Thursday, 2 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: This Bill is the cornerstone of the Government’s plans to restructure the public service and public expenditure. It lays the foundation for ensuring that value for money is delivered by the Government and State bodies under its remit. The reason for reforming the public service is to ensure its intrinsic value is recognised. I regret the private-public divide that has emerged over the past several years. This divide is largely a legacy of the efforts of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party-Progressive Democrats consortium to pillory people through penal taxation and bad governance.
It is important that we recognise the value of our public servants. As a Member of Seanad Éireann I was a strong advocate and defender of the public service against unjust attacks and unfair commentary and as a Deputy I will continue to defend the hardworking men and women of our public service, who ensure the Government functions properly and that high quality services are delivered. Two weeks ago when Queen Elizabeth and President Obama visited the country, the men and women of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and our city and county councils were to the forefront in providing the security and organisation that ensured the State visits were a huge success.
In defending the public service, however, I do not claim everything is perfect or that change is unnecessary. This Bill will ensure increased efficiency in the delivery of public services. The need for reforming the public service has become a mantra and it is believed reform will be at the top of the political agenda for the next three or four years. Deputy Durkan noted yesterday that we previously had a Minister who was responsible for the public service. In one of the Governments I recall as a young person growing up, John Boland had responsibility for the public service. For the past decade, however, there has been an absence of ministerial oversight or proper adherence to regulations. The blame for that can be ascribed to those at the top of the Executive, that is, the men and women who sit in the Cabinet. Their duty was to ensure we had proper governance. It is time we changed the system of government that has operated for the past decade or more so that we can provide ministerial accountability, responsibility and oversight. If we see that, the taxpayers will respond. They have paid for years for the waste of inefficient Governments. The new Department provided for under this Bill will not only focus on the public service but on the elimination of waste and reform of practices to ensure accountability both within government and the public service.
Earlier this week, I attended a meeting in Cork with the county manager. In one year €3.8 million was saved in procurement and the renegotiation of contracts. While I welcome the Bill and the Government’s commitment to public service reform, this must go hand in hand with political reform and not become tokenism for the sake of optics. The people voted in the recent election and they have entrusted the running of the country to a group of people who sit in Cabinet. They received a seal of office from the President and they must show leadership. Leadership requires being responsible and making decisions to achieve the delivery of a public service that is fit for purpose, to create efficiencies in public expenditure and to establish a new approach to the delivery of services, which will be critical to restoring people’s trust in the body politic and in the public service.
The Government has demonstrated leadership regarding political reform but we can do more. We must show leadership as we have been elected by the people to represent them. That has to happen from the top down rather than from the bottom up because those who can afford to take a pay cut at senior levels should do so rather than introducing pay cuts at the expense of those at the bottom.
The legislation is critical to the people’s ongoing concern regarding the public service, which will be addressed, but integrated, joined up thinking is important. That will require a change of mindset. I am happy the Bill is a fulfilment of a commitment in the Fine Gael manifesto and policy papers prior to the election to create a public office for spending and modernisation, which I hope will lead to a better distribution of the workload and the preparation of proper spending Estimates and expenditure management within the overall envelope over which the Ministers for Finance and public expenditure and reform will have jurisdiction.
It is also important that power is devolved to public servants. We have a good public service, which does great work. If there is a car crash on the N7 at 4 a.m., public servants working for the Ambulance Service, the Garda, Fire Service and our hospitals will look after the victims. Great work is done in our schools, particularly for children with special needs, by public servants such as physiotherapists, special needs assistants, teachers and language support professionals who adhere to the public service ethos. I challenge anybody to examine the services provided by the Cope Foundation in Cork as an example of the delivery of public services and tell me that organisation does not provide an extraordinary service on behalf of those who need it the most.
We must recognise, as the programme for Government does, that public service is about serving the people and looking after everybody, not just the notional few or a sectional interest. It is not about making a profit. It is important that the Government is accountable, transparent and efficient in its approach. Power, therefore, must be devolved to public servants to give them the opportunity to demonstrate leadership.
Accountability has been missing from many aspects of our governance and public service. The proposals outlined in the programme for Government are radical and they must deliver results and eliminate inefficient governance while restoring accountability. Deputy Calleary was committed to what he was doing in his role as Minister of State. He recognised the importance of the public service, that change was needed and that the Croke Park agreement needed to be delivered on. However, he was on his own for too long and he did not have the support of all his colleagues in Government. It is pity the previous Government was not held accountable because if we had been governed properly, we would not be where we are today.
In the few weeks the Government has been in power, the Minister for Health and Children has stated there must be a change agenda within the HSE. He appointed a new board and he has not distanced himself from decisions. He has been responsible and accountable. He has taken action and he has not run away from issues relating to the fair deal scheme and the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The theme of accountability that pervades this legislation means the Public Service Management Acts and the Ministers and Secretaries Acts will be replaced with a reformulated code of laws with explicit responsibilities. The old style of politics and Government is over.
