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TheJournal.ie’s progress report for the Government: Public sector reform

The government promised to cut public sector numbers, increase accountability and improve performance. What’s happened?

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

1) WHAT THEY SAID DURING THE 2011 ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Labour said it would:

  • Establish an independent Fiscal Advisory Council to advise the government on the economic aspect of its policy decisions
  • Set up a temporary Office of Public Sector Reform headed by a cabinet minister to oversee public service reform
  • Reduce the number of quangos and duplication of agencies and government departments
  • Make ministers and senior civil servants legally accountable for the decisions they make
  • Reduce management layers in the civil and public service, but give greater freedom for managers to manage staff and budgets
  • Carry out a comprehensive spending review under which all quangos and bodies significantly funded by the taxpayer will have to justify their continued existence as a separate entity
  • Will work with the Croke Park Agreement, but it’s essential that the agreement brings Exchequer savings and that the pace of its implementation is accelerated

FG said it would:

  • Establish an independent Fiscal Advisory Council within the Oireachtas to ensure that future governments respect new, prudent fiscal rules set by the Oireachtas
  • Set up a new Office of Public Spending and Modernisation overseen by cabinet minister and responsible for expenditure management within the departmental budgets assigned by the Minister for Finance
  • Cut the number of public bodies, regulators and inspectorates by 145
  • Save one euro in every ten spent by public bodies by confronting waste, duplication and inefficiency in the public sector
  • Cut the size of the public service by at least 10 per cent from 2010 levels (30,000 positions), including a one-third cut in the numbers of politicians and of staff working in Government Departments, protecting resources for the front-line
  • Pin down accountability for results at every level of the public service from Ministers down with clear consequences for success and failure
  • Publish public service performance and progress in new, audited annual Public Service Delivery Reports. Oireachtas Committees will expose failure to hit milestones and targets which will feed into the Oireachtas’ consideration of the next Budget
  • Will honour the pay elements of the Croke Park Agreement, but plans to go beyond it in terms of a public service reform agenda

2) WHAT THEY PROMISED IN THE PROGRAMME FOR GOVERNMENT

  • We will establish an independent Fiscal Advisory Council (FAC), separated from fiscal decision-makers in government, that would undertake official fiscal macroeconomic projections and  monitoring
  • We will cut the total number of public sector employees by between 18,000 and 21,000 by 2014 and a further 4,000 by 2015, compared to the total number at the end of 2010
  • We will increase accountability for results at every level of the public service, including ministers, with clear consequences for success and failure. Ministers will be responsible for policy and procurement while public service managers will be responsible for delivery
  • The government will introduce concrete mechanisms to improve performance, using a range of external standards and benchmarks, and to deal with persistent under-performance in the public sector
  • Increase accountability for results at every level of the public service ,including ministers, with clear consequences for success and failure. Ministers will be responsible for policy and procurement while public service managers will be responsible for delivery

3) PROGRESS – OR LACK THEREOF – IN FIRST YEAR OF GOVERNMENT

  • An independent Fiscal Advisory Council was established in June 2011 to comment publicly on how the government was meeting its own budgetary targets.
  • The Department of Expenditure and Public Reform was set up to ensure effective use of taxpayer funds while delivering quality public services. Brendan Howlin was appointed minister of this department.
  • According to Howlin, the government met its 2011 target for reducing staff levels in the public service, which had 297,000 employees by the end of last year. Around 7,400 people applied to retire from the sector by the end of February.
  • Each department has been given a set of targets for the coming year and a list of the objectives reached in 2011. The government published its first financial report cards for each department in late February.
  • Earlier this year, Minister of State Brian Hayes warned that if public sector reforms under the Croke Park Agreement were not enacted with a certain ‘urgency’, then further pay cuts could be introduced in the public sector

Our full report: How did the government do in its first year? This is how.

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