In October 2012 the Government decided to accelerate the rate of headcount reduction in the public service, agreeing an end-2014 target of 282,500. Reaching this target will require a reduction of some 8,000, or just under 3%, from the serving numbers recorded at the end of 2012. At this point, the public service will be broadly the same size as it was in 2003-04. This planned level of public service numbers reduction should be understood in the context of the Government’s public service reform agenda. Of course, the need to reduce our unsustainable budget deficit is a factor in this and the headcount reduction will make an important contribution to reducing the cost of public services, but perhaps, more importantly, it is also about laying the foundations of a leaner, more efficient and integrated public service.
The size of the public service has reduced by about 10% since the peak of 2008. While this level of reduction has posed challenges across many areas, front-line services have been largely protected and, in parallel, there has been real and permanent reform of service delivery models to the benefit of citizens and businesses. The better use of new technologies, for example, has enabled enhanced access for the public to many services: over 400 public services are accessible via the Government’s central portal – www.gov.ie – with more to be added over time in line with the e-government strategy; the Department of Social Protection is enhancing its client operations with the introduction of a one-stop-shop, which will bring under one roof all of the services available to and in support of the unemployed; and the new public services card will facilitate easier access to Government services, with more than 150,000 cards now issued.
The Deputy asks about a cost benefit analysis. As he is aware, CBA is a specific technical evaluation tool for appraising the merits of individual expenditure programmes or capital projects. It weighs the cost of a proposal against the gains or benefits to the economy and-or society as a whole. CBA is designed as a tool to help inform decisions on whether to undertake a particular expenditure such as building a new road or introducing an employment subsidy scheme - it would not be an appropriate tool for looking at headcount reduction in the public service and would not usefully inform decisions in this regard.
As I have said, the reduction of numbers in the public service needs to be understood both in the context of the fiscal constraints and the programme of ongoing reform. The Government believes the public service has to be more efficient and deliver better services at a lower cost. This is what the economy as a whole needs to do: be more productive and, therefore, more competitive internationally. That is the only way to secure long-term economic growth, recover lost ground and improve the lives of the people.