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Column The Government promised ‘war on quangos’ – so why are they creating new ones?

A whole new layer of bureaucracy is part of the Government’s fiscal plan, writes Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming.

WHEN MINISTER BRENDAN Howlin stepped up to announce €1.4billion in spending cuts, he failed to acknowledge that some departments would soon be spending more money on themselves.

The Minister mentioned a list of quangos to be eliminated as if he was doing something new. In fact he presented a summary of bodies that were on their way out already.  In Budget 2009 the Fianna Fáil/Green government announced 30 agency rationalisation measures involving a reduction of 41 bodies and the streamlining of certain other functions.

We believe there should be an emphasis now on working and implementing the Croke Park agreement. The government must ensure the agreement produces specific reforms.  The next interim report should contain more specifics of cost savings on a department-by-department basis.

The first annual report had no such figures and the document was lacking in that regard. Critics of the Croke Park Agreement will be emboldened if the Government cannot work the deal to achieve the necessary savings.

I was amazed when Minister Howlin published the Government’s public sector reform plan. I criticised it on the basis that it is all geared to the appointment of a new layer of middle management in the public service.  The Minister wants to appoint a programme director for the new reform and delivery service office and a senior official responsible for overall delivery of cross-cutting measures.

He wants to establish a public service chief information officer, a shared-services transformation manager in the reform and delivery office, appoint a payroll shared services manager, an officer responsible for business plans, a pensions shared services project manager, a project manager in the Civil Service human resources shared services centre, a senior responsible officer to provide leadership to overall procurement in the public sector reform and a head of commercial delivery within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.  He wants to set up an implementation steering group to plan, monitor and evaluate the basic payments account plan.

‘It’s how the cuts are being applied’

There is cross-party agreement in the Dáil for a budget correction of €3.8billion and in that there is a need for cuts. However it is how these cuts are being applied – to vulnerable families, children and Community Employment Scheme, while at the same time no real reform of spending on Government is being tackled.

One year ago Fine Gael said they would “move well beyond the McCarthy agenda [the An Bord Snip Report] to end the wasteful duplication across the public sector and to cut the number of State bodies and companies by 145 through a programme of public sector streamlining.” (Fine Gael, Reinventing Government, November 2010)

In fact, the programme for government proposes the creation of 36 new quangos including Irish Water.

From the time the Government decided to establish a new Department of Public Expenditure I welcomed the decision. I believe it is important that a separate Minister is in place to drive the reform that is needed and controls the spending to do so. However I did express concern that it would be the senior levels of the civil service who would seize power in the new department and judging by the new layer of bureaucracy that is planned this has come to pass.

It is not too late for the Government and Minister Howlin to actually tackle spending on Government. While there is a need for spending cuts in the economy we must also keep the cost of Government under control.

Seán Fleming TD is the Fianna Fáil spokesman on public expenditure.

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