of change, moving away from a time when everything ended up with industrial disputes and management made decisions without the involvement of workers. It has followed good case studies and carried out excellent work in recent years. The NCPP is a successor to a group which was in place for the previous six or seven years. The body has done outstanding work.

I will not do so but I could list two pages of major public and private companies with which the organisation has worked. I will list the first half dozen companies to demonstrate the extent of its involvement: Abbott plc, Allianz, Allied Irish Banks, Aughinish Alumina, Bausch and Lomb, Beaumont Hospital and Cavan County Council. The NCPP engaged with these companies to bring to the organisations best industrial relations and change practice. It is significantly involved in driving this change.

I understand why my officials supplied me with such a long reply — they felt Deputies were not aware of the purpose or value of the organisations, and that is clear now. The collective work of these organisations, the experience of the people behind them and the executive chairpersons' effort is enormous. The system is also cost-effective since the organisations were already in place and have come together with a small staff. They are not trying to solve the industrial relations problems of the entire country — other agencies are in place to do so — but to force the process of change, and they are doing so very well.

Any of the reports which the organisations have prepared, including those to which Deputy Ó Caoláin referred, will go to the relevant Departments for action.

Why then will the Government not legislate?

That happens in an effective manner.

Given that the National Economic and Social Development office incorporates the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, is the Taoiseach aware that the director of that centre said last year that there is growing evidence that involving and empowering employees through partnership builds trust and good relations? Does the Taoiseach agree that the word "partnership" for the Government is similar to the word "sustainability", rather like nylon stockings that can be stretched to fit all sizes and occasions, even to make a balaclava behind which the identity and purpose can be hidden? How does he reconcile his commitment to partnership and that of these organisations with the actions and policy of his Ministers which are directly contrary to such commitment, whether they be the bullying of prison officers by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the bullying of transport workers by the Minister for Transport?

In particular, what confidence can workers have in the Government in the context of what the Taoiseach states is his commitment to partnership——

These questions relate to two agencies. The Deputy should ask a supplementary question appropriate to the seven questions tabled.

What confidence can workers have in the aims of these organisations when, for example, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources blatantly reneged on an agreement with post office workers that was signed, sealed and delivered in regard to the employee shared ownership? I must come down to the specifics because we want to hear——

Supplementary questions must be related to the questions tabled.

As long as the Taoiseach is allowed to give rambling replies and use generalities and synergies and so on which are in contrast to the policies enacted by his Ministers, we will not obtain the information we need. I have asked a valid question as to how the policies of the Government, especially that of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources regarding post office workers, sit with what the Taoiseach stated in his opening reply?

The Deputy should table a question to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on that issue.

If Deputy Joe Higgins looked at the questions being discussed, he would see that I answer the questions I am asked. Good partnership arrangements, as enunciated by these agencies, should be followed. That does not mean that there will not occasionally be friction about implementing policy or trying to organise change. That is inevitable but it should be done on the best basis. Information should be exchanged and there should be proper dialogue because people should try to work out issues together. That is the Government's policy.

The Taoiseach stated that, if there are faults in the system, they do not relate to the three organisations. Those of us who see the Government as a problem agree with that statement. Is the Taoiseach teaching the National Economic and Social Council a lesson in coping with competitive pressure by reducing its funding? Is that an effort to get the council to see how far it can stretch its resources or is it a diminution of its significance and a Government message in that regard?

Regarding recommendations made by agencies such as the NESC, can the Taoiseach instance a recommendation that has been implemented and one that has not? Does he agree that the attitude of the Government to recommendations generally from the NESC is similar to the popular attitude to the Bible? Whatever measures suit thestatus quo are implemented and those that bring about equity and sustainabilty but upset a few vested interests, such as the NESC's recommendation to introduce more carbon taxes rather than labour taxes, are seen as too difficult for the Government to act on. However, given that it was an NESC recommendation, does this indicate the Government is picking and choosing and not taking the council seriously?

When Deputy Rabbitte asked if there was cost effectiveness, I answered that there was a saving of 8.3%. Combining the three organisations made a saving.

The agreements reached in all the NESC reports of the past 17 years, but especially the last five or six on social partnership, have formed the basis for the implementation of policy. The reports were, by and large, accepted almost whole in partnership discussions. That happened with the most recent agreement, Sustaining Progress. Recently, when I attended the 30th anniversary of the NESC, it was pointed out that the council had advocated the tax credit system at the same time as the Commission on Taxation did so. Many of the council's policies have been implemented.

But not carbon tax.

That has not been dealt with yet but that does not mean that there are some policies which will be dealt with in the future. They do not go away.