Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This relatively short Bill amends the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. If passed, it will remove the legislative barriers to redeployment and overall mobility within the public service, thereby facilitating a greater movement of staff across the broader public service. This is vital as we seek to maximise the existing resources within the public service and where the redeployment of surpluses in one organisation to meet deficits in another is likely to continue for some time.
I am taking the opportunity of the passage of the Bill to remove a provision in the 2004 Act that provides for an exemption in respect of appointments recommended by the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, following competitions confined to senior civil servants. The rationale for the exception was that civil servant candidates for senior posts had already been subjected to a recruitment and selection process regulated by the Commission for Public Service Appointments, CPSA. However, TLAC has been extended to candidates from outside the Civil Service since 2007. Consequently, the exemption no longer applies. As open competitions are now the norm, the TLAC appointments are subject to the provisions of the Act. I am taking this opportunity to reflect that reality in legislation by deleting the exemption that existed heretofore.
This Bill is underpinned by a clear vision for the public service of the future. This will be a public service that is better integrated, more responsive to the ever changing environment, and focus on the needs of citizens and business customers and on the need to deliver value for money to the taxpayer. It will be more open and accountable in how it spends taxpayer money and makes decisions.
Significant progress is being made in achieving this vision and in implementing a programme of reform with unprecedented scale and ambition. Our difficult fiscal position and increasing demands on our services are driving the reform agenda. We must continue the process of meeting the five major commitments in our public service reform plan.
Across Europe, the public service is operating in an environment of reduced resources and pressure on staff numbers. Renewing public service capacity is a key challenge for our European neighbours as well as for us, as the pace and scope of reform place extra demands on public administrations. This process will continue. The demand and supply pressures require more specialist skills and different sets of competencies in key strategic areas, including procurement, ICT and change management.
One of the key instruments for addressing the staffing capacity challenge as we move towards a fit-for-purpose administration is the adoption of a strategic workforce planning approach. It is vital that this approach be embedded as a core element of the business planning process. Workforce planning can be a powerful management tool and is most effective when integrated within a Department's strategy and budgetary processes in a way that supports strategic decision making by managers.
My Department is responsible for the roll-out of workforce planning across the Civil Service. The first iterations of the workforce plans were submitted last year and all Departments are preparing the next iteration based on the feedback to date. This will allow a more consistent approach to be adopted across the public service. It will also support central monitoring and play a key part in the provision of robust and timely information to decision makers. In turn, this will enable service-wide analysis of staffing supply and demand as part of ongoing Civil Service resourcing. We need to know where the pressures are, where there is a surplus and the capacity to move within.
The ultimate objective of the workforce planning process is to ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time. The ability to redeploy staff from one post or organisation to another is a vital component in the development of a strategy to achieve a more fit-for-purpose public administration. Redeployment and mobility will be required on an ongoing basis to meet demands for staff from within existing public service resources to support the programmes and schemes determined by this House and the Government to be priorities.
Currently, definitive redeployment from one sector of the public service to another is not legally possible, which is surprising. Secondment arrangements are being used, pending the enactment of this legislation, to remove that legal barrier to movement. This is the purpose of the Bill. It will facilitate definitive cross-sectoral transfers, thereby providing certainty of assignment for those currently on secondments and for those who will move in future. It will also provide certainty for the sending and receiving organisations involved in the redeployment process in respect of their staff assignments.
Redeployment and mobility are not just aspirational objectives to be achieved as part of some future public service. The Croke Park agreement has been a key enabler of the public service reform plan and played a strong part in underpinning many of the changes that we have recently made in the public service. It provided an unprecedented opportunity to achieve change in an atmosphere of stable industrial relations and co-operation. For the first time, the agreement provided a basis for movement within the Civil Service. The health, local authority and education sectors were particularly involved, as internal redeployment was not possible between those bodies and non-commercial State bodies. These arrangements have played a key role in the reassignment of more than 10,000 staff, which is no mean achievement, and have been reaffirmed in the new arrangements under the Haddington Road agreement. Redeployment will continue to facilitate flexibility and ensure that we can make the best use of staff resources by moving people from areas that are not under pressure to those of greatest need.
Previously, I outlined in the Chamber why it was necessary to make such a substantial ask of public servants under the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements. I have acknowledged that public servants have contributed significantly to addressing the fiscal and economic challenges through the pension levy imposed in 2009, pay reductions and other measures, including head count reductions, reduced salary rates for new entrants and reductions in pension-related payments.
As part of the renegotiation process that resulted in these outcomes, the Government has agreed that compulsory redundancies will not apply to public servants, subject to an agreed flexibility on redeployment. Where moves to other employment have been agreed in this context, the Bill will enable definitive cross-sectoral assignments to be made by removing legal impediments. In doing so, it will enable the Government to meet part of its commitments under the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements.
I advise the House that I intend to table amendments to this Bill on Report Stage that will set out the terms of a new sick leave scheme for the public service and give the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the power to vary that scheme in certain circumstances. In 2012, my Department engaged with the public service unions on the introduction of revised sick leave arrangements across the public service, as Deputies will know. There was extensive debate about it in the media and the Chamber. The proposed changes provided for a reduction in access to paid sick leave across the public service with a view to ensuring greater productivity and a reduction in the costs associated with sick leave. A number of issues that could not be agreed were referred to the Labour Court for a binding recommendation. The Attorney General has advised that, in order to ensure a uniform application of those recommendations and to address existing contractual rights, it is necessary to put a statutory system in place setting out the broad terms of the new public service leave scheme and allow me, as the Minister, to make variations to the scheme in certain circumstances.
I will go through the sections of this brief Bill. Section 1 defines the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 as the Principal Act. Section 2 defines a "public service body" for the purposes of the redeployment function, which is assigned to the Public Appointments Service, PAS, under sections 4 to 6, inclusive, as including all public service employers except commercial State bodies and their subsidiaries. Section 3 removes the existing exemption under section 7(2)(a) from the general provisions of the Principal Act in respect of TLAC appointments, bringing these within the ambit of this legislation.
Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, provide for the insertion of a new section 34A and a new Part 6A, which comprises sections 57A to 57F, inclusive, into the Principal Act. Section 34A provides that the PAS shall have the functions set out in Part 6A. Section 57A provides that a person designated by the PAS for redeployment to a position in another public service body shall be appointed to that position. Section 57B enables the PAS to designate a public service employee for redeployment to a comparable position elsewhere in the public service. A person on a fixed term contract may be redeployed for the period remaining on their contract. The assignment of this role to the PAS is fully consistent with its current statutory role as the main recruiter for the public service and with its role in operating the existing redeployment arrangements for transfers between public service bodies under the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements.
During the examination of the Bill in the Seanad, concern was expressed that the legislation may provide the PAS with an unbridled power to establish a system under which employees may be compulsorily forced to move. As I did in the Seanad, it is important to state clearly that the Bill will not provide such power to the PAS in any circumstance. The Bill is designed to facilitate definitive cross-sectoral moves that have been agreed in the context of Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements. It will not be a legislative measure to force reassignments that are not agreed.
If cross-sectoral moves are agreed with specific individuals in future, including outside the terms of a specific collective agreement, the Bill will also facilitate those, provided that they are not in conflict with the Minister's overall policy on mobility and redeployment.
