Reform

Significant progress on reform

eolas examines the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s (DPER) annual progress report on the Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016.

One year after the publication of the Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016 DPER has released its annual progress report. Writing in the document, the Minister for the Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin TD states that progress so far has been “significant.”

 It is widely accepted that public service reform has played a large role in Ireland’s economic recovery. Since 2009 public service staff numbers have been reduced by 10 per cent and the public sector wage bill has been reduced by approximately 20 per cent. However, this reduction in cost and staff doesn’t seem to have hampered Ireland’s public administration as the recently published IPA trends report ranked Ireland third in the European Union for the quality of its public administration, but just what has the 2014-16 public service reform plan managed to achieve so far?

 

Priorities

Building on the first reform plan, the 2014-16 plan was announced in January 2014. As well as maintaining a focus on reducing costs and increasing efficiency, this plan for reform has been charged with building a public service that will have “positive outcomes for all stakeholders, including citizens, businesses and public servants themselves.” The key priorities of the 2014-16 reform plan include:

•   the use of alternative models of service delivery and better engagement with customers;

•   making maximum use of digitisation and open data to deliver services and information in innovative ways;

•   utilisation of the ‘reform dividend’ to support service improvements;

•   greater openness, transparency and accountability.

Progress

It appears strong progress has been made this year in the reform programme with the annual report listing roughly 150 examples of this progress including the reduction in the public service pay-bill from €17.5 billion in 2009 to a provisional €13.9 billion net of pension related deduction by the end of 2014. These figures equate to a reduction of around 20 per cent. There has also been an impressive reduction in staffing levels with a reduction of 30,800 jobs from the 2008 levels of 320,400 to 289,600 now.

Making use of the ever increasing prevalence of technology in our working and social lives, the department launched a new public service ICT strategy in January 2015 designed to create a new model for ICT delivery across the public service. The welfare payment system also boasts impressive figures in the uptake in its new Public Service Card. The card, which replaces the older Social Services Card, is used to collect social welfare payments and includes the Free Travel Pass for those who are eligible. It has now been issued to roughly 25 per cent of the population with 1,217,000 people in Ireland now in possession of one.

PeoplePoint is the department’s shared service centre for reforming and reducing the cost of delivering HR services to 40 government departments and offices. When all 40 have transitioned, it is estimated that the cost of HR services will be reduced by approximately €12.5 million a year. The number of staff working in HR, upon implementation fell from 870 staff to roughly 330. At present, PeoplePoint provides services to more than 26,000 employees across 21 organisations. 

The annual progress report has also announced the implementation of major alternative services such as JobPath. JobPath is a new approach aimed at helping the long-term unemployed secure and sustain full time paid employment or self-employment. The report also credits the ability of outsourced call centres to scale up and down as needed with saving the exchequer millions of euro in its handling of local property tax and household charge queries.

Elsewhere, a new centralised model for public procurement is being implemented by the procurement reform programme to generate significant savings in non-pay expenditure. The report estimates that thanks to this reform, around €63.5 million was saved on procurement in 2014. Measures for improved and better integrated property management, are being implemented and leadership is being enhanced by the implementation of the Senior Public Service leadership development strategy. By the end of this reform program in 2016, it is estimated that there will be 181 fewer bodies operating in the Irish Public Service than in 2011.

Civil service reform

Alongside these reforms that will apply to all sectors of the public service, a broad range of specific reforms are taking place at organisational and sectoral level as well. Under the Public Service Reform programme, there is a particularly strong focus on driving change in the key sectors of health, education, local government, justice and the civil service.

In October 2014, the Civil Service Renewal Plan set out a roadmap for the future of the civil service and since the publication of the plan to create a world class accountable civil service, significant progress has been achieved. The terms of reference for the establishment of the civil services’ Accountability Board has been approved alongside the establishment of a civil service management board. In total, 21 of the 25 actions listed in the Civil Service Renewal Plan have now been initiated. These actions include developing a new shared model for delivering learning and development in the Civil Service and the establishment of a central Programme Management Office to co-ordinate and drive implementation of all 25 actions on a phased basis. 

Conclusion

The report recognises that despite the significant progress that has been made, in order to continue delivering as planned, an ongoing emphasis on implementation and building on the structures and processes developed is required.

For their part, the department is maintaining a focus on strong and effective programme management and governance arrangements both centrally and within each of the main sectors and the report states a concerted effort will need to be made by public bodies to improve how they engage and interact with service users. The reform programme will also be underpinned by steps to improve leadership and human resource management within the public sector.

A further update on the progress of the implementation of the Public Service Reform Programme is due in early 2016.

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