Wednesday, 22 October 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
83. Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the main features of the Civil Service action plan to meet the requirements of the benchmarking process within her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24222/03]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): The Department's modernisation action plan is a detailed document containing some 100 commitments that make up a challenging agenda for the Department over the course of Sustaining Progress. This is available on the  website of the Department of Finance and I am also arranging for a copy to be sent to the Deputy.
While the plan must be considered in its totality, five key priority areas have been identified. These involve the use of new technology; greater flexibility in the way services are delivered; implementation of a new control programme; a range of changes in the HR area including greater use of competitive promotions; and development of better financial management and information systems.
Priorities under the heading of new technology include implementation of the Department's new service delivery model, SDM, and associated projects. The SDM involves the development of a new generation of IT systems which facilitates customer-centred services and also supports the e-government strategy. The inter-linked modernisation projects such as the civil registration modernisation programme, the public service broker, REACH inter-agency messaging service and the development of the public service identity complement the development of the SDM.
In the area of flexible delivery of service the key element is the phased localisation of the one parent family payment scheme. In effect, this means that the administration of the scheme will move from one central office to the Department's local office network. By end-2004, it is planned that up to 19 local offices will be engaged in this work; the offices in question are being selected to cover a high proportion of one parent family payment claims. This initiative will result in a better, more personalised service to the customer, faster decision-making, readier access to local support programmes and enhanced control measures.
In addition, the enhanced capability flowing from the Department's technology development agenda will field opportunities for significant process improvement, greater flexibility in the deployment of work and resources and, consequently, productivity gains.
The third priority is control. The Department's existing control strategy entails the use of a mix of measures to minimise risks of fraud and eliminate incorrect payments. Implementation of the new control strategy, involving greater emphasis on risk assessment and risk management and a more focused control approach, will provide for a more effective and efficient allocation of resources with staff deployed and budgets expended on more effective control activity.
A number of developments in the Department's human resources strategy are reflected in the action plan. Promotion policy is one of the main elements of this strategy. As indicated in the plan, the aim is to move towards a higher proportion of competition-based promotions. The adoption of best practice in this regard will lead to a more performance and accountability-based management culture.
In the area of financial management the Civil Service management information framework – MIF – project aims at ensuring better decision-making about allocation of resources, better management of resources once allocated and greater transparency and accountability for the use of resources.
This Department has had financial reporting systems in place since 1998 and, as part of the MIF project, is now working on the development and implementation of a number of management information related and accounting projects. A key element of the current phase of the project is the development and roll-out of a new style of comprehensive, integrated management reports which will support the Department in meeting the objectives of the MIF project.
The overall aim of the action plan is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department across the full range of its operations, service delivery and internal management systems. I am confident that the Department will deliver on the commitments in the plan and continue to maintain its leading role in the development of better customer service generally.
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