The leader of Fianna Fáil referred to an end to Punch and Judy politics. If that is to happen, it must be replaced by a system under which power is designated, roles assigned to Ministers, other officeholders and public servants and people who are given power will know their role, duties, remit and what is within their control and there will be a clear demarcation of responsibilities. For too long commentators have pilloried, demonised and blackguarded public servants. That is wrong and it must end. If we are to have a commentary on our public service, let it be fair, balanced and benchmarked against results.
Benchmarking was wrong and it did not deliver what was intended but Fine Gael was the first to say this. We were given out to and we were told we were anti-public servant. We are not and we never were. Within this Government, the public servants have a friend at court who wants to modernise and bring about change and give them a sense that the work they do is important and valued. However, there must be reform and change. Deputy Healy stated yesterday the Government was about cutting jobs and pay. We are not but we live in a new Ireland where the delivery of public service must be more streamlined, provide value for money and be about the people. Public service is about delivery for the people.
I am conscious as a public servant who taught in the classroom that we enjoy privileges in the context of pensions and permanent jobs but many of my former colleagues did not make significant money during the boom. They did not go berserk and party like others and they are subject to the pension levy, which I regret. However, following the announcement of the jobs initiative, we have had an uprising by others who have been forced to pay a levy. It is important that decisions are taken for the common good of all citizens not just those with vested interests which was the hallmark of ten years of Fianna Fáil. Deputy Calleary will disagree with me but that was the legacy they left us.
It is important that we get value for money in this time of economic regression in the State finances. We must obtain value for the money we are expending on behalf of the taxpayer. The Bill will enhance the role of the public service, put a value on the work of public servants and also ensure accountability for the public purse. Money was wasted on fancy projects in the past decade by unaccountable Ministers who had a slush fund and who spent it as if they were literally trying to buy votes. An analysis of the sports capital programme will show what Ministers have done in their constituencies. I refer in particular to the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism who was like the uncrowned king of Kerry who spent money at will in his constituency. I am pleased we did not have the “Bertie bowl”. It would have been a fitting epitaph to a great ten years of waste and abandonment in the country. The one good thing the Progressive Democrats did was to say “No” to that. We have a fine stadium in Croke Park which could still be a national stadium.
It is important that the Minister would say to those in RTE who are on exorbitant salaries of in excess of €500,000 that it is time they took a cut. Could someone explain how those who earn a significant amount of money in RTE are worth €1 million, €700,000, €500,000 or €300,000? I do not understand it. It is time those salaries were cut. We must treat the money as the people’s money. The money we spend is raised through taxes. Many citizens today are doing their best to stay afloat. I hope the Minister for Finance will say “No” to AIB if it comes looking for a change in the salary cap for a new chief executive. We could not allow that to happen. There are no extenuating circumstances in which the salary cap could be allowed to be breached.
Equally, it is important that the value for money and policy reviews and the proposed central evaluation unit will ensure Government spending is transparent, accountable and efficient. If we need to change our approach to public accounts then we should do so. We are spending people’s money. That includes all of us. We are privileged in this House. We must recognise that we are on reasonably good salaries. Many people are less fortunate than us — many of them within the public service who are in lower paid jobs who do good work.
It is important that we encourage the renewal of the public service. I very much welcome engagement with the public service unions and all the stakeholders. We cannot be governed by IBEC, SIPTU or the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is not about them. It is not about sectional interests. It is about all of us together marrying talents and ideas and doing what is best for people.
I very much hope we will have joined-up thinking in the approach to public service reform between various Departments and agencies. For too long quangos have been created to look after certain areas of Government policy. We have taken away the power and role of local authorities in some cases. We have made the HSE unaccountable to the House. When one tables a parliamentary question to the Minister, one is told the HSE is responsible. The NRA is another example. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport says he does not have any remit over it. Likewise with Fáilte Ireland; it is not the Minister who is responsible, it is the board. We must examine the transfer of roles and duties of certain bodies.
The policy agenda is far reaching and radical. The scope of responsibility for the new Department will be vital in delivering the Government’s reform agenda. We must put the country back on track if we are to get this country back to work again, which is the most critical and important task of the Government. The Department must deliver on the ambitious programme laid out in the Bill. Mar focal scoir, because the proposals are necessary and radical the challenges we face must be met. There can be no obfuscation or hiding. I hope the delivery of reform in the public service will be achieved in such as way as to recognise genuinely the value of the public service, bring about efficiency, a better delivery of service and a reduction in costs.
Deputy Dara Calleary: I thank Deputy Buttimer for his remarks. Given my experience in the past year or so I will focus predominantly on sections 8 and 9. My colleagues, Deputies Michael McGrath and Sean Fleming, have raised concerns about the fiscal side of the Bill which should be addressed. The Department will face challenges. I wish to focus on policies relating to the modernisation and development of the public service and ancillary issues. There is no shortage of reports and reviews into the workings of the public service. My party was very good at commissioning them but not as good at implementing them. I welcome the fact that a separate Department has been created for the implementation of public service reform. It is the only way we will get the job done. The reform and transformation of the public service is such a challenge that it is up there with where the peace process was in the 1990s in terms of the need for a full, co-ordinated Government approach. I genuinely wish the Minister, Deputy Howlin, well. He brings much political experience to the role in terms of his service to this House and previously at Cabinet. I am available and would like to participate from this side of the House in so far as that is possible.
