Wednesday, 8 October 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
3. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the progress, if any, he has made since 1 July 1997, in implementing the strategic management initiative within the various Government Departments; the organisational structure which currently exists in this regard; the composition of the various committees within that structure; the membership of those committees; the number of times they have met since 1 July 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15692/97]
On 29 July, as part of my address to the social partners at the second quarterly meeting on monitoring the implementation of Partnership 2000 in Dublin Castle, I announced the Government had established an implementation group drawn from secretaries general of Departments and heads of offices to drive the process forward within the Civil Service. I will circulate copies of that address to the House with this reply.
As I said in July, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty to guarantee that the vision set out in Delivering Better Government is brought to life. The implementation group has been asked to report on progress to the Government, through the overall SMI co-ordinating group, every three months. I will also circulate the press release issued at the first meeting of the implementation group on 10 September.
As a key element of SMI/Delivering Better Government, the Minister for Finance has commenced the Public Service Management Act, 1997 with effect from 1 September. The Act, which was drafted and enacted during the lifetime of the previous Government, contains some important features which are central to the modernisation programme. These include the preparation of revised strategy statements for Departments and offices by 1 March 1998 and the delegation by secretaries general and heads of offices of authority and accountability for the performance of functions to other officers. Guidelines from the Government to Departments and offices on these issues are currently being prepared and will be considered by Government shortly. In order to support these changes, a new performance management system is being developed and will be ready for roll-out early in
The Deputy asked about the structures in place to develop and implement the overall SMI. In addition to the co-ordinating and implementation groups I mentioned, there are six working groups dealing with quality customer service, openness and transparency, regulatory reform, human resource management, financial management and information technology. Where required, specialist subgroups have been established to develop individual elements of the overall change agenda. In addition, in the case of quality customer service, human resource management and information technology there are also front-line groups. These groups have been developing the individual programmes of action in respect of their areas, which will in turn be brought together by the implementation and co-ordinating groups for consideration by Government. I will circulate the information requested in relation to the membership of the groups and the number of meetings since 1 July.
The next key steps in the implementation of the SMI/Delivering Better Government are: 1 November 1997 — the publication of quality service statements for Departments and offices; 1 January 1998 — roll-out of the performance management system throughout the Civil Service. Beyond that, the following are the key action points: updating of departmental strategy statements in line with the Government programme and changes in Departments' responsibilities by 1 March; delegation to and within Departments which clearly sets out authority and accountability at the different levels in accordance with the Public Service Management Act; producing Partnership 2000 action programmes for change; working with the National Centre for Partnership, particularly in joint management-staff and union training; arranging for the operation of the Freedom of Information Act from April 1998; setting and implementing a programme of regulatory reform; commencing the systematic public expenditure programme reviews based on outputs and results to be achieved and the actions to do so; implementing improved accounting systems to ensure greater effectiveness and transparency in the use of resources; and developing an action programme for information technology covering the developments in financial management, human resource management, quality service programmes, regulatory reform and to link with the work of the Information Society Commission.
Continuing all-party support for the SMI will be a vital element in successfully implementing the radical change we are seeking. I have recently written to the Opposition leaders to inform them of developments and to invite them to identify issues on which they wish to receive further briefing.
Mr. Quinn: I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive reply. Many of the proposals to which  he referred were on the table when his Administration took office. The SMI has cross-party support and will continue to have the support of the Labour Party. Until I receive a copy of the Taoiseach's reply detailing the frequency with which meetings have been held I am unable to comment on the sense of urgency which informs this Administration with regard to the SMI. Based on my experience in Government and on the contacts and friendships I have formed through interaction — this is inevitable in a city as small as Dublin — the SMI is waffle and gobbledygook from senior management so far as ordinary and middle ranking civil servants are concerned. The Taoiseach referred to his address at Dublin Castle on 29 July and the first meeting of the implementation group on 10 September.
Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach realise, if one parses and analyses his reply — I appreciate he has been busy in recent days — that there is no sense of urgency in implementing the SMI? Does he agree the public sector unions and middle ranking civil servants feel no sense of ownership and that if this is not acknowledged nothing will happen?
The Taoiseach: I thank the Deputy for his offer of continued support for the SMI on behalf of the Labour Party. I was involved in the process from the outset and readily acknowledge that the Deputy drove it forward when he held the position of Minister for Finance. I remind him that Ministers and officials tend to go on holiday during the month of August. Meetings were held on 29 July and in early September. One can see from this that action was taken speedily.
The Deputy indicated the views of lower and middle ranking civil servants. I will not repeat the words he used but that is the reason I established the implementation group. The idea behind the SMI — I have a deep interest in public service management — is a very good one. It is based on three simple objectives: the provision of an excellent service to the customer, maximising the contribution to the economy and national development and the efficient and effective use of resources. It is no more complicated than that. I am not blaming politicians or civil servants but one of the difficulties is that the more one talks about it and presents reports, strategy statements and documents the greater the chance people will forget what it is all about. It will take some time for middle ranking civil servants and consumers to see the benefits. The Deputy is correct that many civil servants see their role as responding to the crisis of the day but this is a different issue, it is about effecting change in the medium to long-term.
The Deputy will readily acknowledge that the purpose in establishing the working groups on quality customer service, regulatory reform,  openness and transparency, human resource management, financial management, information technology and so on was to convince more people at different levels that the SMI has value and meaning. The more we involve them the better.
There are a number of key dates. Quality service statements for Departments and offices will be published in November. This is normal practice in business but is not the case within the Civil Service. On 1 January the performance management system will be introduced throughout the service. That is the key element.
It has been suggested by a number of Members on both sides of the House that there should be a parliamentary group or a subcommittee of an existing group on the SMI. I have an open mind about this. It is a matter we could discuss on another occasion.
Mr. Barrett: Does the Taoiseach agree that part of the problem is that, while the means of rewarding employees in the commercial world has changed through the payment of bonuses and the provision of incentives, structures remain unchanged within the Civil Service? As long as public service structures remain the same, irrespective of how hard one works one must trudge through the whole structure and hope to one day have an interview for a small promotion. In the meantime one is paid so long as one turns up for work.
The Deputy is right and that is why I have said the central issue is the performance management system. When dealing with the Financial Services Clearing House Committee, this matter was raised by people who are paid enormous salaries we can only dream of, because the civil servant dealing with the committee had moved on due to a minor promotion and this inconvenienced the committee members greatly. I will not name the individual concerned as it would not be appropriate, but Deputy Quinn can probably identify him. That is the system, and it has a lot of advantages in terms of keeping out corruption, but the downside is that often good civil and public servants are not given the advancement they would receive in other areas.
As a former Minister for Labour, and I am conscious of other former Ministers for Labour being present, implementing that system into our industrial relations machinery is as difficult as it is for the Government to change the system. The performance  management system is at the heart of making this system work.
The Taoiseach: The performance management system is the broader issue, but one aspect of this matter, as Deputy Barrett said, is some remunerative reward within the system. I am conscious of the difficulties involved. Deputy Quinn mentioned the feelings of workers and I do not disagree with him. Workers in this area do not see any reason to put in the effort as they would in the banking, insurance or chemical industry. That is the downside and I sympathise with those concerned, as I sympathise with many Members who are in the same system: no matter what they do, it is the same reward for everyone.
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