Under section 57D, the Bill provides that the PAS shall have regard to the terms of any policy for the time being of the Minister relating to mobility or redeployment. The policy of the Minister is framed within the parameters of the employment legislation in force and the common law. It is also be subject to judicial review.
If the employment protections afforded to public servants through various employment laws and the common law were to be ignored or were not appropriately applied and an attempt was made to force the redeployment of a public servant cross-sectorally, the person concerned would have the full protection of existing labour law and full recourse to the courts to vindicate those rights.
Section 57C provides that redeployment is to be on no less favourable terms and conditions in relation to basic pay, defined in section 57A, and pension, except in relation to fast accrual arrangements. It will provide certainty for the individuals being redeployed in two ways. First, it provides for the transfer of the responsibility to meet the redeployee's superannuation liabilities legally to the receiving organisation. Second, it provides for the preservation of various statutory rights of the redeployee that are linked to length of service. These include rights accruing under the Redundancy Acts, Unfair Dismissal Act, Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act and the Parental Leave Act. Section 57C also provides that those assigned to the Civil Service will be subject to the Civil Service Regulation Acts and the Ethics in Public Office Acts.
The provisions in the Bill in relation to the pay terms that will apply on redeployment have been drafted to give effect to the agreements reached with trade unions. Those agreements take account of the continuing need to stabilise the public finances and to meet the State's obligations with regard to the reduction of its deficit. The approach on pay on redeployment has been in operation for the past two years and will continue under this legislation.
During examination of the Bill in the Seanad, concern was expressed that the person redeploying will not be allowed to keep specific allowances or overtime pay when they redeploy to another post. In all cases, staff moving are assigned to grades where the duties and pay are as close as possible to those applying in their previous role prior to redeployment. If a person is earning additional pay for carrying out a specific duty or for working unsocial hours and they move to a post where those unsocial hours no longer apply, obviously the associated pay would cease.
It is important to note in this context that it has been agreed with the unions through the Labour Court, that those in receipt of allowances may be compensated for the loss of routine and structured allowances. It is also important to note that the provision in the Bill sets the minimum floor on the pay levels that must be applied on redeployment in every case. It does not preclude the application of a different, more favourable regime in the future when public finances permit.
Section 57D sets out factors to be considered by the PAS when designating a person for redeployment. These are the competencies, qualifications, grading and pay rates of the person being redeployed and those required in the post to which the person is being assigned; the terms of any policy of the Minister, and any collective agreement, relating to the mobility or redeployment of public service employees; and the methods of recruitment and selection applying to public servants generally.
Section 57E sets out details of those who are precluded from redeployment by the PAS. These are holders of political, judicial and constitutional posts, presidential and Government appointees, as well as special advisers, members of the Permanent Defence Force and An Garda Síochána, officers of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and those employed by the Central Bank of Ireland and the National Treasury Management Agency. This section also provides that the Minister may, by order, add further bodies to this list.
Section 57F removes any impediments under the Data Protection Act 1988 to the transfer of personal information to the PAS, or to another public service body, for the purpose of redeployment to that body. This concerns normal payroll and other personnel information.
Section 7 corrects Schedule 2 of the Principal Act to reflect the fact that there is no section 14(4) in the Aviation Regulation Act 2001 - I know that will come as a stunning shock to the House - and the Schedule should refer instead to section 11(4) of that Act. Section 8 inserts an additional Schedule to the Principal Act to list the commercial State bodies which are excluded from the definition of "public service body". Section 9 is a standard provision providing for a Short Title, and for commencement on a day to be appointed by ministerial order.
I ask the House to support and approve this Bill, which is part of the reform agenda to allow for what is going on. I am presenting it as an agreed approach with the trade union movement and under the auspices of the Labour Court. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the thrust of the Bill. Having tried to start some of this work, I have a certain sympathy with the Minister - that is not necessarily shared on this side of the House or, I suspect, on the Government backbenches - about the complexity of public service reform. It is extraordinary that a relatively normal day-to-day human resources act, such as redeployment, requires legislation.
I note the Minister emphasised the agreed nature of the Bill. It contains a number of robust provisions to guarantee that there will not be any abuse of the system. I was intrigued by the exclusions in section 57E, which include political offices. Therefore, any Senator who might plan on being redeployed in the event of the Seanad referendum going a certain way will not have any protection under this Bill. Given that many of them want to be redeployed in here, I suppose they will be happy.
In 2008, the OECD completed an important review concerning civil servants. That report, entitled Towards an Integrated Public Service, pointed out the need for increased flexibility and mobility for workers. We see redeployment as satisfying a specific need for a client, but also within the service itself, redeployment can offer career opportunities as well as a chance for people to move into different challenges that would otherwise not be available to them. Talented people can be left to stagnate for the want of such opportunities.
Redeployments that have occurred in recent years are welcome. Part of this Bill will reflect on FÁS workers who have moved to the new Intreo agency. It is important to stress that FÁS did fantastic work, but it was brought down by the actions of very few. The work of those moving into Intreo is incredibly important and in fact we need more of them. If Intreo is to be successful, it needs more resources, but that is a debate to be had within Government over the next three weeks.
Redeployment is allowing us to move people into areas of demand. That demand is from those seeking a State service to reskill. Without the ability to redeploy within the Civil Service, we cannot respond to that demand and people will suffer.
It is worth reading part of the OECD report into the record. It pointed out that few opportunities existed at that stage, in 2008, even for general staff to move within or across the service. The OECD also pointed out that limited mobility created challenges in sharing skills and competencies across the system and in reallocating resources to those areas most in need. At that stage, the report sought an integrated public service where individual public servants would be expected to have more varied careers across sectors.
Traditionally, many people have joined the staff of a Department and left aged 65 when they got a watch on retirement. That is not good for them or for the service. We need to share our experiences of different services within the public service.
The OECD report also called for a mobility policy to promote and facilitate the movement of general staff across different sectors. This Bill answers that call. One of the issues in Croke Park I was that that would happen, but that there would be some fairness involved in terms of not breaching a mileage limit.
People could not be randomly moved from one part of the island to another, the consequences of which was a slowing up of the process. This must be fair. It must be remembered that we are speaking about people and their families.
The OECD called for new arrangements for the redeployment of staff across organisational and sectoral boundaries to new higher priority activities which would assist in raising performance levels and would also meet a demand at the end of the service. Previously there were many rules in regard to the redeployment of people from the public to the Civil Service and from one Department to another, which meant that at the end of the day a person who wanted to move could not do so and the person who required the service did not get it. Some of the processes in place over the past number of years caused this.
The Minister referred to the ability of the Croke Park Agreement to facilitate much of what is proposed. The fact that 10,000 people have voluntarily moved indicates the pent up demand within the system for redeployment. It allows people to have different experiences and to use experience gained in one part of government in another. The impact of this can be seen in much better performance targets in, say, the Passport Office which has been transformed this year by the new appointments service. The ability to redeploy people to that office and the establishment of the new appointments service has addressed the delays there. Following much negotiation and the acceptance of many changes on the part of community welfare officers the Department of Social Protection is now benefiting from their experiences, the impact of which we are beginning to see on the ground. There are other examples.