Many Deputies have referred to the current economic crisis. One of my concerns is that given the Minister will have a role in dealing with the crisis in the economic council and on the public expenditure side, the focus of the Department will once again move away from the public service transformation brief and that it would be an add-on, as it were. I accept the Minister probably has a personal commitment to the public service element of his brief but given the demands of the job currently that is one area about which I am concerned. I hope we can do that.
There have been many reports and reviews into what has happened to the economy in recent years. A political price has been paid by my party for decisions taken. That is clear from the make-up of the new Dáil. Other players are being investigated in a rather slow way at the moment on their role in the collapse of the banks but the higher echelons of the Civil Service who gave advice and who were paid well to regulate and do various jobs have never had to pay a price. They were retired or they left on pretty good pensions and they have sailed off into the sunset while many more bear the impact of that advice — good, bad or indifferent.
The Bill is primarily to establish the Department on a statutory footing and to put the arrangements in place. The Minister needs to come back with a second Bill that transforms the role and nature of the relationship particularly between higher civil servants at assistant secretary and Secretary General level and Ministers so we go back to a stage where the Minister takes control and is accountable. We need the capacity to allow for those at that level to be sacked for lack of performance. The seven-year contract provides a comfort blanket for non-performers. I have never come across a situation where somebody was sacked for non-performance at that level of government. Governments change, but officials remain in position and that is a system that must be challenged.
I have long held the view, and I put forward this view as a Minister of State, that appointments to assistant secretary and Secretary General level should be advertised both nationally and internationally. The old boys’ club, which effectively governs the upper echelons of the Civil Service, must be taken apart for once and for all. We have that opportunity now with the retirement of the Secretary General of the Government. Many people would relish the challenge of being the top civil servant of this country, particularly given the challenges we face, and many of them could bring international experience that we may need or perspectives that we may not have considered. This might be preferable to us doing the usual and selecting from a relatively small pool and at some stage in the next few weeks, like the court of cardinals, the white smoke will emanate from Government Buildings and it will be habemus secretary to the Government. I hope that as an indication of its serious intent with regard to this issue, an open selection can be made.
The Government missed an opportunity to do that with the recruitment of the Secretary General for the new Department of public expenditure and reform. That said, I do not think any recruitment process would have come up with somebody as good as Robert Watt. I know him from my time in the Department of Finance and know he will bring a fresh approach to the running of the Department, based on both his departmental experience and his private secretary experience, which has sharpened and freshened his perspective. I wish him well. However, it would have been a good signal, given this is the Department we are charging with transforming our public service and which we are setting up as a public expenditure watchdog, to advertise the position initially. I hope the Government takes the opportunity to advertise the position of Secretary General to the Government so as to send a signal that we are looking for the best talent. Sending that signal internationally, would advertise the fact that we are still open for business and that we are serious about transforming the way we conduct government, permanent government in particular, in response to the current situation.
There was some discussion on the Order of Business this morning of television programmes and tastes. I would think that everybody in this House has probably watched “Yes Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” at some time. It is quite funny to watch it as a serving Minister, because then one sees oneself in the role, as I did when watching it during my time as a Minister of State. Unfortunately, Sir Humphrey is alive and well with his excuses and “we could do this” or “we could do the other”. The various scenarios in the series were incredibly well performed. We now have a chance, in terms of our current position and the need to change everything about governance in this country, both elected and permanent governance, to reshape and remould governance. I hope the new Department is a start towards that. However, we need other legislation to change the roles and to change the relationship and the interaction between Ministers and senior public servants in that regard.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, gave a critical speech to the McGill summer school last year which put forward a number of proposals in that regard. It would be worthwhile for officials and the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to look at that speech and consider its ideas and proposals. If Deputy Howlin intends to review the Ministers and Secretaries Act, I will also put forward some proposals.
Deputy Buttimer made some kind remarks about me. The reason he was aware of the work I was able to do is because the last Seanad held some excellent debates on the issue of the Croke Park agreement and public service transformation. I would like to pay tribute to former Senator Joe O’Toole, who retired from the House after long years of service, for his interest in that area. Even when he moved from the dark side, from ICTU, he remained a channel that could be used, particularly in the run-in to the Croke Park agreement, through his expertise, knowledge and the nuances he brought to the debate. It was he who initiated the series of debates in the Seanad, three of which were held. Those debates would be an advertisement for retaining the Seanad because they were constructive. Party political allegiances and the Punch and Judy practices were left aside and people put forward their ideas and spoke from their different perspectives. Deputies can imagine the perspective of the then Senator Ross as opposed to those from every other side of the House. That was the Seanad at its best, but we never have debate in this House on those lines.
