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Coveney: Department 'was being accurate' in rejecting government's Croke Park criteria

Simon Coveney says Department of Finance guidelines for calculating Croke Park savings are not realistic in his case.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

AGRICULTURE MINISTER Simon Coveney has said his department was merely “being accurate” when it disregarded Department of Finance guidelines on estimating the amount his department has saved under the Croke Park Agreement.

Coveney told RTÉ’s This Week programme that he did not believe the Department of Finance advice – that any pay savings from staff reductions should be overstated by 40 per cent – was appropriate in his case.

The Sunday Independent today reports that as much as €678 million of the money which the government says it has saved under the Croke Park Agreement may not have actually been realised, because it falls into the ‘non-pay savings’ category.

The paper reveals that this is based on the suggestion that individual government departments should add 40 per cent the amount they save from cutting staff numbers.

This afternoon Coveney said the rationale behind this was that cutting staff meant a reduction in pension contributions, as well as cuts in the cost of recruiting a replacement and other non-salary expenses that the employee could have been entitled to.

“The reason why we didn’t apply the 40 per cent figure is that when you’re doing this through an officory organisation, you can reduce staff numbers but you don’t necessarily get the non-core pay savings immediately.

Coveney said his own Department of Agriculture, which is one of the government’s lesser-spending departments, had cut its staff numbers by 900 since 2009 and made savings of over €70 million, largely through the reorganisation of district offices from 58 to 16.

Auditor Grant Thornton had ultimately sided with the Department of Agriculture in its refusal to use the 40 per cent figure, saying: “We are satisfied that the reasons for undervaluing the declared savings are adequate and understandable.”

The Sunday Independent, which covers the dispute this morning, quotes Brendan Howlin as insisting the €678 million figure given for non-pay savings in the last two years does not include the 40 per cent overstatement.

It also quotes Fine Gael backbencher Eoghan Murphy as raising queries over the figures listed in the most recent implementation report as being saved in the Department of Health.

That report said the Department of Health accounted for €238 million – or 65 per cent – of the €369 million in non-pay savings between June 2011 and June 2012. This was through managing the cost of drugs, maintenance, catering, cleaning and the development of a new national procurement model.

Read: Howlin looking at incorporating public sector allowances into core pay

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Gavan Reilly

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