There are a number of issues on which I seek clarification from the Minister. An issue raised by Senator Thomas Byrne, which the Minister mentioned briefly when pointing to the protections provided for under this Bill, is the need for more detail on the appeal process for redeployed persons for whom the protections set out in the Bill do not work. In other words, where a person is to be redeployed and he or she does not agree to that redeployment there should be in place a transparent appeals process to allow him or her appeal that decision. While the Minister's intentions may be good, future holders of that office may have less regard for people's rights in this area and the legislation could potentially be used as a more free-for-all process.
Why are semi-State bodies exempt from this legislation? The usual response is that they are different because they are commercial bodies. However, when they get into trouble and need a bailout they turn to their line Minister. I suspect there is capacity in some of the semi-State bodies that could be utilised in other semi-State bodies that require reform or to respond to a particular consumer demand. The same flexibility should be available within the semi-State sector. They enjoy the protection of the Government being their main shareholder and the protection this gives them commercially and resource-wise. If they enjoy that protection and benefit then there is an argument for their inclusion in the rules of staff management and training. I would welcome the Minister's views on that issue.
A number of issues arise in relation to training, which are exempt from the Bill. It should not be possible to redeploy a person to another area without providing him or her with some relevant training. There is little provision in the Bill in this regard. I accept this is a day-to-day management issue but it should be highlighted somewhere in the Bill that it should not be assumed a person has the required skill-set for a particular job. There is a need for a robust training budget alongside any redeployment programme. If we are to get the full benefit of redeployment in terms of using and sharing expertise an adequately funded training programme is required. The Minister might respond to this issue in his closing remarks on the Bill.
Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill, which though small in size, is important in terms of the legal certainty it provides to the 10,000 people who have been redeployed in terms of their careers and the services they provide. One would hope that this Bill will allow us to begin addressing other issues. For example, the social welfare appeals service would benefit from a redeployment to its offices of experienced people in order to address the serious delays therein. I acknowledge the progress made over the summer in terms of the reduction in the number of domiciliary care allowance applications waiting to be dealt with. However, waiting times in respect of carer's allowance applications and for other payments remain lengthy. I acknowledge a social welfare appeals officer requires a certain skill set but additional staff are required in this area. There are similar delays in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is hoped that when this Bill is enacted Ministers will be aware of its provisions and will have the confidence to seek the type of experience required to address delays in their Departments.
Fianna Fáil supports the Bill but will propose a couple amendments on Committee Stage in an effort to improve it.
Sinn Féin also supports this legislation, which is timely and straightforward.
Significant redeployments have taken place across the public sector over the past three years. The Minister referred in his opening remarks to some 10,000 redeployments. Removing the remaining legislative barriers to further redeployment across the various sectors across the public sector and Civil Service is a necessary step in maximising the mobility of workers. It makes common sense, for example, that a professor of economics from one of our universities could if he or she wished be redeployed for a period to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to share with it his or her knowledge and expertise.
Absolutely. There is a thought.
The Government's narrative on the reason we need enhanced mobility in the first instance and the Minister's interpretation of what a reformed public sector should look like, are at variance with the intent of this Bill. The Minister has told us time and again that a key element of his reform agenda is a reduction in the size of the public service. By 2015, this Government, with considerable help from Fianna Fáil, will have reduced the public sector workforce by up to 12% since 2008. We are told redeployment is crucial to the Minister's reform strategy.
The already mentioned and much discussed OECD report from 2008, Ireland: Towards an Integrated Public Service, noted the need for increased flexibility and mobility of workers throughout the system. It highlighted the problems of limited mobility with particular reference to sharing skills and competencies across the system and reallocating resources to where they are most effective. Redeployment has happened, not on a grand scale but at a pace not achieved prior to 2008. However, redeployment has not taken place because of a desire by Government to reform fundamentally our services for the betterment of citizens but instead because of an environment of crisis created by it and the previous Government, which the current Government has caused to deepen.
When discussing public sector numbers the inference is often made that our public sector was "bloated" prior to 2008. When one examines the evidence, this was not the case. Public sector employment as a share of the labour force was just under the OECD average in 2008 when numbers were at their highest. By comparison with eight countries, including Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, Ireland had the third lowest general government employment per thousand of population. It is worth restating this because people sometimes, perhaps disingenuously, try to suggest that the system was bloated and overmanned. The bottom line is that this Government, aided by the previous Administration, has fundamentally undermined the delivery of the critical services on which our citizens are now more reliant than ever. Over the last number of years, we have witnessed the slow and painful dismantling of services, particularly in health and education.
The incentivised retirement scheme introduced last year was not targeted. The Minister simply sought to slash crudely and without any thought beyond the bottom line public sector numbers.
Vital services such as mental health have still not recovered and all the redeployment in the world will not fix the problem.
To give an example of the reality on the ground, Government agencies such as the Health Service Executive, when questioned on extensive delays in accessing services, provide Deputies with a stock answer along the lines that, unfortunately, due to a combination of very high demands being placed on the service in question and insufficient staff numbers, they are unable to provide the service in question. This means, for example, that school aged children living in north-west Dublin do not have access to physiotherapy services due to cutbacks and a lack of staff, while children requiring speech and language therapy are waiting up to 24 months before receiving therapy.
What are the real time outcomes of decisions to downsize, shed staff and fundamentally undermine service provision? A child with speech and language difficulties starting a junior infant class will have to wait two years before receiving the therapy she or he needs, she or he will not be entitled to special needs assistance and will be in much bigger class than was the case previously. It is astonishing that the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister Health do not even discuss this cross-over in policy areas. It would be awful if this were to be the Labour Party's legacy in government.
Redeployment is an effective tool for generalist staff and should be used. However, what use are mobility and skill-sharing if the Ministers in charge are blissfully unaware of the fundamental damage many of their decisions are doing to service delivery? The proposition that Cabinet members do not even discuss shared policy and service delivery across Departments is mind boggling. For the Minister, redeployment means scrambling around for staff to patch up the gaping holes he has left in service delivery. This was not the vision set out in the OECD report. Redeployment was and should be about increasing staff competencies, improving performance and properly integrating our public service. It should create an environment in which workers actively seek redeployment to new areas where they can develop their skill sets. We should be at a point where an expert in political reform and governance from one of our universities can seek and take up a position in the public service reform and delivery division of the Minister's Department. This is the culture that could and should be fostered within our public services. While this culture resides within the workforce, unfortunately it is not so evident on the Government benches.
We have before us primary legislation which removes the legislative barriers to redeployment and mobility across the wider public sector. This is a great proposal which enjoys the support of all Deputies, and the Minister should, therefore, get on with implementing it. What I am much more interested in discussing with him, however, is how his Government plans to undo the damage it has done to service delivery and how and when it intends to take on the necessary specialty staff to fill the gaps in service delivery in health and education. The Minister and I both know that redeployment will not solve this problem. Where is the Minister's roadmap for reform of service delivery? How does the Government propose to improve service delivery for citizens, young and old, during the remainder of its term in office?
Deputy Calleary referred to the semi-State companies and I wish to sound a note of concern regarding the movement of staff between State agencies. I refer, in particular, to a case where anxiety is current, namely, the challenges facing workers in the national lottery company who face an uncertain future. Whereas the majority of the employees are on permanent secondment from An Post, it appears a return to the company for those who may wish to rejoin the mother ship, as it were, is not on the table. A similar issue is brewing in respect of employees working in Bord Gáis Energy who may wish to remain as employees of Bord Gáis following the sale of the supply division. While I fully appreciate the context is different for profit-making, dividend delivering semi-State companies, core issues must be teased out in respect of the rights of employees.