We are about to establish a finance and public service committee. It is a bit ironic that the Department of Finance is being split into two shiny new Departments and that we are setting up a Dáil committee under the old system. I am aware that the Government, as part of its optics, wants fewer committees. However, if it is serious about splitting the Department, surely it should follow through in the committee structure. I hope the new committee will set up a public service reform sub-committee so that those of us with an interest in this area can meet to follow through on commitments in the programme for Government, on this Bill and on the enactment of the public service transformation agenda generally. That would bring about an element of Oireachtas scrutiny to the endeavour and would ensure we keep people on their toes in this regard. Otherwise, the Minister will come in and respond to questions every month and I suspect the majority of those questions will relate to the public expenditure brief. I notice that procurement issues come under the Minister’s remit in this Bill. This suggests the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, will no longer be involved in that area. If Deputy Hayes is to be attached to the Department as a Minister of State, I wish him well. My main concern is that the public service side of the Department will fall to be the AOB item it has been for so many years. The establishment of a sub-committee of the finance and public service committee will ensure there is Oireachtas input into ensuring that does not happen.
We are nearly a year down the road since the signing of the Croke Park agreement and the establishment of the implementation body. Obviously, I have an interest in that. Generally it is working and I am confident that when it comes to the review and the IMF review in September, it will be shown to have delivered savings and we will be beginning to see a reform of practices. It is unfortunate that the debate around the reforms and the changes required by the agreement has come down to the silly things, such as leave days and checking hours and so on. These things should have been reformed a long time ago. These are gone now for many people. However, there are far deeper reforms happening on a daily basis across government, particularly local government, under the aegis of the agreement.
I wish to compliment the implementation body, under P.J. Fitzpatrick, for its quiet work behind the scenes in pushing the agenda and in ensuring the sectoral agreements are very much part of it. Those at the core of criticism of the Croke Park agreement should understand that the agreement is not a social partnership agreement. It is not a buy-off for the unions as the old social partnership process had become. It is an agreement between employers, namely the Government, and those who work for the Government about reform and issues around pay and security. Those who criticise it do so on the basis of seeing it as the old social partnership, which had run its course. One area where the implementation body needs to up its standard and mark is in selling the message that the Croke Park agreement is delivering on a daily basis across the service. The review in September will show that.
The implementation and monitoring of the agreement could be taken on by the sub-committee I have proposed. That would ensure political oversight, which is the missing element of the agreement currently. There is no political oversight. Deputy Buttimer is right. We in government were leaders on this and created so many unanswerable quangos. We need to start to take the power away from those and back into these Houses in which this committee could have a role.
Reform generally has always been at a macro level. The Government and union leaders signed off on the agreement at Croke Park and said “Off you go”. Only then do those who are required to implement it and change their work processes get to hear of it second, third, fourth or fifth hand. However, the best ideas for reform and saving money come from those at the coalface. Although we ran out of time, I tried to get a system going across Departments and agencies of capturing those ideas from the people at the coalface — the nurses, physiotherapists, teachers, SNAs, bin collectors and others out every day doing their jobs — because they are thinking about their jobs and ways to do them differently. We have been very poor at capturing that wealth of knowledge and information.
I direct the Government to what has been done in the State of Minnesota where Governor Pawlenty made public service transformation one of the missions of his governorship. He did so by hitting the road and getting the police service, fire service and all the usual suspects to buy into it first without imposing some sort of macro agreement on top of them. Change happened much more quickly because the buy-in came locally. It was not just a case of going for the sake of going. Along with his team of consultants, he went back a second and third time, during implementation and after. The ownership of the process was not completely removed from the way processes were being delivered, which is what we need to do here.
One of the biggest issues facing the Government is to try to get this right. It needs to use the infrastructure of this new Department to get the transformation agenda right and ensure that the public are getting services delivered. It needs to ensure the morale of those working in the public service at whatever level increases and they feel happy to go in and do their jobs every day. It needs to ensure that we have a system that is delivering and using the most modern resources available, which are constantly changing. One of the greatest examples we have in this House is the Library and Research Service which prepares and delivers papers on Bills to us electronically. God knows what equipment we will have in five or ten years’ time to access information, but our citizens expect that their interaction with Government will be done through IT. There is so much potential for transformation to come in that regard.
We are going through an incredibly difficult period in our history. The independent review panel report into the Department of Finance makes for some stirring reading and the Government has already indicated there will be further inquiries into what happened. I would direct anybody to look at that report. Its preparation involved civil servants, political actors in the Department and various other people. It was done by politicians and senior civil servants from outside the country. Their perspective is quite interesting. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has joined us and I genuinely wish him well in this role. I hope that the public service transformation side of the brief is given the priority it needs and does not get drowned out by the public expenditure side.
Deputy Stephen Donnelly: I welcome the creation of a senior Cabinet post for public sector reform and sincerely wish the Minister, Deputy Howlin, the very best in his efforts. Along with the Minister for Finance the challenges and opportunities he faces are some of the most important facing our society. I agree with Deputy Calleary that arguably they are as important as sorting out the economic mess in which we find ourselves.
