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Ceisteanna – Questions. - Strategic Management Initiative.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 9. Mr. Rabbitte Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the progress made to date by the SMI implementation group of secretaries in regard to the development of a new vision statement, strategy and action programme for the modernisation of the Civil Service as set out in the Tenth Progress Report of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22456/02]

 10. Mr. Kenny Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  if he will report on the recent work of the National Centre for Partnership and Performance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23283/02]

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.

An independent evaluation of the progress of the change and modernisation programme in the Civil Service was completed by PA Consulting in March 2002. The evaluation concluded that the Civil Service is a more effective organisation than it was a decade ago and that much of this change can be attributed to the Strategic Management Initiative. However, the evaluation also concluded that implementation of the modernisation programme is not yet complete and that further progress is required in all key components of the process.

The Government noted the evaluation and asked the implementation group of Secretaries [868] General to oversee the development of a new vision statement, strategy and action plan for the modernisation of the Civil Service up to 2007 in response to the findings and recommendations of the evaluation.

The steering group of assistant secretaries, which oversaw the evaluation process, has been asked by the implementation group to prepare a draft of this new vision statement, strategy and action plan. In parallel with the preparation of this draft, the implementation group is pursuing specific developments in the areas of human resources, information technology, customer service, financial management and communications. These will be reflected in an integrated action plan to guide the modernisation of the Civil Service over the medium term. The steering group has commenced its work in drawing together the work in each of these areas and I expect that a draft will be submitted to the implementation group, and subsequently to the Government, early in 2003.

In addition, the work of the implementation group is being reflected in the management approach to the discussions with the trade unions on modernisation of the Civil Service arising from the report of the benchmarking body.

Of course, one of the key ways to deliver change and improved performance in public and private sector organisations is through partnership. The National Centre for Partnership and Performance has a key role to play in this regard. The overall objective of the centre is to provide strategic support for organisational change and improved performance in both private and public sector organisations. The strategic priorities guiding the centre's work are set out in its strategy and operational plan for 2002 to 2005, which was published in March of this year following an intensive process of consultation. Over the last year, the centre's activities have been directed at the priority areas identified in this strategic plan. These include disseminating good practice and providing practical support for organisational change; research and policy development; support for training and facilitation; campaigning for change through partnership; and auditing partnership activities in key sectors.

In providing practical support for organisations and companies involved in change through partnership, the centre published guidelines for the private sector in July and is currently preparing similar guidelines for the public sector. It is also working closely with key sectors in repositioning partnership around the major change agendas. For example, it hosted a national seminar in October for the health sector on the implementation of the health strategy through partnership and has prepared a report for the Minister outlining key recommendations for the way forward. In addition the centre is developing a number of tools such as a competency framework for those involved in managing change through partnership.

In the area of policy development, the centre is currently working with IBEC and ICTU [869] developing guidelines on employee financial involvement and new forms of financial reward. The centre has recently been contracted by the EU Commission to conduct research on innovative ways of providing for information and consultation within organisations. Preparatory work on the establishment of a forum on the workplace of the future is well advanced, in line with An Agreed Programme for Government. Among the many other activities of the centre are the development of an interactive website facility to assist organisations in undertaking change; the publication of information bulletins; a joint project with FÁS to help implement a learning strategy in public and private sector organisations; and the development of a public sector partnership network to promote shared learning.

The centre has a high level council and has also established two key national structures to drive its ambitious programme forward. First, the National Research Advisory Panel, comprising 23 research institutions, advises the centre on its wide-ranging research programme. Second, the Network of Strategic Alliance Partners has been established to co-ordinate the efforts of key Government agencies and Departments at national level to bring improved performance through partnership.

Details of these and the other activities of the NCPP are available on the centre's website. I believe that its work to date has now placed the centre in a position to make a real contribution to organisational change over the coming years.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Through no fault of anyone here Taoiseach's Question Time sometimes becomes very boring. When we discuss the strategic management initiative it becomes seriously so. Is the Taoiseach at all persuaded that SMI is making a major tangible difference in the Civil Service? Apart from what he has just read out could he list three tangible things that are done differently and better in the Civil Service as a result of SMI? Is the PA Consulting report in the public domain?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It is.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I confess I have not read it. I may do so at Christmas time.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is summer time reading.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte In the meantime could the Taoiseach tell us what is in it?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I would not inflict the report on Deputy Rabbitte for his Christmas reading.

I accept that much of the strategic management initiative makes heavy weather. I have been answering questions on it long enough to see that.

One of the things I did as part of the PA survey last year was to try to improve alignment between SMI and the political process so that we would have some meaningful input into it.

