Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Priority Questions

Public Service Increments

2:00 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Question 111: To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will consider taking responsibility for the collation of cross departmental data on increments paid across the public sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20541/12]

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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My Department has access to detailed data on increments only in the Civil Service sector, for which I have direct responsibility. Detailed pay roll data for other public servants, including that for increments, are held and managed by individual public service employers. The availability of specific data on increments varies across those bodies. For example, detailed data on the cost of increments in the local authority sector is not currently available to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government as it covers 34 individual local authorities.

I have no plans for my Department to assume responsibility on an operational basis for the collation of pay roll data across the public service. Detailed data on increments are not currently available or readily accessible within the sectors. No specific financial provision is made to public service bodies in respect of increments because they are required to meet the cost within their overall pay allocations. As it is a matter for public service bodies to manage the cost of increments on an individual basis within their individual pay allocations, details are not sought for expenditure planning purposes and the information does not form part of the estimates process. However, the public service reform plan provides for a move to shared services across the public service and this will ensure greater accuracy of data and provide access to improved management information in real time. This is one of the many strategic benefits of shared services.

On increments generally, based on more detailed information recently requested by my Department on the total cost of increments in a full year in the various sectors, the estimated full year cost of increments in the public service excluding the local authority sector is estimated at no more than €180 million per annum and less than half that sum in 2012. Significantly reduced recruitment, the ongoing substantial fall in numbers of public servants and higher numbers reaching the maxima of scales have reduced the cost of increments. This cost will continue to fall over the coming years.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I tabled this question because the issue of increments has given rise to considerable public comment. In previous exchanges we established that cuts to or stoppage of increments would disproportionately affect people on lower incomes. I raise the issue not because I want the Minister to cut increments, but due to my astonishment at discovering that his Department does not possess the kind of data which I would have expected it to gather and which the chairperson of the Croke Park implementation body, P.J. Fitzpatrick, assumed it already possessed. It is important not only that the Department gather the data in question, but also that it become a repository for them.

The Minister should be able to take a bird's eye view. He cited the figures of €180 million globally and €90 million this year but he should have a more in-depth sense of what is going on. He recently announced his plans to establish a Government economic evaluation service with a staff of 20 to 30. If he is not going to be in the business of acquiring and storing detailed data and analysis on public sector pay, why does he want this unit? I asked him a direct question regarding whether he will assume responsibility for that kind of information. He appears to be saying "No" but I do not think that makes sense.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I agree with much of what the Deputy said. I am anxious to amass as much data on all public expenditure as possible. Bluntly, however, I was more than surprised - let me put it in a kind way - at the lack of overview of all public expenditure that resided in the former Department of Finance. Some of the detailed questions the Deputy raised over the past 12 months have helped to expose this issue. We are pulling all of that together but there is always a conflict between the total cost of implementing certain initiatives and the value one gets from them. As we move towards our objective of an integrated public service we have discovered all the various arrangements. For example the Deputy will have seen that arrangements for leave and sick pay vary across agencies and Departments. We will have a commonality about that and we are working might and main to do that. In the context of doing all that we will have a much more integrated overview of every issue including increments.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister mentioned the issue of data on expenditure on local authority pay. It is astonishing that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government does not have that information. It is mind boggling particularly given that the Government has correctly placed such an emphasis on scrutinising expenditure. However, the Government cannot do that if there are big gaps in the information provided to it. Given that the Minister has been in his new Department for more than a year, I would have thought he would have insisted that the Department for the Environment, Community and Local Government would have access to that information and more to the point that he would have it. How can we have any rational debate on these matters when much of the time, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is working on guess work?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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It would be very unfair to say we are working on guess work - we understand the full quantum of pay in the total sums. However, we do not have it disaggregated to the degree the Deputy feels we ought to have at a central level. There is always a divergence of view about devolution. We call it local government and not national government in a local setting. The local authorities have autonomy in a number of the functions they perform and they decide the specific skills they need in their own functional areas. Not every local authority is identical in the skill set required because obviously a predominantly rural local authority has a different skillset requirement than an urban one has. Consistent with proper oversight and ensuring proper value for money, I believe the Deputy is correct. However, we also need to balance that with ensuring a degree of autonomy at local level if we are to have local government worthy of that title.