I support the Bill, but would like to voice some concerns, particularly with the Ministry that has been established. Potentially what makes the Minister’s portfolio so strong could also be its greatest challenge, which is the specific linking of expenditure with public sector reform. If the Croke Park agreement is an example of what we mean by public sector reform, the new Ministry makes considerable sense because it allows the Minister and his team to discuss changes to working practices in tandem with changes to pay. My understanding of the mindset used in reaching the Croke Park agreement is as follows. The union leaders said: “We, the unions, are aware of many inefficiencies in working practices across the public sector. You, the Government, have cut the salaries of our members, so let’s negotiate. If you give us back the money you have taken away we will change the working practices we all know to be deeply inefficient.” I can understand how this approach and mindset came about. We have had a legacy of supposed social partnership and we have extraordinarily strong public sector unions. I also understand there is a pressing need to cut public sector expenditure. Essentially, we very quickly need to do more with less or at the very least try to maintain public services with less, which is extremely challenging.
However, I suggest that approach and mindset leads to public service reform in the most limited sense possible. It is a negotiation of a change in outdated restrictive working practices for more money. While that approach may save money, which is badly needed, it will not transform our public services. Real public sector transformation is not a negotiation for pay versus working practices. It is a process of real engagement with public sector workers to set a new vision for the Civil Service and for education, health or whatever the service area is in order to identify with public sector workers the barriers to achieving that vision and the opportunities that can be used to achieve it, and supporting public sector workers in overcoming the barriers and in using the opportunities ahead of them.
The evidence from around the world is that genuine transformations as opposed to changes in working practices fail most of the time. The evidence is that 70% of transformations fail. The failure rate is even higher in the public sector where it is more complex and in systems as difficult as the ones the Minister will need to address. The main reason they fail is that they overlook the human element. Of the 70% of transformations that fail, in 70% of the cases the reason is that the human element is overlooked. In other words, in both the private and public sector, the Croke Park mindset is used, which seeks changes in practices with changes in remuneration accordingly. However, in both the private and public sectors they do not engage the workers in asking them what they want. For example, we should be asking if we want one of the best education systems in the world.
Contrary to the mindset of the Croke Park deal and much of the national debate on public sector reform that I have heard so far, pay actually plays a very small part in real transformation. Surveys from all over the world consistently show that workers rate pay as the fifth or sixth most important aspect of motivation and them doing a good job. As an aside, it is worth noting that the only sector where that does not apply and where it is consistently rated as the single most important motivator is in investment banking. Ahead of pay, workers all over the world consistently say that the things that motivate them are recognition for the work and being given the space, training and capability to do the best job they can possibly do. If we want more from public sector reform than increased efficiency, and if we genuinely want to transform public services and have one of the best health care and education systems and one of the best policy-making bodies in the world, we must adopt a much more sophisticated and inclusive approach than that envisaged under the Croke Park agreement.
We all know our education system is in very serious crisis. The latest PISA report shows Ireland has experienced the biggest fall in educational standards in the developed world in a decade. Some commentators and union representatives have, on television, blamed this on the inclusion of students with special educational needs or students whose native language is not English. The figures show that this is nonsense. They show we have had a genuinely serious fall in educational standards.
Taking a longer-term view, we must regard the fall in our educational standards as being as important as our debt. If we do not have an education system that is among the top five in the world within the next five to ten years, we will be consigned to being a second-rate country for decades. Most would agree with that. In that context, radical reform of the education system is required. Negotiating one extra hour of work per week for teachers under the Croke Park agreement for changes in pay, pensions or working conditions will not achieve that kind of reform; it will not really do anything.
New Zealand has one of the top three education systems in the world. I am not suggesting we should adopt its model but we should examine it to give us a sense of what radical reform can look like. New Zealand’s Government announced one morning that its Department of Education was to be closed down and that it was setting up a Ministry for education. I understand that, of the top 35 staff in the new Ministry, only one had been transferred from the old Department. I am not suggesting we should shut down our Department of Education and Skills but such steps towards radical reform must be considered if we are genuinely to have one of the top five education systems in the world.
My concern with having expenditure and reform on two sides of the same coin is that it may make it very difficult to move beyond the Croke Park mindset, which I accept is very useful, towards genuine reform. With regard to education, the Croke Park deal involves union leaders, quango appointees and some politicians in rooms around Leinster House negotiating changes in working practices for changes in pay. The only people who will turn our education system into one of the top systems in the world are the teachers and principals, yet they comprise the only group that is not engaged in the reform discussions. This worries me but I have no doubt the Minister has thought of this and has all manner of clever ideas to engage with the teachers and principals.
We have a peculiar approach to policy experimentation in Ireland. While I acknowledge Ireland is small, negotiations such as the Croke Park negotiations essentially create changes across the board, for every school in the country. In other countries, this is not the case. In the United States, for example, the authorities experiment and engage with school boards, principals and groups of schools in a selected area. The objective is to let them come up with good ideas. Afterwards different policy experiments are tried out nationally, or in New York State, for example. I refer to mentoring programmes and other such initiatives. An approach such as this might be very useful in Ireland and would allow us to experiment and determine some of the very best policy ideas.
I have worked abroad on public sector reform. I have consistently noted two characteristics of the public servants with whom I have worked. The first is that pretty much every one of them has a genuine, deep-seated desire to serve the public. The second is that many of them are very deeply frustrated that they are not able to serve and to realise the passion, energy and idealism that attracted them to the public sector in the first instance. One hears from them repeatedly that they are not rewarded or recognised for doing good work and that they will not take any risks because if they get something wrong they will be crucified therefor. I hear the phrase “silo mentality” used a lot. It implies that teams do not share information with one another across the civil service or within various public service organisations. Although I have never worked on public sector transformation in Ireland, I have heard the same points being made here. Anecdotally, I hear the same points being made by colleagues of mine in the Irish public service and by those who engage with it.