I have identified a number of areas of successful reform. For example, the use of Cabinet com[870] mittees and the submission of strategy statements to Ministers have worked well in Departments. This time around whole Departments are involved with regard to what they are doing and how they might do it better. The process is engaging civil servants. It is not perfect but the aims and objectives are being looked at and people are involved at all levels, not just the senior half a dozen or dozen people involved, which is a good thing. If Departments are to have business plans because of the SMI process, it is good. Secondly, the way in which the public is dealt with has changed dramatically. The customer service initiatives in the Departments, not only in terms of their websites but in how they deal with the public, are also good. Thirdly, the fact that on this occasion the modernisation process was linked directly to pay gave people an incentive to try to make things change and improve things.

The last 4% pay increase was directly related to the process, which makes people interested in achieving things. The monitoring of that has still to happen, as I pointed out. An awful lot has to be done in determining how work is rewarded and ensuring that everyone is not rewarded regardless of performance. Deputy Rabbitte will be very familiar with how that process works, but I still think more could be done.

If the SMI – which is now ten years in operation – is to be successful, it has to keep changing. The technology in Departments has changed dramatically in the past ten years. Perhaps this would have happened to a considerable extent without SMI, but the level of IT in all Departments has increased so much that it allows for new opportunities and new ways forward.

It must be remembered that the entire benchmarking report is linked to modernisation going forward and the involvement of people, not only in the Civil Service. The PA Consulting report was just about the Civil Service. There are other aspects of health and education that require another day's work.

A large part of what the PA Consulting report said, in a critical way, concerned the financial management systems. It put a lot of work and effort into how Departments work the financial management systems. It will take a good few years just to improve financial management and human resource management in Departments. The report was quite critical in this regard. It is the big challenge for now and probably for the next five years.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Has any consideration been given to locating middle-ranking civil servants in the private sector for a period and – heresy of heresies –vice versa, as Fluther Good would say, in terms of locating people with private sector experience in the Civil Service?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern That is permitted. I do not know if the exchange mechanism came in under an early part of SMI or not, but civil servants can [871] work in outside agencies or some people from outside agencies can work in the Civil Service. It is not done much. I cannot tell what number of people is involved in it, but it is permitted—

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte It is negligible.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I agree, I think it is very small. I have been at some of the conferences of the people who work on the SMI with Departments and I know some of Deputy Rabbitte's own party's backbenchers attend some of them because they tend to be open conferences. I readily admit that it is heavy weather, and the only way that the staff and others will see benefits is if they feel they have a say in what their Department is doing and if their input is linked to pay. If staff feel they cannot move within the system they will not benefit from the initiatives of the SMI and National Centre for Partnership and Performance. The centre is considering the position in other countries and the private sector. Its agenda will drive new ideas, which will be useful.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There are parallels here with the better local government initiative. On the one hand there are repeated conferences and seminars concerned with how these initiatives should be managed effectively in the public interest, yet on the other hand, decision makers within the Civil Service or local authorities are very hard to find because of their attendance at seminars, conferences and courses. As a consequence there is a huge backlog of work in local authorities and Departments.

Will the Taoiseach indicate the position regarding the ongoing projects undertaken by the National Centre for Partnership and Performance? For example, what is meant by the learning for monitoring project? The centre is also involved in the compilation of a database of case studies of good practice in organisational change. Will the Taoiseach elaborate on what is involved in this and will he confirm that the centre's budget will allow both of these projects to be concluded and, if so, will he indicate what the conclusion might entail?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The NCPP is engaged in an enormous amount of work, much of which is centred on the use of seminars and best practice. I have had the pleasure of opening a number of seminars within the Civil Service. I appreciate Deputy Kenny's concerns about the difficulty in contacting decision makers who may be attending conferences and seminars.

Last March the NCPP launched its operational programme and last July it set out its plans and a way for working for partnership guidance for a unionised commercial sector, which has been useful for trade unions and management. Last October it conducted a health sector seminar which considered the implications of the national health strategy for the partnership process. It has [872] driven much of the seminar's programme on the ground in the health area.

The centre has an ongoing bulletin and the database on best practice, to which the Deputy referred, has been established. In addition, the centre has conducted a number of focus groups covering different staff elements. The forum on the workplace of the future, which is a critical component in the attempt to align workplaces with the competitive vision of the country, seeks to help workers to see there is a benefit in all our efforts to make the country more competitive and have it move up the international competitiveness league. It is also seeking to convince people that it is in their interest to involve businesses in high value added products.

The NCPP is made up of employers, trade unions and Departments working together on these initiatives and it does much excellent work. The centre is engaged in repositioning the partnership process that has been under way for 15 years, linking organisational change to the operations of business and public service organisations and making work more attractive for people on the ground. It also seeks to build leadership and develop a vision for the future covering workplace relations and present economic circumstances.

