Paul Sweeney: With the many controversies around the very poor management of the Guards, it is worth seeing what the Irish policing service costs . This cost is of course not the same as attempting to see if we are getting value for money. It is up to you, the public to decide if we are getting value for money from the €1.6bn which will be spent on policing in Ireland in 2017. There is a further €39m spent on the Department of Justice and Equality which also oversees the prisons, courts, equality, etc. too.
An efficient public service is a key if we are to have a modern and equitable society and economy. “Value for Money” is a mission within the public service and one with which there are some difficulties. This is because alternative and more effective methods of expenditure can sometimes be simply overlooked or ignored.
Gross incompetence, whether deliberate or not, in some major areas is a deep cause of concern especially for those who argue that Ireland’s relatively low taxes (by EU standards) should be raised a little to fund better public services. This is a futile mission, if the money, or even some of it, is seen to be squandered.
Where it Goes
Of this policing expenditure of €1.6bn, a total of €50 million will be spent on the capital building program for the garda service. The breakdown for the considerable and necessary fleet of cars, bikes and trucks is not given, nor are numbers except that 350 new vehicles will be on the road this year. €1 million is spent on aircraft, €2 million on witness expenses and over €1 million on witness protection.
The biggest item of course is pay, which is normal in service employments. It is well known after the threatened garda strike that their pay is the highest average in the public service, with guards earning an annual average of €68,000 (Q1,17). This compares to the average in the public service of €47,112.
On key outputs, there is unspecified spending “to improve public opinion regarding the ability of an Garda Siochana to tackle crime” but there is a 60% output target for that for this year, (whatever that means). Interesting to see in the Estimates that the once free service to the banks (albeit owned if not controlled or in the service of the state) is to generate €11m and interestingly firearms’ fees is worth €14m. It is also good to see that a Cyber crime Investigation Unit is to be set up. There is no specific mention of management training, but the overall training budget is cut this year by a third to €12m. Spending on outside IT services (and office equipment) is cut from €54m to €37m in 2017.
We have 12,850 guards in Ireland, with the guards allocated by rank thus:
Deputy Commissioner 2
Assistant Commissioner 8
Chief superintendent 44
There are also assisted by 2001 civilians, about 850 reserves and 200 student gardai.
International comparisons of costs
Irish policing compares not unfavourably on costs with other EU member states. This year spending will be 0.6% of GDP compared with the EU19 at 0.9% and EU28 at 1%, according to Eurostat. Of course GDP is not an accurate measure for such comparison. Ireland’s is inflated by the activities of the MNCs and that measure makes Ireland’s spend look a little more efficient, ie lower. Even so we are below the average. Denmark and Norway are the lowest at 0.5% of GDP on policing costs in 2017, and the eastern Europeans are higher, with Bulgaria, a fairly corrupt state, highest at 1.4%.
Another measure is as a percentage of Government expenditure. By this we are at 2.2% which is higher than the average of 1.9 % for the EU19. For UK it is a high 2.6% and even higher in Bulgaria and Cyprus at 3.3%. But here again we have another Irish problem in international comparisons. Ireland’s total public expenditure is low by and European standards and so this measure is not a good comparison either, against others. It does however, tell us that money which is being spent on other public services in other countries is being spent on policing here.
The bottom line is that the controversies reveal that some of the €1,611,948 that is being spent on policing in Ireland is not giving value for money. How much is anyone’s guess, but it is a lot more than many thought a year ago. Time for root and branch reform if the 15,901 people working in policing in Ireland are to be efficiently deployed.
On a happier note
The unemployment rate for March 2017 was 6.4%, down from 6.6% in February 2017 and down from 8.3% in March 2016. In the Eurozone, unemployment fell by more than a million in the past year. Jobless rate at 9.5% is still shockingly high and due to the austerity policies pushed with vigour and ideological certainty by the elite. However, it is it the lowest level for 8 years and factories are reporting their highest output levels for years, as the fiscal hawks relent.
Paul Sweeney is Chair of the Economist Network