Will the Minister explain his decision to include, as an amendment to the legislation, a statutory arrangement regulating sick leave? While I do not oppose the move, I seek an explanation of the rationale for inserting the provision in the Bill, rather than as a stand-alone measure.
While I accept the need for legal underpinning, would it be more appropriate to provide for this in separate legislation?
The issue of appeals has been raised. Staff in the public service have shown a willingness and ability to move and adapt. The Minister acknowledged the contribution public sector workers have made in a time of economic crisis. Many of them believe they have taken a hit and are concerned about the prospect of forcible redeployment, which would have consequences for their working and family lives. This issue needs to be considered and clarified.
As I indicated, Sinn Féin supports this legislation on the basis that it makes sense. All those working in the public service are committed to service delivery and take pride in their work. They also know, however, that significant cultural, organisational and management changes are required. At the same time, public service staff must be reassured that their terms and conditions will not be further eroded and their employment will be secure.
I propose to share time with Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Finian McGrath. This legislation is an outworking of the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements. While I and many public servants do not oppose the concept of greater flexibility, this must be done in a manner that provides reassurance to staff and does not have unintended consequences. Should such consequences arise, provision must be made to revisit the legislation.
My criticism of the entire public service reform agenda is that it has not delivered reform. We repeatedly hear about systemic failures when it is we who are creating or failing to create the systems.
I will highlight a number of issues that arise in the context of this Bill. The Government is not taking a broad approach to what is needed. This legislation, for example, will not result in wholesale or large movements of staff but amounts to a small-scale, technical initiative that will help to fill gaps. The Government must consider a broader reform measure as this legislation is limited in scope and ambition, as it must be in some respects.
Up to now the reform we have seen has been quite regressive. It has been about cutbacks and achieving budgetary targets. However, there is no guiding vision to introduce the kind of institutional reform that delivers good quality public services for the citizens. I will outline examples of the failures I witness on a daily basis. I am sure those on the Government side are not immune from seeing them. People are asking why they are paying increased taxes when they are not seeing a delivery on the other side. I presume the property tax will bring that into sharp focus.
Let us consider where people are positioned in the local government system. I will focus on four counties that demonstrate it very well. Meath County Council has 620 staff for a population of 184,000. Kerry County Council has almost double that staff to serve 40,000 fewer people. Kildare County Council has 835 staff for a population of 210,000 people. Mayo County Council has a couple of hundred more staff but serves 90,000 fewer people. It is not possible to deliver equality of service when there is such disparity in the numbers of people delivering that service and it is not possible to deliver public services without public servants. That deficiency can be seen across the spectrum in commuter-belt areas, on the periphery of Dublin, the periphery of Cork and the periphery of Galway. We have failed to address that particular gap and reform is essential if we really want to introduce equality in public services. How money is allocated to local authorities from the general-purpose grant more or less reinforces the inequality.
That imbalanced policy is also evident in Garda services in the commuter-belt counties. Again Kildare happens to be at the wrong end of the spectrum - it is worst, followed by Meath. It has 666 gardaí. However, Sligo and Leitrim have virtually the same number of gardaí for half the population. There is no rationale for this no matter how frequently I raise it. With a limited cake, why should there be such a difference in the quality of services people-----
We have been appalling at building good institutional frameworks. We keep on ending up with inquiries and reports at the end of which we are told it is down to system failure. We are the ones who need to build the systems and I am highlighting where the systems are failing. The largest class sizes happen to be in Kildare, Meath and Fingal with 10% more pupils per class in those counties - the counties with the largest growth in births. Why can we not build the prediction of need into the service in order to deliver an equality of service as people are entitled to expect?
We saw exactly the same thing when the HSE was filling positions involving occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, psychological services, staff nurses, community nurses, etc. There were 208 positions and 58 of them went to the Tallaght, Kildare and west Wicklow area. We cannot continue to have parts of the country that for one service or another are at the wrong end of the spectrum. There must be a design feature that accommodates that. However, I do not see that in this legislation, which does not allow for the kinds of numbers - nor should it do so. While public services are about public servants, first and foremost they are about the citizens and an equality of service without such disparities.
I believe there are things the Minister can do. I am a great fan of using technology to lighten the load on administration and frontload things. Norway built a platform for the delivery of public services covering three or four municipalities and most of its public services. It has reduced its requirement for administration by about 17% and has saved the equivalent $7 billion over a fairly short period of time. It is about identifying the need to invest in the services to gain the benefit on the other side. Revenue's online service is a very good system but has not been systematically rolled out as extensively as it should be. If we want to make strategic use of money to stimulate something and get a permanent return, we need that kind of thing here, but it needs to be on a large scale.
I do not oppose the notion of flexibility in the system but we are long overdue a debate on the future of our public services and how people will interact with them. It needs to be articulated in a way such that we are not just tinkering at the edges but building services in which people will be proud to work. They should be almost queuing to go from one to the other because they will get stimulation when they go into work. I feel very sorry for some of the public servants with whom I interact. I know they are snowed under with criticism and complaint because they are overloaded and essentially trying to do the job of two or three people. I do not oppose the flexibility, but so much more needs to be done. I am very frustrated that the place where I happen to live is disadvantaged in so many ways and I want to see that changed.
This is unbelievable. I bristle because the term is simply a euphemism for cuts. It is as simple as that. We do not need fewer public sector workers, we need more public sector workers. We need more people cleaning the streets, cleaning the graffiti off the walls and building social housing. We need more social workers, more people working with the vulnerable in our society and more people helping to maintain our public services, facilities and amenities. We need them more than ever because the private sector has shown itself completely incapable of creating employment or of dealing with the situation that we face in this country.
In case the Minister has not noticed, we have an astonishing unemployment crisis. Investment has collapsed since 2007 to the tune of billions of euro. There are little investments here and there but they are set against a general backdrop of massive cuts in capital expenditure by the State and an overall collapse in investment in the economy. To cut back in the way the Government has in public investment and public services is bordering on the criminal. Moreover, for the Labour Party to be involved in the targeting and vilification of public sector workers in the way that it has been or for it to lend credence to those who wish to vilify public sector workers is utterly shameful.
Public sector workers have been hammered. I offer one stark example. With the Haddington Road agreement and the two hours extra or thereabouts that people must work for nothing, some workers, not too far from this Chamber, found when the two extra hours were added in and divided into their basic pay that they were getting paid less than the legal minimum wage.
It was possible. The matter had to be taken up with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. That is the reality for vast numbers of public sector workers. They have had their pay slashed by between 15% and 20%. Now, they are having their hours increased. Numbers have been slashed with an overall loss since 2008 of 9.3% or approximately 30,000 public sector workers. As Deputy McDonald pointed out, even before the crash came Ireland did not have a high level of public sector employment compared with other OECD countries.
All this talk of reform is to cover up the fact that workers and ordinary citizens in general, but particularly public sector workers, have become the scapegoats for the economic crisis that was caused by politicians, developers and bankers who are still protected. There have been no reforms there. No matter what they do, they are protected and bailed out. However, again and again ordinary workers have to bear the brunt of this.