For some years the accusation was that partnership only operated at the top and not on the factory or office floor. They are making an effort now to drive through change and make the connection between what the boardroom or the Secretaries General think and what the workers think. It is not an easy thing to do or to carry right throughout the public sector, which employs 300,000 people. They are at least getting people involved. I am not foolish enough to think one can change all of this in a short period. It has been in place for ten years now and we are into the next stage. Some of the things they are doing are meaningful even if it takes quite a lot of conferences to get all this through.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There is some merit in what the Taoiseach says and I do not wish at all to run down the performance of members of the Civil Service. They also want to give the best response possible to the public. Will the Taoiseach agree that there is enormous pressure on experienced and very able civil servants to drift into the private sector where lucrative offers are constantly being made to them? This has to be a cause of concern because people of ability are required in order to run Departments. Does the Taoiseach envisage the production of a concluding report to the Dáil for discussion or analysis, that is if we are able to read and understand it? It might be of some relevance to legislators and those who allocate budgets to Departments.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern As I said earlier in reply to Deputy Rabbitte about the PA report, one of the big parts is trying to link all this to the political process. A large part of the work of the public [873] service is serving the public and working for the people who are elected by the public, so there must be a link between them. The next major part of it is to do with management and finance. I will re-circulate the PA report to the House because it is some months since it was published. I will make sure that Members also receive copies of the management report when it becomes available. It has been stated very clearly that the political dimension and the interest of this House and of politicians should be engaged. In the last Dáil I set up the committee on strategic management and a small number of Members took a particular interest in it. The centre now sends bulletins to Departments and I will request that all Oireachtas Members receive the reports when they are issued.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin There is a question which focuses on an action programme for the modernisation of the Civil Service. The idea of recruiting from the private sector into Government Departments is of itself a very negative flag to wave at those within the Civil Service. I am of the view that it is something that perhaps causes a discordant note within the wider—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy should ask a question.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin —Civil Service. I do not believe that recruitment from the private sector into the Civil Service is confined only to the highest level within his own Department and as has already been responded to. Does the Taoiseach not recognise that recruitment from the private sector into the Civil Service coupled with successive Governments' penchant for privatisation of public companies is a serious discouragement and undermining of the morale of people within the Civil Service? If one is talking about an action programme for the modernisation of the service, one must be committed to the Civil Service and, indeed, to the ethos of developing the public sector. What are the Taoiseach's views on this? Does he not recognise that any review must entail a serious re-evaluation of Government policy in both of these related areas?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Reference was made earlier to the people involved. It gives people opportunities. People from the private sector can work in and bring their expertise to the Civil Service while civil servants can benefit by working in the private sector. There are certainly benefits in the system. That cross over of work will not be of any great harm unless it involves large numbers, about which we are not talking. There are 30,000 civil servants.

There is much work going on in relation to SMI, customer service initiatives and various evaluations. The officials involved in one way or another in the PA report are always looking to change. They do not want things to stay the same but want to improve things. The PA consultants [874] involved themselves directly with 23 Secretaries General, 120 Assistant Secretaries, 170 principal officers, 22 partnership committees, 70 functional heads and 4,500 civil servants through direct questionnaires.

It was not that the Civil Service had closed its mind; it wants to interact and to do things in a different way. All this work of looking for a new mission statement, strategy and action plan is so it can feel part of a changing system, make jobs more relevant, make the service more attractive and play a bigger part in the change management network in the public service. It is not fearful of this in any way. Nobody is talking about privatising the Civil Service. I have never heard that mentioned in my lifetime and it should not be a concern.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte In respect of the question on the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, does the Taoiseach agree that the future of social partnership, if not now but in the medium term of securing another social contract, is made more difficult if the concept of partnership is not translated more effectively to local level? Does he agree that little enough progress has been made in translating any meaningful sense of partnership to the level of local enterprise in many sectors?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern That is true in many sectors. Five years ago I think it was true of all sectors and it is only in recent times that we have local participation. Good case studies have been documented by the trade unions and by the National Centre for Partnership and Performance on how it can be done differently. The challenge for us to try to get more places to do that. The health service and the local authorities have started. It can work well where rank and file staff hold chairperson or secretary positions on these partnership committees as it gives them greater involvement in work. We should have far more such committees. The National Centre for Partnership and Performance is endeavouring to take models which are well developed, whether in the public or private sector, and to try to expand them into other areas. I agree there are not enough but the models it has are good and we should be supportive of its efforts to drive them out into other areas.

I am also aware there are places which do not want these types of partnerships and I am not including them as that is a different issue. Some employments run a mile or find every excuse not to implement them but I am thinking of those open to it where we should drive it on. There is a problem with those which have closed minds on this.

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