The great opportunity is to recognise that there is considerable desire and capability within the public service to do the best job possible, as Deputies have stated today and yesterday. Most teachers want to work in and be part of the best school in Ireland. All teachers would love Ireland to have the best education system in the world. This is being prevented partly because unions are sitting between the employer, the State, and the teachers or principals. I would love to see something happen in this regard that would unleash the full potential of public sector workers.
It is in this context that I hope the Minister, in his new portfolio, will be able to move the conversation away from that which regards public expenditure and reform as two sides of the same coin. If that is the conversation, we will save money but will never create genuinely world-class public institutions. I hope that what I propose can happen and that we can move the conversation on quickly. I wish the Minister luck and would be delighted to discuss with him what I have seen work around the world, if that would be useful.
Deputy Eamonn Maloney: I support the Bill. Like Deputy Donnelly, I extend my good wishes to the Minister as he embarks on a project that has never been undertaken in this State. We are in a pretty bad place economically and it is very difficult to have any discussion in the House without referring to that. Having listened to the debates of other Members, I noted it is virtually impossible without referring to what has happened in recent days.
Everyone has his own outlook on public servants. When politicians talk about public and civil servants, they talk as if they are excluded from that category. We do ourselves a disservice when we do so. I am not one who is agitated by surveys in newspapers. A recent survey of the pecking order in careers — I do not like using the word “careers” in terms of politics — shows that those of us who have volunteered to enter this House and who are honoured to have been elected are the bottom in terms of public perception. I always believe public perception is basically reality, whether we like it or not. It reflects how we are thought about outside the House.
This Bill offers an opportunity to change circumstances for the good, not just in terms of civic responsibilities. While I accept Deputy Donnelly’s point on the value of public servants and their desire to do a good job, which he explained very well, the reality is that most members of the public would not share that view in regard to Members of this House. One of the good aspects about this Bill, given the position we are in, is that this Minister has an opportunity of transforming politics not just for our sake, but out of civic responsibility.
In terms of the legacy, we cannot blame someone else because the economy is on its knees. It was some of our own who did that. We cannot blame on this occasion the British Empire, the Americans or the French. Those days are gone. We must take responsibility now for what has happened.
I am one of those people who believe we have not always covered ourselves in glory in terms of what we did with our independence. I admire the Members of past Dála who sat in this Chamber in those early days, and I am not just talking about those in my own party, the Labour Party, but across parties. In terms of what happened subsequently, we went in a completely different direction in terms of civic responsibility, real politics, morality issues and all of those aspects. I would have great difficulty in defending much of what has gone on inside this House in modern times and the conduct of some people. We have to put ourselves in that category and not exclude politicians from public service.
When we talk about reforms we should start from the top, and that means us. We are running the country — some people say we are supposed to be running the country — but when we talk about changing the nature of this House and making savings that could contribute towards getting some of the more than 400,000 people off the live register, that can only be something good but there is a great deal of work to be done in that area.
As I said at the outset, this Bill represents a good opportunity and we will all be judged on it, not just people like myself on the Government side of the House but all of us here. Critics are ten a penny but putting forward rational arguments against what the Minister will bring forward is the responsibility of those in Opposition, and perhaps those on this side of the House also in terms of putting forward feasible arguments for or against this Bill.
Minister without Portfolio (Deputy Brendan Howlin): I genuinely thank colleagues from all sides of the House for what was by and large an informed and thoughtful range of discussions on what is largely a technical piece of legislation. It is not intended to be a blueprint for reform. It is simply an enabling structural Bill that will allow the new Department of public expenditure and reform be created and give it a legal presence.
It is part of a broad-ranging reform agenda that we had a chance to debate in Private Members’ time earlier this week that will involve a substantial change in the public service, the Civil Service, politics, the Constitution and in governance in this country. I am determined that the expenditure element of my Department which, unfortunately, is a downward pressure on expenditure that I am required to deliver upon, will be done in tandem with the reform agenda which, and I agree with my colleague, Deputy Maloney on this, must be from the top down. We must have a new mindset on it. It is not the old way of making the reforms that were done in the past.
I was in the Chamber for the latter part of Deputy Calleary’s contribution and all of that of Deputy Donnelly. If I may say so, they are two of the people on the Opposition benches most able to make a constructive contribution. I acknowledge Deputy Calleary’s significant role in breaking ground for the Department that I am now proposing to create. He left a fine legacy behind in that regard in trying to begin the process of fundamental reform.
In reply to Deputy Donnelly, I have said on every occasion I have spoken in this House that I have an open door to ideas and I am looking forward to inviting Deputy Donnelly to meet groups like the Croke Park implementation committee for an external experienced intervention on that. It is not business as usual on any scale in terms of issues I propose to do.