Frankly, some of this stuff is almost bordering on the insulting. I was reading the digest which referred to mobility for generalist staff. I would like to know what are generalist staff.
I would like to see that definition work its way through to what people do. Does it refer to someone in a housing department of a local authority who spends years dealing with the housing crisis that successive Governments have caused and who has to deal with the public and the vast and growing waiting lists? Is it the view that because they are simply clerical officers and generalists we can shove them over somewhere on the other side of the city to do something else? Is it not the case that they have actually built up skills, knowledge and abilities in their particular area? To refer to them as generalists in that way is, in some cases, although not in all cases, bordering on insulting. Whatever the job, people build up a knowledge and expertise of their particular areas. This is valuable knowledge and experience and people should not be redeployed willy-nilly because of the need to meet troika targets, balance the books or simply to find a way to manage the chaos that has resulted from taking the knife to the public sector in order to impose the Government's austerity agenda.
I have a specific question for the Minister, Deputy Howlin. If I am correct, there is an exclusion for staff from the Central Bank and the NTMA from these redeployments. Is this because they are such specialist people that they cannot possibly be redeployed, while other more generalist people can be redeployed? Why the exclusions?
I am not against flexibility. I am not against an integrated public service. I want to see these things but they should not be imposed on people. I know of situations where this has happened. For example, people working in the hospital in Loughlinstown for the HSE were told they had to go to work in Finglas. These were mothers with children and families but they were told they would have to travel an extra two hours each way each day to get to work in what is supposedly a reformed but actually dysfunctional new medical card regime, which has been established essentially because of cuts. Under this regime no one can talk to a human being any more when they have problems with their medical cards. The reality is that the Government's reform policy amounts to fewer people doing more work for less money and now possibly being forced to travel further to work or forced to redeploy against their will. Any scheme should be completely voluntary. The Minister should talk to the workforce. I imagine many of them might wish to move on and develop their skills and so on or get experience in other sectors of the public sector, but it should be discussed with them not imposed on them.
A scheme to allow people to work closer to home should also be included. That would be a good reform. If there was a scheme whereby we tried to move people closer to home in order that they did not have to travel ridiculous distances to get to work, with all the resulting congestion problems and all the stress this causes for those people, it would be effective and the Minister should seriously consider it. That could be an option for people that would improve their quality of life and morale which, in turn, might actually contribute to higher levels of productivity and enthusiasm in their work. If the Minister seeks a reformed public service he should support public sector workers rather than slash their pay, impose things on them, squeeze the life out of them - this is what is happening to many - or put them on the border of not being able to pay bills and mortgages. That is hardly conducive to a reformed public sector. This is what I suggest the Minister should do to try to amend the Bill.
I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak to this new legislation, the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) (Amendment) Bill 2013. I welcome the debate because it is important to look closely at the area of mobility and barriers to redeployment in the public service. It is also important to commend and pay tribute to the vast majority of our public servants, who have made and are making a remarkable contribution in the country as a whole. It is not popular or trendy nowadays to stand up for many of our public servants but today I will do so. They have taken the hits and the cuts and many on the front line have also taken much abuse. They have always done their best, in many cases, against the odds, and it is important that this is recognised in the debate.
It also is important to state one can never run a country without a good and effective public service. While some in the broader world appear to believe one can, for me the public service is the engine room at the heart of any state or country that wishes to serve, protect and defend its citizens. That is what this Bill should be about and is what any decent society also should be about. Public service is about serving the public whether one is a teacher, a nurse, a civil servant, a garda, a doctor or a council staff member. That is the core of any country and is something one should never forget. Moreover, in the context of the current economic crisis, one should never think we can get out of this economic mess without proper participation and support from all public servants. While some may think they are strong words, this is the reality and all Members of the Oireachtas should know that.
As for the legislation under discussion, its primary aim is to remove the legislative barriers to redeployment and mobility within the public service, as well as to address other issues that arise on changing employer. In addition, to reflect the fact that open recruitment now is the norm for posts under the remit of the Top Level Appointments Commission, it also will remove the limited exemption for the general provisions of the principal Act in respect of these appointments, thereby bringing them within the ambit of the Act. These are the aims of the legislation but a more detailed consideration of the Bill reveals it also addresses a number of key policy issues that are critical to the smooth operation of mobility policy, including the definition of "public service" and "basic pay", as well as the pension arrangements to apply to an individual on transfer. The Bill makes provision for the mobility and redeployment arrangements agreed in the Croke Park agreement but does not extend beyond what was agreed therein. The successor to the Croke Park agreement, the Haddington Road agreement, restates that where deployment is not an option, there may be circumstances in which voluntary departure may be appropriate. In such situations, there will be discussions with the relevant unions on the terms of any arrangements. That is a strong section in respect of the role of unions and I welcome it because at present, there is a strong undermining within broader society of the role of trade unions. I was a member of the INTO for many years and we worked for change in respect of educational disadvantage, special needs assistants, SNAs, resource hours and issues such as class size. While we had some great successes, I now strongly believe one must be vigilant and that in particular, public servants must be vigilant.
Last night, I attended a public meeting in Ayrfield, which is in the new part of my constituency of Dublin Bay North, that was packed with teachers and parents who were concerned about the class size issue. However, in addition to being concerned about such issues and the future of education in Ireland, I was delighted to see parents and public servants attending and working together on an issue that is important to everyone. Among the issues they raised was that of resource hours for children with disabilities, which have been cut in recent years, as well as educational disadvantage. Reports emerged last night and today about the dispute with the ASTI in the middle of which the Minister, Deputy Howlin, and his colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, find themselves. While it may be trendy to kick the ASTI today, one does not isolate people who have served the country well as it will not work. Teachers have taken hits and are hurting, I accept like many other people, but they also wish to fight for education and that is their role and their belief. Kicking them around, being trendy and popular, isolating them or using words like "isolation" and so on will not help the position. I received a telephone call last Monday evening from an ASTI member on another issue and she was still in her school at 8 p.m. This goes on all the time but people forget this when they are sticking the boot into members of the ASTI. Secondary schoolteachers have served the State well for many years and have done much on a voluntary basis. Members should not cod themselves but should accept that over the past five years, the goodwill in Irish education has been damaged severely. I regularly speak to teachers on the ground and to professionals on this issue. When I left college, it was an absolute honour to take over the Cumann na mBunscol under-13 team and one received no pay for it. I was training teams in Whitehall or Fairview Park until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and while I loved doing it, I never got a penny for it. Many teachers did such things without seeking money or gold medals. My point is there is a strong history of goodwill in Irish education and the Minister should be extremely cautious about damaging that. I offer this as a word of warning to the Minister and anyone who deals with industrial relations also must know this.
I revert to the broader debate on what is going on with regard to this issue. The Bill amends the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 and as I indicated earlier, its aim is to remove the barriers to redeployment and overall mobility. I welcome this aspect of the legislation because there must be greater mobility. When I was the principal teacher in a disadvantaged school, I always told colleagues that after ten years as a principal in such a school, it was time to consider the idea of rotating that principal or of bringing in someone fresh because there are people who are interested in taking such steps. I was principal and having spent more than ten years as such, I was open to the idea of being redeployed, of doing something else or of carrying out a change. This was because while the first six or seven years in such a role are very exciting and so on, dealing with education, huge problems, social workers, parents, boards of management and all that is an extremely difficult job. I reiterate some people are open to such flexibility and mobility and I urge the Minister to give consideration to introducing this idea in the education sector as well. Serious consideration should be given to the idea that after so many years, a person may wish to change with dignity and without feeling there is a question mark hanging over his or her career.
