Dáil debates

Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Other Questions.

Decentralisation Programme.

3:00 pm

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Question 51: To ask the Minister for Finance the number of people who have moved directly with their job in respect of assignments made within his Department to decentralised posts; the number who are new recruits recruited within the past 24 months; the number who have been appointed on promotion; and the additional personal costs likely to be associated with the move. [7945/06]

4:00 pm

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Under the decentralisation programme announced by Government in December 2003 up to 131 staff of my Department are due to decentralise to Tullamore from July 2006 and 33 staff are due to decentralise to Kildare.

The number of staff in my Department who have chosen to move to Tullamore within the decentralising business units is ten. A further nine staff from my Department have chosen to move, six staff have been recruited, ten staff have been appointed on promotion and a further 49 staff have already transferred at their existing grade from other Departments, giving a total of 84 persons in place. In addition, a further 19 people who have accepted offers at their existing grade are in the process of being transferred to my Department in the coming weeks. This brings to 103 the number of staff who have to date chosen to decentralise with my Department to Tullamore.

The number of staff in my Department who have chosen to move to Kildare within the decentralising business units is three. A further ten staff have been appointed on promotion. The Deputy should be aware that these figures are subject to change as further assignments are made under the decentralisation programme. My Department will continue to manage staff assignments to support decentralisation with a view to minimising any additional costs which may arise in accordance through our decentralisation implementation plan. The costs associated with the provision of accommodation in Tullamore and Kildare will be met from the Office of Public Works Vote. There have been limited additional personnel associated costs to date, apart from costs associated with training and development and some travel and subsistence costs.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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I note that the significant new information in the Minister's reply is that roughly 20% of the posts that he has already filled have been filled through promotion or new recruitment. To what extent does the Minister believe, not only in his Department but in the wider programme, that posts will be filled in that manner? How does that fit in with the statement that decentralisation would occur on a cost-neutral basis, without any new people being engaged or any increase in the numbers of staff in a given position?

Will the Minister reflect on the previous successful decentralisation exercises we had in the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social and Family Affairs? Ultimately, they filled between 20% and 35% of posts on promotion and between 10% and 20% through new recruitment. Even in the case of the Minister's Department, which is at the front of the house and going to a location very near Dublin, we already see a significant level of promotions and new recruitment to facilitate smooth relocation. Has the Minister estimated what it will cost to bring in extra staff and create new positions?

What is the Government position on confining promotional competitions to those willing to decentralise? We recently saw a court case regarding FÁS in which that practice was found to be entirely in breach of existing agreements. Has the Government cause to reflect on the approach it is taking to confining promotional opportunities to those willing to move?

What is the position regarding those who have said that they wish to remain in Dublin? As the Minister stated regarding his Department, only ten out of 131 are moving with their post. All the other 121 in his section must be relocated. What offers are being made to those 121, representing more than 90% of employees?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Some have applied to go to other areas. The fact that they are not going to the specific area does not mean that only ten staff members from the unit are interested in decentralisation. They may be going to other locations and other Departments.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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How many of the other 121 have applied?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have that information to hand, but I can get the Deputy the details. Regarding previous instances of decentralisation, the sorts of figures and percentages that the Deputy has quoted to me seem in line with those viewed as successful.

This is a voluntary scheme and we must go through the industrial relations issues. Discussions continue with several unions on various matters in Departments concerning technical and administrative staff and so on. Those who have been involved in promotion have stated their willingness to go to Tullamore. It is a voluntary act on their part.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister confirm that none of the promotion competitions has been confined to those willing to move?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No, the promotions were open to everyone. The issue that arises is that those who have——

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Is it not true that people are promoted only if they are willing to move?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I do not get involved in internal staffing or promotion arrangements. The figures I have given the Deputy concern those promoted and willing to move.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is responsible for the cost of the programme. If 20% of posts are filled on promotion, there is higher pay, and if 10% or 15% are filled through new recruitment, another salary must be paid. There are clear indications.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No. The posts being transferred are at those levels.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister stated that they were being filled on promotion.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, but my point is that not everyone is going as a junior or higher executive officer. Various grades have been submitted.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is not taking back promoted positions for others but creating new posts at a higher level, with higher costs.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The idea of decentralisation is to reduce running, property, leasing and rental costs, which are lower in the country than in the cities, particularly in Dublin, which has very high property valuations. We take all that into account, in addition to the cost of moving, to decide the overall cost of the process. There is great complexity in deciding how one transfers the necessary personnel, trains those who wish to go, relocates people, and allows them to cross from one Department to another. That programme is reported on by the implementation committee periodically. All the information in that regard is available in those reports.

I am satisfied regarding the instances of decentralisation to which the question refers. As far as the Department of Finance is concerned, decentralisation is going very well. We hope to complete the move by July 2006, which is a realistic target. Significant progress is being made on the building. Matters are going well, and the Office of Public Works is very happy. I have outlined the position on Kildare. From the Department's perspective, regarding the issues with which we must deal, we may be the first to decentralise to Tullamore.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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The Minister was kind enough to answer a similar question from me last Wednesday. In his response, he told me that of the 131 staff due to go to Tullamore, who are important to the Civil Service since they manage the computers, only 19, less than 15%, have agreed to move. The Minister has taken an extra 63 staff into the Department of Finance. Another 20, presumably through promotion, are working their way through. Is the Minister concerned about the loss of the 85% of staff who are not going and who are key when it comes to computers that provide a frontline public service and avoiding a repeat of the PPARS fiasco? What will the Minister do with the 85% who are staying? What will he do when he has a new set-up in Tullamore and only 15% have moved?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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We have exceeded the time. The Deputy must be brief.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Has the Minister costed this? What is the cost of the extra 63 people who have moved into the Department and are described as in situ?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Regarding the total cost, the Civil Service training and development centre, which is itself decentralising, is also providing support to decentralise the Department. It has produced a series of support manuals designed to provide practical advice and guidance to decentralising sections and divisions. In our Department, current indications are that it is likely to be on target at most levels in achieving the required numbers. As I have said, 103 members signed up to decentralise to Tullamore. We will be able to fill remaining posts through a combination of completing trawls from the central applications facility and competition.