The main purpose of this Bill is to establish structurally the Department of public expenditure and reform and establish me in a legal entity as Minister. There will be a Minister of State in my Department, Deputy Brian Hayes, who is already undertaking a great deal of work in that regard.
I wish to comment on some of the observations made by my colleagues during the course of the debate to date. I apologise that I was not present for all of it but I have ensured that careful notes were taken of all contributions. We will be having careful regard to everything that was said, particularly between now and Committee Stage where, if possible, any useful contribution can be addressed.
In his opening comments Deputy Fleming tried to characterise my contributions in a negative way. I will not be drawn into that because we should try to leave that behind us. The leader of the Fianna Fáil Party’s idea about constructive Opposition has been largely held to by Members opposite and I will not allow myself to be drawn into a cul-de-sac of mischaracterisation that represented some of Deputy Fleming’s comments yesterday.
On his view on the control of appropriations-in-aid, Deputy Fleming is not correct in his assessment. The Minister for public expenditure and reform will have all the existing powers of the Minister for Finance in regard to appropriations-in-aid. That is implicit in the Bill.
Deputy McGrath referred to the functions listed in Schedule 2 of the Bill. This Schedule refers primarily to the authority to borrow. In the current climate, it is appropriate that the decisions on borrowing by State bodies should be subject to the consent of the Minister for public expenditure and reform, as the Minister with responsibility on a sectoral basis for each line Department, and the Minister for Finance who has responsibility for overall Government finances.
This is a new way of doing business. I have just come from a Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure and there is a new cohesion to try to pull the strands together. The synergies between the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and myself in terms of our new roles have been creative and good and they have stress-tested significant ideas in a much better way. That is how we intend to advance.
Deputy Boyd Barrett expressed a very different view of the role of the public service and the size and scale of the public service this country can afford. I appreciate Deputy Boyd Barrett’s aims, which I understand are to achieve excellence in public services, but we do not have the luxury at present to commit the type and scale of resources Deputy Boyd Barrett’s policies would require.
I noticed in this morning’s newspapers that Deputy Shane Ross managed to spin a headline — fair play to him — by characterising my actions to date in three months as pussy-footing, whatever that means. I will get a chance later this month to present the first tranche of findings from the Croke Park agreement, and I believe they are significant. We must acknowledge the engagement with the process across all sectors of the public service.
I am minded to refer to Deputy Donnelly’s comment that the disentanglement of pay is an issue. For most people pay is a significant issue, and I take what the Deputy said seriously, but people who now feel economically pressured must have some sense of security in their own planning, even if it is for the basic economic reason that we want people to spend now. That level of assurance is predicated on radical reform. What we have got to date is significant, but we have to go further. People know that and I am engaging at every level, and not just with the unions. In fairness, every line Minister is doing the same. The Minister for Education and Science engaged with the teacher conferences and this was a start in the process. People understand how bad things are. They want certainty, as far as we can give it, on the path forward and on their own income. Even if it is a bad prognosis, people will buy into it if it is a clear prognosis. They want fairness so that everybody is sharing and there are no excluded sectors who are onlookers. We are in the business of regenerating not only the economy, but our society. There can be no onlookers in that. Everybody has to be fully engaged in the process and it is my job to do that.
A number of Deputies, including Deputy Healy, expressed concern that the reform process was nothing more than an attack on the public service and a cover for indiscriminate cuts. That is representative of an old mindset that everything is as is. I think people are getting the message that we are in a dire situation. We do not have the resources to do all the good that we know can be done. We have to try to do that good in a different way. The majority of people understand that, are engaging with that and are bringing about change and reform, even in the workplace. I will provide mechanisms for that to be heard and acted upon. However, there are people who listen but at the end of the day still demand more resources. I heard a medical consultant on a news programme last night coming to the conclusion that what we need is more doctors, more nurses, more equipment. We cannot have that. People will have to think differently about how to achieve objectives without the demand being that we can only achieve more with more. We must get a mind frame that achieves more with less. We must be more productive and do all the things that I, my Department and the Minister of State assigned to my Department have to achieve in respect of supports, IT, human resource management, procurement and so on.
We are in an unprecedented crisis. Even without the added burden of the banking crisis, which added to the fiscal problems of this nation, we would have to make radical changes. In good times, the sort of changes that we have laid out would be required, but in light of the financial situation in which we find ourselves, they are not only required, but are an absolute imperative. Savings will have to be secured in all areas of public activity and resources will have to be redirected to priorities that we now set. I hope this happens in an open, democratic and realistic way. I invite everybody to be part of that discussion.
The programme for Government has set priorities for public expenditure and we are reshaping our spending focus to mirror that. There must be an element of realism about it. We will not be able to continue to do all that we are doing at the moment, and we will not be able to do all that we would like to do within the resource envelope that is available to this country in the foreseeable future. These are real challenges. People know that we have established the comprehensive review of expenditure. I am driving that in a new way across Departments and line Ministers have received early wind of it. By September, we want both the current and capital review to be completed so that they will inform not only next year’s budget but also the presentation of a new capital plan from 2012 to 2016.