While some colleagues disagree with me on this issue, politicians, Senators and such people also are public servants. I do not agree with some of the slogans on the Seanad referendum I have seen recently. I refer to the anti-politics and anti-politician posters that are on display. It is a populist rant and a section of opinion outside the Oireachtas simply is using the opportunity to kick politicians. Most Deputies and Senators of my acquaintance try to come in, do their work and serve the public because they are public servants. I acknowledge there has been corruption and sleaze in the past and agree there are issues like that which can be dealt with through reform but I simply do not concur with the current modern rant that everyone in society is anti-politician or anti-politics and I am disappointed to see Government parties erecting posters about getting rid of politicians and so on.
I will revert to the legislation and the points made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, which undertook a series of country reviews to analyse the successes and challenges of public service reform from a comprehensive perspective. In the case of Ireland, this review took into account the public service reforms adopted here since the mid-1990s. The OECD sought to deliver high-level analysis on the state of preparedness of Ireland's public service to meet future economic and social challenges and that is what this debate should be about. It pertains to modernising the public service and is about reform and change but it also is about making sure the public service is efficient and can deal with the future of this country. I reiterate that regardless of whether one is a garda, a teacher, a nurse, a social worker, a civil servant or a city council worker, such groups have made a massive contribution to the State. Sadly, successive Governments have paid insufficient attention to developing the goodwill that exists and that is the important point to remember in the course of this debate.
I thank the Acting Chairman. At the outset, I wish to recognise the important contribution public servants have made to restoring the nation's finances in recent years and in particular with regard to the most recent Haddington Road agreement. I compliment the Minister on his work in that area of reform. I am surprised this Bill has not attracted more attention as it concerns an issue that attracts much criticism and sparks much debate, namely, the issue of Civil Service staffing. Perhaps the lack of attention is due to the considerable support evident across the House for this measure. However, support should not act as an impediment to debate. It would be impossible to keep track of all the criticisms levelled at the Civil Service. Some of the criticism is justified but much is not. The enduring image of the Civil Service is of a conservative, change-averse, old-fashioned hierarchal institution and the very term "service" brings organisational comparisons with military service, which is a fair comparison when one considers the hierarchical structure and the obsession with rank and title. Anyone who ever has worked in a Department, a local authority or public organisation, will concur with that view. To an extent, the bureaucracy and the structure are necessary as how would the State otherwise be able to provide the services and schemes it delivers to millions of citizens each week?
How else would we guarantee fairness and equality of access in a country of this size?
The primary legislation governing the management of personnel and human resources dates back to 1956. To say the world in which organisations operate has changed would be an understatement, yet the legislation remains the original source upon which other Acts are based. We must ask if our Civil Service is fit for purpose, if it is capable of responding to the needs of our country today and if it is capable of delivering the various programmes and measures pledged by the democratically elected Government. If the recent economic crisis has taught us anything it is that our Civil Service, and the sections concerned in this instance, was unprepared and seemingly unaware of the impending trouble. Similarly, the reform of the Civil Service should not have been dependent on the financial crisis. Any civil service operating at its best should be more flexible and responsive and less averse to change and properly considered and implemented reform.
Another issue that merits serious attention is the balance between specialists and general staff. Often the Civil Service is criticised for being full of generalists without specialist qualifications. Specialists are important. They bring a knowledge, expertise and experience to a task or challenge that generalists lack. That knowledge can be exceptionally significant, particularly when it concerns complex matters that have far-reaching consequences elsewhere. However, specialists can sometimes be too focused and too engrossed in an issue, and lack an ability to view matters in the wider context or from a different point of view. This is where a generalist is more useful. To arrive at the best possible solution or to design and implement the most effective programme or scheme, a good mix of specialists and generalists is required. Unfortunately, our Civil Service grapples with achieving this balance, often without success. We often hear how a person's skills and qualifications are overlooked and ignored - for example, those with qualifications in international relations being sent to the Department of Social Protection rather than the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, those with experience in agriculture being deployed to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and those with a background in law being sent to the Department of Health.
Notwithstanding this, in the last three years there have been a number of very welcome developments, guided by the public service reform plan and led by the new reform and delivery office. The creation of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is proof of the new approach and the importance attached to the modernisation of the Civil Service by the Government. Thousands of members of staff have been successfully redeployed across the Civil Service and the country. However, redeployment is only one component. The fact remains that reform will be hampered unless the thorny issue of performance management is tackled. It is grossly unfair and inequitable to maintain a system in which staff members who perform the bare minimum, often grudgingly, are rewarded to the same extent as, or in some cases more so than, staff who approach their jobs with vigour and dedication. There are few things more demoralising than to see colleagues who do not make the effort and who contribute little but complain loudly receive the same or a higher level of reward. A job well done must be rewarded. What is required is a serious debate and review of performance management in the public sector.
This Bill is very welcome on account of the move towards greater flexibility, mobility and responsiveness in the Civil Service. It is an important step and I look forward to the deliberations and discussions on the Civil Service that it will generate in the Oireachtas and, I hope, beyond.
I welcome the Minister and commend him on the work he has done over the last two and a half years. He has worked closely with the public service and all the stakeholders during a very difficult time. This country effectively ran out of money, so these are difficult times.
The Bill removes the legislative barriers to redeployment and mobility in general within the public service. In addition to thanking the Minister, I thank all public servants for the flexibility, dedication and loyalty they have shown to the State. When the Finance Bill was introduced, I said in the House one night that they had given the State great service. Public servants have not escaped the downturn in the economy or the falling house prices, but they have shown huge determination and flexibility in trying to work together to repair the finances of the State.
The Bill removes the barriers to redeployment and mobility between the various sectors within the public service. I welcome the mechanism for facilitating greater movement between public service organisations and from non-commercial State bodies. There is a greater need for this fluidity and changing expertise. The Bill will enable an employee in the public service to be redeployed to a comparable post in another public service body. The redeployment must provide for no less favourable conditions regarding basic pay and pensions. The Bill provides for the transfer of responsibility to meet superannuation liabilities to the receiving organisation and provides for the preservation of the various statutory rights of employees that are linked to lengths of service, such as the redundancy Acts and unfair dismissals Acts.
The Croke Park agreement provided a basis for movement within the Civil Service and the health, local authority and education sectors and, where internal redeployment is not possible, between these bodies and non-commercial semi-State bodies. The arrangements are reaffirmed in the Haddington Road agreement. Excluded from that are political, judicial and constitutional posts, members of the Permanent Defence Forces and presidential and Government appointees, as well as special advisers, officers of the Houses of the Oireachtas and those employed by the Central Bank and the National Treasury Management Agency. I welcome that.
However, what is happening on the ground? In my native Roscommon, the hospital has received very negative publicity. Previously, if one was seeking a job, the HSE would appoint one as a nurse or doctor at Roscommon County Hospital. Now, a nurse, doctor or consultant is appointed to the group of hospitals comprising Roscommon hospital, the two hospitals in Galway and the hospitals in Castlebar and Ballinasloe, and they can be moved among those hospitals. That is a huge innovation and shows huge flexibility within the hospital initiative.
