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The ten commandments for a better civil service

If they were good enough for Moses…

THE INDEPENDENT PANEL tasked with looking into how the civil service could be improved has published its report.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin established the panel in January.

Following an extensive public consultation process, the group has compiled a list of ten recommendations.

Minister Howlin described the report as “very valuable” and said that it “will help inform and foster public debate on the crucial issue of civil service accountability and performance”.

It provides a timely assessment of how more robust governance could assist in building public trust in our administrative system, and ensuring faster and more responsive policy delivery.

Over 36,000 people work in the civil service, representing 12% of total public service jobs. Employees are based in 16 government departments and certain specified offices.

Almost half of staff, 44.7%, are over the age of 50; 28.8% are aged from 40-49; 23.3% are 30-39 years old and 3.3.% are younger than 30.

The panel was chaired by Dublin City University lecturer Professor Kevin Rafter, and also included Dorothea Dowling, non-executive chairwoman of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, and Michael Howard, the former secretary general of the Department of Defence.

Here’s the lowdown on what they have advised.

1. Establish an accountability board

The report states that the board, which would be chaired by the Taoiseach, will look at the “capacity and capability of the civil service” and “performance management arrangements”.

It adds that board membership would be balanced with ministerial, civil servant and external representation. The latter would consists of “exceptionally experienced individuals who have led and managed large complex organisations” and will provide “an outside perspective”.

PICK ME GIF WITH TEXT Source: Screengrab/YouTube

2. Appoint a head of the civil service

The new role would have a “limited but highly focused and ambitious remit”.

She or he would have an “ambassadorial role as a visible leader and would also speak on behalf of the Civil Service”.

3. Establish a performance management system for general secretaries

civil service chain of command

This would be designed by the head of the civil service and overseen by the voard. It would examine both “delivery within departments and contributions to the whole of government agenda”.

4. Hold regular departmental reviews 

Shutterstock-145891934 Source: Shutterstock

This is to measure if departments are delivering on their priorities and, if not, why not.

5. Publish a list of who does what and to whom they are answerable to

WHO ARE YOU text Source: Kaijucast/Wordpress

The report states that “a public and up-to-date framework of assignments would assist in strengthening accountability and dialogue between officials and Oireachtas Committees”.

6. Ensure the Oireachtas plays a role in accountability

The report states that the appearance of civil service officials at Oireachtas Committee hearings “can enhance discussion about the implementation of policy objectives in the Programme for Government and in the Strategy Statements of Departments”.

Caution: Those attending Committees need to prepare themselves for serious doses of the infamous “Oireachtas side-eye”.

susan pac tweet crop Source: Screengrab/Oireachtas TV

7. Greater flexibility in decision making

The panel found that the civil service can “frequently be over-centralised” and called for a consultation process to identify “greater local responsibility”.

Shutterstock-148496540 What a more flexible civil servant might look like. Source: Shutterstock

8. Human Resource reform

The panel suggests that human resource managers should stage “early intervention” when it comes to under-performers to help them raise “their performance to the required level”.

The possibility of introducing performance-related pay was also examined, but this was deemed “inappropriate”. Looks like the Reform Alliance is on its own on this one.

9. Define the role of agencies

The panel said that one of the issues raised during the consultation process was “the place of agencies within the administrative system”.

This is a long-standing and unresolved issue about the role of agencies.

The report noted that “greater clarity would be provided by a precise definition of what is meant by the term “agency” in this context”.

Shutterstock-164258969 Source: Shutterstock

“It would also be helpful if there was a categorisation of agencies according to their statutory basis and funding arrangements,” the report adds.

10. Special Advisors

The panel recommended that an accountability code be introduced for special advisors, as well as mandatory induction training upon their appointment.

Their duties include providing advice to the relevant Minister as well as “monitoring, facilitating and assisting in the delivery of Government objectives”.

During its consultation period, the panel said it was made aware of the fact that stakeholders need “greater clarity about the role of special advisers as well
as the accountability regime that should apply to the holders of these positions”.

All or nothing

The report stressed that the recommendations should be implemented as “an integrated and coherent programme of measures” as ”a piecemeal implementation would weaken their overall effectiveness and could potentially introduce unintended adverse effects.”

The government will examine the recommendations and decide if any of them will be implemented by the end of July.

Read: Dozens of retired civil servants receive pensions worth €100k

Poll: Should pay cuts in the civil service be reversed?

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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