Monday, 28 December 2009

Reforming the Public Servic: More on Govt Prog

Slí Eile: Continuing on the Renewed Programme of Government - the Section on Reform of public services (p33) contains some good (and long overdue proposals for change). However, as with the follow-up to the OECD Review published in 2008 on Irish public service reform, change is happening at snail’s pace and it very much ‘top down’ rather than led from the ranks. The collapse in Partnership adds to the difficulty of any real consensus-based reform for the foreseeable future.
Paradoxically, the imposition of ‘control and command’ more than ever in regard to every single post subject to the public service moratorium allied to micro-management form the centre of relatively small grant payment runs counter to the spirit of the OECD report which advocated more delegation of responsibility and authority to decide on resource allocation allied to ‘working within budgets’ and being called to account for outcomes and delivery rather than micro-management of input and process. The system does not seem to learn or apply the lessons of past failed initiatives from the 1960s Devlin Report onwards.
You may be interested to note that, forty years ago, on 20th November 1969 in a Dáil debate on the Devlin report for public service reform

David Thornley, TD stated:
The Minister enjoys a justifiable reputation for the firm way he controls the Civil Service. I wonder could he elaborate on the well-known Civil Service phrase “in due course?” It seems to us on this side of the House that no matter what questions we ask about the Buchanan Report, the Devlin Report, the Todd Report and one hundred and one other reports the phrase “in due course”, whatever that means, seems to hang over the point which we are to have explained to us when major social decisions are to be taken by the Government in the light of these reports. As a student of the Civil Service, I have often wondered what the phrase “in due course” means in specific terms.

The then Minister for Finance (with responsibility for public and civil service reform), a certain Charles J. Haughey replied to Dr Thornley in the following terms:
It is a phrase that is used when you cannot use anything more specific.

Lets say that things take time ….

Sports, Arts, Tourism, Irish language
On reading this short section (p37-38) you would never think that Bord Snip had proposed vaporising this area as a Department (along with that other national non-priority in the view of Bord Snip – Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The sentence about working with the ‘arts, sports, cultural and tourism sectors in the development of initiatives and opportunities for Ireland to capitalise on the proximity of the London 2012 Olympic Games’ (p38) is heavy on verbs and light on specifics. Still it is a good idea and worth following up as part of an imaginative investment strategy to get people back to work and avail of market opportunities in the run up to 2012.

The Renewed Programme for Government is long on aspirations and scant on exactly how and when various commitments will be delivered. A worthy example of this is the following:
As promised in our “Smarter Travel” policy, following the completion of the rapid transport studies in Cork, Galway, Waterford & Limerick cities, we will, starting in 2010 provide a high quality integrated, accessible public transport service to within 800 metres of every home.
Sounds good. I’m all for that. It is worth noting that massive capital investment has gone into roads, the port tunnel, M50 etc – all of little benefit to the environment and effectively taking scarce resources away from investment in a proper rail and bus service. Again and again, short-term thinking and blinkered cost-benefit analysis on railways in the 1950-1970 period exacted a huge long-term and environmental cost.

We will end long-term homelessness by the end of 2010 through the implementation of “The Way Home”, Ireland’s strategy on adult homelessness 2008-2013.
But, exactly how?, where? How much cost? Which agencies?

The commitment to additional teachers in primary and secondary schools is vague (is it additional to the existing numbers?). One way or another the pupil-teacher ratio will increase since even a modest increases in teacher numbers will not be sufficient to absorb demographic pressures.
All in all, like its predecessor the Agreed Programme of Government in 2007, the Renewed Programme for Government is a two-pony carrier – one pony with lots of green imprints with vague timelines and costs and – in this case – a number of high-profile ‘concessions’ (fees at third level, teacher numbers and reform of donations); the other pony with a very nasty fiscal agenda indeed. We haven’t seen anything yet.

The commitment to ratifying the Antarctic Treaty, along with other nations, is indeed commendable. It would also be welcome if Government implemented and enacted legislation giving workers collective bargaining rights. Not a word about worker rights in the Programme. Strange. What about the Charter for Fundamental Rights (Lisbon Treaty)?

1 comment:

Antoin O Lachtnain said...

There has been massive investment by the public sector in Bus and Rail. The expenditure of this money was completely delegated to close to the front line. The problem is that there has been no commensurate increase in passenger numbers, except on the Luas.

If what is needed is reform driven from the botttom upwards, why does Partnership or consensus matter? Partnership is inherently a top-down process.

The reality that you hint at is that the unions are getting ready to wreck all bottom-up initiatives. Their motivation for doing this is selfish. They want to exact revenge on the government.

The RPfG is undeniably a load of waffle.