I agree with Deputy Finian McGrath that there has been an attack on the body politic. It has been very damaged by the tribunals and scandals that took place, but not all politicians are the same. Many politicians, both on the opposition and government benches, believe that as public servants they have a dedication to public service. I absolutely would not condone any attacks on the public service. Public servants have been very loyal and any attacks on them would be cheap and uncalled for. I support the public service institution in this country. However, I believe there is a race to the bottom in terms of how politicians are treated. I stood up on an issue in Roscommon more than two years ago. I made the right call on the protection of lives in County Roscommon; it was the right call for the protection of the Government and for this country. Will it have been the right call for Frank Feighan as an individual or politician? Time will tell. So far, not one person has died. Roscommon County Hospital is twice as busy as it was in 2010 and at least 40 lives have been saved due to the new procedures in place. However, these things go unannounced and unheard of because we have a love affair with bad news. One will not sort out problems by going on the local radio, Twitter, Facebook or the local newspapers or by attacking the local politician. One will sort them out by working with the public servants and by working on the ground to find a resolution.
We have a modernised public service. However, I believe there are people such as consultants, doctors and people in positions of power who should stand up and be counted. These people have not done so. What has happened in Roscommon is not quite a miracle but it is the right thing. I pay tribute to the managers in the HSE and in the public service who must make very difficult decisions. They must lead by example and determine what is the right way to proceed.
The staff who work with those public managers also deserve great credit.
Approximately two months ago, I went on local radio to discuss psychiatric services. Less than a year ago, our great colleague, Shane McEntee, who was a Minister of State at the time, took his own life. In my opinion he did so as a result of the pressure of being involved in politics. Will we ever grow up and learn from our mistakes? During the radio discussion to which I refer I called on management and unions to work together. I am of the view that, as a public representative, that was the right call to make. As a result of the fact that somebody misinterpreted my views and then communicated that misinterpretation to the members of a particular union who did not know what I had actually said, however, I was subjected to two days' worth of abuse. I was sent e-mails at 5 a.m. and received telephone calls at 8 a.m. I also received text messages and messages on Facebook. I communicated with all those who contacted me and when they discovered what I had actually said, they were big enough to engage in a debate with me on the matter. We did not always agree with each other but at least we had the discussion.
If I worked in any other profession, the Garda would have been called in and an investigation would have taken place. Due to the fact that I am a politician, however, I do not seem to have recourse to fair play or a fair hearing. I was an ordinary person before I became involved in politics. I receive the same salary as a principal officer in the public service and I am very happy to get it because it is a great honour. It will not be a case of open season being declared, via Facebook, on politicians such as myself in the future by people who effectively are hiding behind particular names. A stand must be taken. I recall the night on which I went on radio. Like most colleagues I have been through a great deal, but I was absolutely shocked by the intensity and nature of the reaction.
There will be many campaigns prior to the budget in respect of small schools and various other matters. We are well able to take and give abuse. Those who wish to give us abuse should do so in an up-front and measured way in order that others will be in a position to listen to both sides of the argument. I understand that people are angry with regard to what has happened in the past three to four years. I, too, am angry. I come from a business background and we were obliged to close our operation. Like everyone else, I have a mortgage. The fact that I am a politician does not mean that people can openly abuse me. Those who abused me are people who should know better. They are leaders in society and in various organisations. They went to ground after offering their abuse, particularly in respect of Roscommon County Hospital. They are all saying now that what has happened at the hospital is fantastic and that the facility is very busy. The latter is only the case as a result of the Trojan work done by politicians in government and management at the hospital and due to the fact that nurses, doctors and other members of staff changed the ways in which they work. That which I have just described is happening in various areas of the public sector. People are working together and they are changing the way they do business. I congratulate public sector workers in that regard.
I am aware that a predecessor of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who held the position for 13 or 14 years, intervened in particular matters and signed off on people receiving payments even if they were not entitled to them. That simply does not happen now. All of the relevant decisions are made within the public sector in a way that is designed to be fair, open and transparent. Will we receive thanks for that? Absolutely not. However, it is important to highlight this fact on the record of the Dáil. Those who know best, who are impartial and who possess the requisite experience and expertise, namely, public servants, are responsible for making decisions. Politicians should have some influence but they should not be able to exert undue pressure, because that would be wrong.
I welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister on its introduction. I also congratulate the public sector unions and their members and all of those people who have shown great flexibility and resolve in getting this country back to work.
I must inform Deputy Feighan that every citizen must be accountable for his or her actions and behaviour. Politicians must realise that the impact on their livelihoods of particular decisions often causes people to become upset and rightly so. Deputy Feighan states that he is not seeking people's thanks. If we seek re-election at the end of our terms of office and if our constituents see fit to reward us, then that should be thanks enough. We should have confidence in the ability of members of the public to make rational judgments and to hold us to account for our actions.
In the context of the Bill and the public service, the reality is that the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements have facilitated a situation whereby the reality of working in the public service has been stood on its head in recent years. This is a technical Bill which seeks to facilitate redeployment within the public sector and it is important that we should seek to place it in context in terms of what has been done to date and the direction in which matters will move in the future. Public sector workers have made phenomenal sacrifices in the past number of years. The cuts to pay and changes in employment conditions, etc., are probably unrivalled by those imposed in other sectors of the economy. In addition, these workers have had to deal with a billionaire-owned press engaging in public-sector-bashing on a routine basis. The idea that public sector workers are underworked and overpaid is constantly being pumped out by the media. Of course, this is not true and it does not stand up to any sort of statistical analysis whatsoever. The discrepancies in pay between low and middle-income public servants and those at the very top of the sector are vast. The majority of public sector workers are poorly paid in many instances. Thousands of them are obliged to depend on family income supplement and so forth in order to make a decent living.
It is important to say this and to highlight the fact that the job cuts within the public sector of more than 30,000 have led to savings on paper. However, the loss of those jobs has come at an enormous cost. It can be stated that people are working more efficiently and that things are being done better. The reality is, however, that many things that could be being done are not being done. The public is losing out, as are many of those who work at the coalface. It is as though someone viewed this matter in the abstract and decided that because there is a surplus of workers it would make great sense to consider a policy of redeployment which would allow the matching of available resources with areas where gaps exist and would enable people to be more flexible in their outlook. On paper this seems fine, but it is not that simple. For example, a garda clearly cannot do the job of a guidance counsellor and a clerical officer in the Department of Social Protection cannot take up a nurse's job. Skill sets must be matched, and this makes matters more complicated.
We do not have a surplus of staff. In fact, there are not enough public service employees to work in entire areas of the economy. Previous speakers referred to health, education and gardaí - which are often the subject of debate in the Chamber - and the fact that additional resources are required. I wish to focus, however, on what has taken place with regard to county councils.
