Fine Gael’s 86-page reform document was seen as their chance to shine, but an embarrassing interview on RTÉ by leader Enda Kenny and the burgeoning concern about whether Ireland will have to go to the EU or the IMF for a bailout, meant that it quickly left the spotlight.
‘Reinventing Government: protecting services and getting the economy back on track’ contains 100 proposals aiming to cut 30,000 public sector jobs and 145 public bodies.
Fine Gael believes that €5 billion can be saved over five years by confronting waste, duplication and inefficiency across the public sector and ensuring there are “fewer politicians, fewer bureaucrats, and much fewer quangos eating in to your hard earned taxes.”
The main points include:
• abolishing the Seanad and reducing the number of TDs from 166 to 146;
• halving the size of the Department of the Taoiseach and transforming it into a ‘cabinet office’;
• the dismantling of the HSE and FÁS;
• cutting 30,000 public sector jobs through a voluntary redundancy scheme;
• putting in place a Whistleblowers Act to protect public servants who expose maladministration;
• establishing a single state-owned commercial water company (Irish Water), merging ESB and Eirgrid and merging Coillte and Bord na Móna
a into a new single renewable energy leader (Bio Energy Ireland);
• ensuring at least one third of senior level public service appointments are made from outside the current system for a period of five years; and
• establishing an independent fiscal council, accountable to the Oireachtas Finance Committee.
On education and health, rather than giving fixed budgets to traditional public service providers like the HSE, VECs and FÁS, resources would be put into the hands of citizens, the party adds.
FÁS would be abolished and money previously given to the body would be re-allocated into training vouchers to allow the unemployed “to define and acquire their own re-skilling needs.”
Similarly, the HSE would be dismantled and money previously given to that body would be administered through a ‘money-follows-the-patient’ system, paying hospitals for the patients they treat.
People with disabilities would be give personal care budgets whereby they choose the care they need.
The document adds: “We will transfer the governance and management of HSE hospitals to Hospital Trusts, free to determine their staff mix and to find ways to incentivise cost efficiency, productivity and quality. When the reform process is complete, the HSE itself will be dismantled.”
However when Kenny was pressed for details on how many HSE staff would be made redundant, he said: “You can’t ask me to put a figure on that.”
He said the HSE would cease to exist because competing health insurance companies would be responsible for contracting services on behalf of their subscribers. The insurance companies would tender for medical packages and the people who were best placed to undertake this work are those currently employed in HSE administration, he added. Therefore he expects those admin staff which are made redundant will be employed by private health insurance companies.
It is time to get rid of the ‘Whitehall’ system, the document states. That antiquated system fosters a culture of “passive administration and crisis containment,” rather than management and problem solving and assumes a “man in the Ministry knows best” philosophy that produces excessive bureaucracy, the party adds.
“When the Irish State was established in difficult times, it was understandable that we just used existing British structures to keep the country going and we’ve been using them ever since. But old UK institutions designed to rule over the ‘little people’ have no place in a republic of equals.”
It points out that when reform is attempted, for example in the Croke Park Agreement, the McCarthy report or the report of the local government efficiency review group, “the culture of command and control and top-down micro-management means that public servants are still waiting for change proposals to come down from above.”
Fine Gael would implement a majority of the non-social welfare recommendations from the McCarthy report and at least 80 per cent of the spending savings recommended by the local “““government efficiency review group, including cutting the number of county and city managers from 34 to 24; reducing senior managers in the Dublin and Cork local authorities by 15 per cent; centralising recruitments through the Public Appointments Service and greater use of shared services in procurement.
Overall, there is a need to “break up the concentrations of power that so damaged the country”, the party claims.
This would be achieved by cutting the number of economic regulators but giving them new powers to put citizens’ interests, not special interests, at the centre of economic regulation and ensuring that fixed-term contracts for secretary generals and agency chief executives are reduced to three years and that “there are no more ‘golden handshakes’ for public servants who have failed to deliver.”
In order to make life simpler for the public, the party would establish a website – www.fixmystreet.ie – to allow residents to report problems with street lighting, drainage, graffiti, waste collection and road and path maintenance in their neighbourhoods, with a guarantee that a local official will respond within two working days.
A “one stop shop” for citizen’s entitlements such as jobseekers, training and housing supports and medical cards, would be introduced to cut administrative costs, expose fraud and improve citizens’ access to entitlements.
The document has been praised for its vision but criticised for a lack of detail on how reform will be implemented.