Thursday, 14 November 2019

Ceisteanna (8)

Thomas P. Broughan


8. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the estimated expenditure savings in 2019 and 2020 from the operation of the National Shared Services Office, NSSO; his plans in this regard for financial shared services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46786/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

The National Shared Services Office, NSSO, has been up and running as an independent agency for the last couple of years. We were all very positively disposed to the legislation setting it up as it was piloted by the Minister through the House. I ask the Minister to provide an update on the kinds of savings and efficiencies gained from the establishment of the NSSO. The office is funded through Vote 18. Is its chief executive at Secretary General rank? How many staff are employed by the NSSO and where are they based? Are they mainly in Dublin or are they all over the country?

I will begin by answering the first question posed by Deputy Broughan on the savings achieved. As he said himself, the NSSO provides human resources, pension and payroll services to our Civil Service. I am advised by the office that the estimated savings for 2019 were €8.7 million, of which €7.6 million derives from the shared delivery of human resources services across all parts of our Civil Service and €1.1 million from the shared delivery of payroll services. The target figure for savings in 2020 is €9.7 million.

The Deputy asked about the number of people working in the NSSO. I will have to check if I have the exact figure here but I know that it is many hundreds of people. The NSSO has one office located here in Dublin and another significant office in Tullamore. I have visited both offices, where many hundreds of staff are located, with the greater number located in Dublin. I will have to revert to the Deputy on the rank of the chief executive of the NSSO but my recollection is that it is at least at the level of assistant secretary general.

The last figure that I saw for staff numbers was either 750 or 755 across both offices. I believe it was the 2017 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, as discussed at the Committee of Public Accounts, which detailed approximately €50 million of spending on the establishment of the NSSO. In the context of savings or efficiencies, would that be included as part of the overall budget or is it spread across the Civil Service? The office looks after shared services for approximately 127,000 civil servants. Is there good, up to date information available through the office on basic payroll issues, pension entitlements, sick leave, absenteeism, efficiencies and so on? Does the Minister receive a flow of information from the NSSO on all of that? How does the office perform when benchmarked against longer-established equivalents in the UK and Germany?

I will answer the Deputy's last question first, if I may. We will need to do a benchmarking exercise to compare where we are vis-à-vis other European countries. However, my sense is that we need to wait a little bit longer before doing so. The NSSO is still a relatively new organisation. While much of the work that needs to be done in terms of the movement of staff and so on is complete, the office is still young. That said, we will need to do a benchmarking exercise to compare it with peer organisations in the EU.

The Deputy asked about the data flows that are available to me from the office. The office updates me on where we are and the progress being made. In the area of overpayments, for example, on which we want to make more progress, I note that at the end of 2018 there were 2,458 pay-related overpayment cases. That figure now stands at 2,259 outstanding cases. I am informed that the expectation is that by the end of this year, there will be an 8% reduction in such incidents. I get a full set of figures from the office once a year in the context of the preparation of its annual report.

The list of organisations covered by the NSSO is very impressive and includes all Government Departments, the Road Safety Authority, the Ordnance Survey Office, the Courts Service and so on. One big area where the office does not provide shared services is in health. I am not sure about teaching but it is certainly not involved in the health sector or the provision of shared services to that sector's 120,000 employees. The office is responsible for strategic workforce planning. In that context, would it have an input into the HSE's decisions on the number of workers being recruited this year or in 2020? In actual fact, very few staff were recruited this year because of the embargo in the HSE. Does the NSSO have a real role in strategic workforce planning? What is its role in terms of procurement? We have just heard a debate between the Minister and Deputy Pearse Doherty on procurement and I echo the latter's concerns about the national broadband plan, the national children's hospital and so on. Does the NSSO have any role to play in this area, given that it is handling common procurement for all of the Departments?

The office does not play any significant role in procurement beyond the procurement processes in which it is involved itself. In terms of expansion into the HSE, it will be some time before such a process begins, given the number of people that the HSE employs

Does the Minister anticipate that it will happen?

We have yet to make a decision on it. My hope is that once we ensure that the work of the NSSO is successful and grows, there will be an opportunity to look at that question in the future. However, there are 90,000 to 100,000 people working in the HSE at the moment and it would be a very big decision to replicate what they do, given the huge number of payment systems that are already in place in the HSE. It is something that we will look at but I have not made a final decision on it. Indeed, I have not even seriously looked at the business case for it yet.

To give the Deputy a sense of what is under way, we are now completing the work of replacing 31 different systems with a single finance system for Government. It is a huge project and the NSSO does not play any role in individual recruitment decisions.