Thursday, 18 April 2013

Ceisteanna (4)

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

4. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans for a further reduction of 7,500 in public service numbers by the end of 2014; if he intends to publish a detailed cost-benefit analysis of his proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18031/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (11 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

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.

It is good that the Minister has said he wishes, as a member of the Labour Party, to reduce public service numbers by a further 8,000 before the end of next year. That is a net reduction and it should be noted that teachers and many others who leave the public service will have to be replaced. The target of further reducing the number of jobs in the public service by 8,000 was originally set for 2015. I am surprised by the Minister's statement that he announced last October his intention to bring forward the target by 12 months. I do not recall that announcement, which he has just confirmed, being made.

The Minister referred to a targeted redundancy programme introduced some months ago to reduce public sector headcount by 5,000. The Labour Relations Commission's document about which we have spoken refers to a further headcount reduction of between 2,000 and 2,500, bringing the total to 8,000.

I ask the Deputy to frame a question, please.

I ask the Minister to reconsider his position on carrying out a cost-benefit analysis. I have never heard of another case of a company or body that was about to incur costs arising from a major redundancy programme refusing to consider carrying out a cost-benefit analysis. Every company and organisation that lays off staff estimates what will be the cost of the redundancy programme versus the projected savings. The Minister has stated one can only carry out such cost-benefit analyses for road building and other capital projects. I have never heard anyone else make a similar statement. I ask him to do the public service a favour by asking the person who wrote his reply to learn something about economics.

On occasion I have heard the Deputy and members of his party state there are too many administrators in the Health Service Executive. This arose because a superstructure was placed on top of the old health board system when the HSE was established. Most believe there is scope for de-manning in the HSE, which has identified 1,500 positions that could be eliminated. Over-manning has also been identified in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which has identified 300 positions, and a number of other areas.

The notion that it is good to keep people artificially employed runs counter to the need to have efficient public services. People want to ensure they get value for money. The Government has determined that there will not be compulsory redundancies and I hope we will yet have an agreement that will protect this determination. However, this may not be possible. We need to reach the target numbers by being more efficient. We have achieved a great deal in recent years, including a large number of efficiencies, as is manifest in our ability to protect front-line services with fewer people doing different things. Every company in the country is doing this, as it seeks to become more efficient. We are using new technologies to deliver public services. There appears to be a notion that the public service should be moribund, get caught in a warp or refuse to use new technologies, shared services or have online access to services.

For example, anyone who wishes to tax his or her car does so online rather than by filling out a form and making a payment at his or her local authority office. Some 400 services are available online now and even more are going to come on stream. This is the way forward.

Is it not ironic that the Minister is referring to changes he has made since he entered office in the context of the reduction in numbers, payroll costs, etc.? Will he identify one single action he has taken in this area since he became Minister? Last year he referred to cutting allowances, but the move in that regard was an utter failure. This year he has come forward with the proposal to which my question relates, but that has now gone up in smoke. Nothing he has announced has ever come to pass. In fact, the reductions to which he refers came about as a result of tough decisions taken by Fianna Fáil when it was in government. The current Administration has not introduced a targeted redundancy programme since it came to office. It has not introduced any reforms but has instead issued press releases.

Does the Deputy intend to ask a question?

Does the Minister not think it ironic that he is claiming credit for things for which he had no responsibility?

The Deputy is on very thin ice altogether if he is seeking to claim credit or responsibility for certain things. He spends most of his time denying that the previous Administration - which ruined our country-----

-----and handed over to us an economy on the verge of bankruptcy and in the control of the troika - was responsible for anything. If he wants to lay claim on the great successes of that Administration, then the Deputy is skating on very thin ice.

The current Government established the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform. In November 2011 we published an entire reform programme containing more than 200 actions, each with its own indicative timeline. All of those actions are being rolled out. Deputy Sean Fleming should consider PeoplePoint and other shared services. This week the Cabinet has decided - an announcement in this regard will be made shortly - to introduce centralised payroll systems and so on. We are also examining the position with regard to centralised banking. The Deputy should visit my Department's website, where he can read about all the proposals - with timelines - we are rolling out in order to fundamentally alter the public service. The latter will become manifest in the coming years.