I assure the Deputy that the same level of competence will be available in Tullamore as has been the case in Dublin. I also assure her that all Civil Service staff, in my Department and every other, are equally important. The management team is very enthusiastic regarding the success of the decentralisation process so far. We have provided for retraining in the decentralisation programme, and the level of competence in Tullamore will be what one would expect. Staff have been decentralised in the Department of Education and Science for some years, and that has gone very well.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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In his original answer, the Minister did not supply the ratio of civil servants already relocated to other areas who are to go to the new centre in Tullamore.

Previous information indicates that as many as 50% of those civil servants who wished to be moved to one or other State agency or Department have already gone to another location outside of Dublin. This appears to undermine the entire basis of the Government's relocation programme. As for the reduction of €50 million in expenditure on the decentralisation programme in this year's Estimates, is this an indication that the Government is slowing down the implementation of its entire programme? Moreover, is it indicative that 31 agencies have now been identified as lacking an end-date by which the decentralisation process should be completed?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No. The Deputy should study the decentralisation implementation committee's latest report which shows the revised arrangements which it envisages as proceeding in terms of a realistic timeframe, based on the early movers, as identified, as well as those further down the line which, with the agreement of staff, it will seek to decentralise on the basis of the programme in future years. The decentralisation implementation committee's report is probably the best reference point for explanations of the degree of progress being made. I hope by the end of this year, up to 700, 800, or perhaps 900 people will be decentralised, with a further 2,500 in the following year. The report also discusses subsequent years.

As the Taoiseach noted in a reply during his own Question Time, all decentralisation programmes have ultimately been successfully implemented. There are issues specific to particular agencies, as well as industrial relations problems which must be dealt with in a manner consistent with the voluntary nature of this programme.

The Government is committed to doing all it can to make progress on this as quickly as possible. The allocation to the Office of Public Works this year is based on its realistic assessment of its requirements for this year, given the state of progress in respect of negotiations regarding assets, lands and buildings which it requires. Clearly, it is right and proper that if €150 million is not required this year, some of the money should go to other areas of priority expenditure about which the Opposition continually speaks, including education.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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From the perspective of the Oireachtas's efforts to scrutinise this programme, does the Minister agree that it is highly unsatisfactory that the implementation committee does not answer any questions, except perhaps on rare appearances before a committee; Ministers have not carried out any costings regarding the programme; no one has yet identified any building that will be vacated in Dublin as a result of the programme; and Members know nothing about the use which will be made of the 90% of people who have opted to remain in Dublin and not to move with their posts? Does he not accept there must be some level of political responsibility to this House for this programme and that Members are not receiving anything like a sufficient level of data? If this turns out to be like the PPARs project and we are asked what actions we took when it went wrong, we would not be able to say that we got the information and were able to oversee it. This is not a satisfactory way to run a railway. These are important decisions with major implications for the public service and we need more political accountability within the House for what is happening.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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My colleague and I answer questions on an ongoing basis in respect of these matters. It is not true that no office in Dublin has yet to be vacated. For example, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform's office has been sold.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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It was not part of decentralisation.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am giving the Deputy one example.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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That did not take place as a result of the decentralisation programme.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The only people who talk from both sides of their mouths with regard to this matter are the Opposition. When I read local newspapers, I note that Deputies and Senators from Fine Gael and Labour continually ask when the decentralisation programme will be implemented. I then come before this House to be told that I should not go ahead with it at all.

Paddy McHugh (Galway East, Independent)
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Will it go to Parlon country?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should not answer that question.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I find Deputy Bruton's own leader——

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister simply does not wish to be held accountable. He wishes to play to the gallery down in the country——

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am not playing to the gallery.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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——while refusing to answer questions in the House.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The people who are playing to the gallery are——

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Let the record show that the people who are playing to the gallery——

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister will not answer questions in the House. All the difficult questions are sent to the implementation committee.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Order.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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When the Taoiseach canvasses in Drumcondra, he tells people not to worry as decentralisation will not take place for ten years.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Bruton should know that the people who are playing to the gallery include his own leader, whom the Deputy is trying to set up as a statesman in waiting, who cannot pass a parish pump if one mentions Knock, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs or wherever else.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should go home to Parlon country.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is the situation we face as far as Fine Gael are concerned.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Who is playing to the gallery?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have even heard Deputy Bruton's colleagues in the backbenches complaining about it.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should come before this House and account for the decisions made. Some 90% of this programme will not go ahead as of the end of this year. A total of 90% of those projects which were supposed to be delivered on time will fail.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Total failure.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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That is the Minister's responsibility.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Bruton was never in favour of it.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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It was not properly thought out. Not a shred of thought was put into it.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's backbenchers are against him as far as this issue is concerned.