The key question to be asked of all public bodies is whether they are now performing tasks that are essential to the economic and social recovery that we require. We need to ask ourselves that. When I was involved in my own party’s programme of reform during the run up to the election, I was very conscious that we needed to put the political system under the same microscope as everything else. For example, I approached the issue of the survival or not of the Seanad with an open mind. I probably had a predisposition to saying that we could make a case for its reform. However, if we use the yardstick that we need to apply to everything, then we should ask if Seanad Éireann is doing a job that is absolutely essential and that no other organisation can do. I came to the conclusion that we could do without it. We will have to apply that yardstick everywhere. When I met the chief executives of the semi-State bodies, I told them they were all doing a fine job and working very hard, but that we cannot afford them all anymore. I told them they would have to examine their own functions at the outset, rather than undergo an external review. I told them to examine whether they could merge or hive back their core function to their parent Department and so on. That level of fundamental questioning of all activities of government, public service and public policy must get under way.
Reform is essential to this endeavour. Members have spoken about the Croke Park agreement that commits the social partners to work together to find new and efficient ways of delivering public services. It is not an end in itself. There will have to be a review of it to achieve the ambitious targets we have set out. I am struck by Deputy Donnelly’s comments about negotiation and engagement. This will not be a coercion-based reform. If we are to have fundamental reform, it must be by negotiation and engagement, and not necessarily by agreement. We will not always get agreement and the Government must make decisions at the end of the day, but certainly it should do so following negotiations and engagement, so that people have a chance to have their views aired. If there are different ways of doing things, they should be tested.
Deputy Donnelly also mentioned doing things fundamentally differently in respect of education. That is why the issue of literacy is at the core of education policy in the programme for Government. The resources devoted to education in the last three decades have increased enormously, but the literacy rate has not. We have to look at outcomes and test why these things are happening. The question is not simply about whether we need smaller classes, more resources, more teachers, more special assistants and so on. We need to figure out what we are doing with all these resources and what is the outcome and value from them when preparing the next generation. That model has to be applied to health and other sectors as well.
I disagree with the contention that the establishment and make up of the new Department, and its relationship with the Department of Finance, will increase duplication and will serve no meaningful purpose. That is a knee-jerk reaction for people who are resistant to change. Both political parties in the Government did much research separately in advance of the election. We in the Labour Party had an expert group working with us on how to bring about reforms. The diagnosis of both parties separately was that reform could not be pushed unless a Cabinet ranked Minister was put in place with control of expenditure. That was not going to happen in an economic crisis with a Minister for Finance whose first priority had to be to deal with the macro-economic situation of the country. The diagnosis for solving this problem was reached by both the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party separately. That is why the programme for Government contains proposals for fundamental change to the Department of Finance, which is now evident in this Bill.
I ask people to engage with this new, radical change, which is a signal that we are open to change in and of itself. The knee-jerk reaction of some contributors, who said the new system involved duplication because it is different from how we have done things since 1928, misses the point. I would like people to give the new structure, and the Department I head up, fair wind. This Department will have an enormous responsibility to ensure success in bringing about economic changes and reform of our political system, our public service and our Constitution.
I look forward to lots of debates with my colleagues opposite in the committee. I believe it was Deputy Calleary who suggested an established sub-committee of the joint finance committee, which is a good idea and one I welcome. However, that is a matter for the committee itself to decide. There must be a high level of engagement. When the committee is established, whether it is a sub-committee or a full committee, I will endeavour to ensure it is fully briefed and engaged in all the processes that will fall under my remit when this legislation is finally enacted.
|Adams, Gerry.||Barry, Tom.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Butler, Ray.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Carey, Joe.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Collins, Áine.|
|Colreavy, Michael.||Conaghan, Michael.|
|Conlan, Seán.||Connaughton, Paul J.|
|Conway, Ciara.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.||Costello, Joe.|
|Creed, Michael.||Daly, Jim.|
|Deering, Pat.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Doherty, Regina.||Donnelly, Stephen.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Dowds, Robert.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Fitzpatrick, Peter.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Fleming, Tom.||Griffin, Brendan.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Harrington, Noel.|
|Harris, Simon.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Heydon, Martin.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Humphreys, Heather.|
|Humphreys, Kevin.||Keating, Derek.|
|Keaveney, Colm.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kenny, Seán.||Kyne, Seán.|
|Lawlor, Anthony.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|Lyons, John.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McDonald, Mary Lou.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McLoughlin, Tony.||McNamara, Michael.|
|Maloney, Eamonn.||Mathews, Peter.|
|Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
|Murphy, Dara.||Murphy, Eoghan.|
|Nash, Gerald.||Neville, Dan.|
|Nolan, Derek.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Perry, John.||Phelan, Ann.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Sherlock, Sean.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Spring, Arthur.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Tóibín, Peadar.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Wall, Jack.||Walsh, Brian.|
|Boyd Barrett, Richard.||Browne, John.|
|Calleary, Dara.||Collins, Joan.|
|Cowen, Barry.||Daly, Clare.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|Lowry, Michael.||McConalogue, Charlie.|
|McGrath, Mattie.||McGrath, Michael.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|Pringle, Thomas.||Ross, Shane.|
|Troy, Robert.||Wallace, Mick.|
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