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 Header Item Public Sector Staff Recruitment (Continued)
 Header Item Finance Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] I remarked at the launch of the Civil Service reform document that on the evening before the final departure of the troika, the head of the troika group told me it had never dealt with a more competent Civil Service than ours. I thought that was high praise and I passed it on. However, we need to modernise and upskill, as well as to provide clarity about roles in the Civil Service. The Deputy asked a number of specific questions. We need to give clarity to civil servants about what they are expected to do before we can evaluate how well they are performing their roles. We also need to provide proper supports in terms of training. We have been recruiting specialists because there are skills deficiencies in the spheres of economics, human resource management and procurement. I expect that we will see more specialists and fewer generalists in the future. In the past, the bulk of civil servants were clerical officers but they are being replaced by much more technology as people use online mechanisms.

I am excited by the capacity of the new digital age to provide more effective services. More than 400 public services are currently accessible online and we want to migrate more services online. We are analysing the 20 most used services to see how we can make them more efficient for citizens. The first phase in our public service reform programme was, by necessity, focused on saving money by improving efficiencies. The next phase will be more focused on improving the experience of our citizens when we deliver the services on which they depend.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan Has the Minister investigated new, and perhaps simple, methodologies for assessing the performance of managers and leaders in the Civil Service? Is recruitment in respect of the private sector completely open?

The right-wing media, which is often hostile to civil servants and the public service in general, often has a field day running down our Civil Service. Who will now speak for the Civil Service? The Minister decided against appointing a head of the Civil Service but it appears that the Secretary General at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Watt, will effectively become the spokesman for the entire 35,000 staff. Is that the case? I note that the management board will be chaired by the Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach. In the context of Irish Water and other public companies, it is striking in the public sector that communications people rather than the chief executive are sent out to explain. We have all been looking for the chief executive of Irish Water but I have not seen him since was manager of Dublin City Council. Who will speak for the Civil Service?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Deputy's questions underscore the point I made earlier to Deputy McDonald on the need for a more structured debate on this exciting set of reforms, which will be transformative for the Civil Service.

In regard to a spokesperson for the Civil Service, it has been determined that the Secretary General of my Department will be the official spokesperson for the Civil Service. We need somebody to argue and listen to criticisms on behalf of the Civil Service, as opposed to Ministers performing those tasks. In regard to the management board, one of the major deficiencies in the Civil Service is that it is not sufficiently integrated. One of the objectives of the new reform plan is to develop a more integrated Civil Service so that people do not think in terms of silos. If a manager cedes personnel or functions to another Department, that should not be seen as a weakening of his or her position but as a shared assessment of how services can be improved or particular problems addressed. In terms of assessments, for the first time objective criteria will be developed for assessing performance against the stated objectives of Secretaries General. This exercise will be carried out by a board chaired by the Taoiseach and will involve myself and other Ministers, a number of Secretaries General and external experts from business. All of this will be put in place in the coming weeks.

Clearly we need a broader debate on these issues but I am excited about the potential for a real transformation and, more important, by the engagement of 2,000 civil servants in the process over the last year. There is an appetite to embrace change and to do things better, and the objective of having one of the best civil and public services in the world is within our grasp.

Writtens Answers follow Adjournment.

Finance Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The Minister for Finance stated that Ireland has the fastest growing economy in the European Union. He did not give much context or detail on what this means and there was no question about whether it is good in itself. When we boast about having the fastest growing economy in Europe, we would do well to remember that we also have the fastest growing child poverty rate in Europe. We should be looking closely at why matters are working out that way.

The markets like us to show growth in order to restore their confidence in us. This is what the Government is aiming for, regardless of the cost. Its policies are very much market driven. During the boom times, planning was market and developer driven and we know where that got us. Given the battering that neoliberalism took during the crisis, it is difficult to understand why it continues to thrive. The Government boasted that the budget represented the end of austerity but until we claw back the serious inroads made into public services and the living standards of ordinary people, austerity will prevail. Inequality is rising and there is little doubt that the austerity of the last six years has seriously eroded public services. It will be a huge challenge for any Government to row back and restore what we had previously.

The Minister, Deputy Noonan, is a bright and able individual. I like him, although I do not agree with him. He makes his arguments very well but so do people like Mr. Michael Taft. I would like to pick the latter's brains in order to present the matter from another perspective. In October, Mr. Taft carried out a budget analysis using data from the Government's budget report, adjusted for inflation and IMF projections for population increases in Ireland. He found that total spending on public services, social transfers and investment will fall by more than 9% by 2018. Funding for schools, hospitals, policing, transportation, enterprise supports and other public services will fall by more than 8%. Government investment, which is vital to our infrastructure and our attractiveness as a place to do business, will fall by 15.4% by 2018. As he points out, this is the most irrational of all cuts from the point of view of economic growth.

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