Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (106)

Pa Daly


106. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the additional budgetary amounts that have been assigned to facilitate working from home or flexible working hours across the Civil Service. [26341/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

Given that we will be dealing Covid-19 on an ongoing basis, what additional budgetary amounts have been assigned to facilitate working from home or flexible working hours across the Civil Service?

The Deputy has waited patiently to contribute. The response to the Covid-19 crisis was swift, with many civil and public servants transitioning to working from home at very short notice. This was an unprecedented action but it was entirely necessary to ensure the health and well-being of staff across the system was protected as best we could.

Most Departments and offices, including my Department, would have had remote access solutions or systems in place and issued mobile devices such as laptops and tablets before the pandemic. In my Department, approximately 97% of staff are enabled to work from home, with most of the other client organisations of the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer at between 80% to 95% staff remote working coverage.

No additional expenditure allocations have been provided to Departments to facilitate working from home arrangements or flexible working hours across the Civil Service in response to Covid-19. Any additional funding incurred by Departments, including in respect of information technology resources required, is to be met from within existing resources, and they have done so. The management of resources in this regard is a matter for each individual Department and Minister.

With regard to my Department specifically, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, which is an office of the Department, has spent €267,000 to date on capital equipment for the Department, including for itself, from its Vote. The vast majority of this expenditure relates to facilitating staff to work remotely through the purchase of information technology equipment. This cost is being met internally through existing capital budgets by reprioritising expenditure. My Department has also spent €22,000 on remote working equipment from its own Vote to date.

I thank the Minister for the reply. Coming from a rural county, I am excited by the possibilities afforded by remote working to a place like Kerry. As I said, we will be dealing with Covid-19 for a long time.

I have a concern about contacting some Departments, although none of these is the Minister's Department. There is a difficulty in our office getting through to some Departments. When we got through to one we were told it was like a ghost town and when calls were transferred, nobody answered the phone. There is nothing on the websites to indicate that phones are not being answered and that only emails will be responded to. I wonder if extra facilities or staffing can be put in place to ensure the same level of service is maintained across all Departments. For example, staff in a school in Kerry contacted the Department to try to find out what was happening with broadband and were advised to contact their local representative. The staff did that somewhat reluctantly, unfortunately.

I thank the Deputy and agree with his initial point. Remote working brings certain opportunities for the regions and for individuals it may open career opportunities that people thought may not be possible. A degree of remote working is here to stay and we must think about what is the right balance both for the employer, the public servant and the public services being provided. There is also the issue of cities if large numbers of people are not based in or working in them.

I will take up the matter of maintaining public services as we must ensure, insofar as it is possible, that services are maintained even in the extraordinary circumstances in which we work. If phone calls are systematically not being answered, I will look into the matter.

Question No. 107 is in the name of Deputy Pearse Doherty but we do not appear to have a request to transfer the question to Deputy Farrell. On that basis, I reluctantly must pass over the question.

Question No. 107 replied to with Written Answers.