It can look like a sensible idea to redeploy people but what are we really doing? We must see it in the context of the recruitment embargo as well. The reality is many services are, in effect, being outsourced. It is not that jobs do not need to be done but there are fewer public services because the services provided have been outsourced to private companies. We saw that in local authorities - for example, in the area of refuse collection. There was a surplus of bin workers. Those bin workers were able to be utilised by the local authorities and to be transferred or redeployed into other areas but that came with many difficulties as well. Many of those workers had worked for decades in a particular environment and transferring to a new environment where one is bottom of the pile does not always work out for the worker or management. The reality is that while the council may have been able to utilise those bin workers elsewhere, the public had to pay for the service through a private operator and the people who had been doing that job, who had previously been in a public sector job, which was unionised, secure and with a pension, were replaced by yellow pack workers. People in insecure tentative employment will cost the economy in the long run. We need to factor that in. When we look at redeployment, we must look at the backdrop of the public sector recruitment embargo and the damage it is doing to our public services. We are storing up huge problems in that regard. There has been an absolute bottoming out of services.
Some 1,300 people work in Fingal County Council, the one with which I would be more familiar, and not 20 are below the age of 30. That situation is replicated in other local authorities and in the public sector. Young people are not being employed which leads to a gap in knowledge. Workers at the top have left, there is a group in the middle and nobody under 30 years of age in many area of our public services. That means we are losing out on expertise young people have in terms of social media, IT and all the new training and inputs those people could have. That is a serious problem for the future.
Nobody would be in favour of forced redeployment. The idea of being forced to uproot and move is a huge issue and a huge concern for public sector workers. Even within an area of 45 km or so, it can cause much dislocation for families. People should never be forced to be redeployed. However, what about where people want to redeploy? I have come across many instances of this where somebody wants to move from one local authority to another one. The person has a service or a skill from which another local authority could benefit but if it takes on that worker, it is increasing its pay bill. Unless it can get somebody to swap, the redeployment will not take place because each organisation sees itself as an individual one and not as part of the entire public service. I know of people who are out of work sick and who cannot work in the organisation in which they were originally employed for various reasons of difficulty in the working environment, such as bullying or whatever, and who could transfer to another but the other local authority will not take him or her because its budget will be increased. We need to look at that as well as at the overall skill-set because redeployment is all well and good on paper but when the skills are not there and there are not people to fill the vacancies, one cannot move people.
I refer to the library service in Fingal County Council. One cannot redeploy people to librarian vacancies because one requires a particular skill set. The council could not transfer the bin men into the libraries. We raised this previously with the Minister who said that in areas where skill sets are weak, we can look for a derogation, that people can be employed and that the recruitment embargo can be breached if there is a need for it. However, if the local authority does that within the constraints of the budget it has, what other services will be forfeited? It does not really make sense. It is an anomaly. We do not have decent public services.
Fingal County Council has the most utilised public library service in the country. Some 50% of the population there are members of the library. The State has expended resources developing library services and new libraries in a number of areas. Now we have a problem in that they cannot be staffed. I refer to the age profile of the staff. There are now only 100 librarians for the whole county. Some 50% of them are over the age of 50. Five of them want to retire this year and another two want to go early next year which will bring the number dramatically down. The council has been forced to shut libraries at lunchtime, shut the mobile service and the house bound service in the summertime and get a few temporary workers in but it does not really plug the gap. This is lunacy. Against the backdrop of recession, where library membership has sharply increased since 2011 with people sitting at home needing to access IT services and books on doing CVs or whatever, these are potential areas which could be developed.
The real issue here, which we should be discussing, is that there is no difficulty with public sector workers adapting. They have demonstrated their willingness to do that time and again. The problem is that there is not enough of them. This should not be a Bill about redeployment but about recruitment. Not only does that make sense in terms of delivering the type of services citizens need - people need public services even more in a recession - it also makes sound economic sense because the cutback in public sector numbers has been seriously bad for the economy. It has resulted in job losses in the private sector because the money being taken out of public sector workers' pay packets has deflated the domestic economy and contributed to many of the problems we have. Those are the issues we should be discussing rather than the issue of redeployment itself.
I would welcome any progressive measures which optimise the potential for generating savings in the public sector. I have heard numerous stories over the years of State agencies in which people had no work to do or, in some cases, had no work to do for years on end. If that is the case, it is an appalling waste of resources not only in the current economic climate but at any time. This is why I welcome the Bill.
Redeployment is a better option than redundancy. However, I would be anxious for the Minister to confirm there is nothing in the legislation to override the terms of the Haddington Road agreement. It is important we establish in statute that redeployment will first be sought on a voluntary basis rather than by way of public appointments. Surely that would be the most sensible approach in the interests of workplace relationships. Will the Minister confirm that a redeployment radius of 45 km will be observed in the workings of the Bill? I will be glad to hear that as it is reasonable. Regard must be had to a reasonable daily commute time. I know personal circumstances vary from worker to worker and family to family but an increased commute would make life especially difficult for working parents. Will some measures be put in place to prevent serial or multiple redeployments? All public servants and all workers have a right to have quality time with their families and friends, irrespective of what their job is.
I will be interested to hear the Minister's thoughts on whether the redeployment being provided for in the Bill will be used as an alternative to agency staff, in particular in the health service. Many of us know many qualified personnel who are currently unemployed and got their qualifications at the expense of the State. I have no problem with agency workers, as everybody has the right to a job, but in the health service, in particular, there is a big issue where people with qualifications are unemployed and where agency workers are being employed. That needs to be looked at.
I understand the Department of Finance authorised the filling of 5,000 jobs in the public service over the past three. I was surprised when I got these statistics as this is despite the recruitment ban. We have been led to believe that exceptions to the recruitment ban are only supposed to be made in very limited circumstances yet three in every four requests to fill jobs have been approved. My information - perhaps the Minister will confirm it - is that every request was granted by the Department of Finance, including the appointment of 440 tax collection officers to implement the property tax.
This happened at a time when applications to fill countless front-line positions in the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills were rejected. It does not make sense. As one person put it to me, more priority is being given to employing a tax collection officer than to getting someone to provide front-line health services. I have to say I was astounded when I heard the figures I have mentioned.
I believe many exemption requests were granted throughout various Departments in 2012 on the grounds that the posts were essential to Ireland's Presidency of the EU. At the same time, just one fifth of the administration staff sought in the Department of Social Protection to deal with the large numbers of people on the live register have been approved. These are terrible anomalies. All Members of this House know what it is like to deal with the Department of Social Protection. The staff of the Department will accept that it is understaffed. The three workers who used to do something might not be available anymore. The same problems are being encountered in hospital accident and emergency departments. We seem to have our priorities completely mixed up as we make appointments to the public service.
The public service has served this State with distinction in good and bad times. Many public sector workers are on very ordinary incomes. There is a perception that everybody working in the public service receives a big income and has more to give, but that is not the case. The majority of workers across the public service are paid average incomes, but they are bearing the brunt of the cuts that have been perpetrated on them by this Government and its predecessor. One cannot deny that there is terrible disillusionment in the public service. If one speaks to gardaí, teachers and nurses on the ground - I spoke to some teachers this morning at a teachers' conference that is taking place in Waterford - one will learn that they all feel they are being treated quite badly. They understand and accept that we are facing a difficult economic situation. I have always said that this Government is not responsible for that. I try to be as fair as I can to the Government. I accept that it inherited a bad deck of cards. I would always say that. It would be unfair of me to say otherwise. Many people in the public service who are on ordinary average incomes feel they have already paid their fair share, they have done their little bit and they do not need to do any more.
Public servants who deal with the lives of people, such as those who work on the front line in our health service and in the Garda Síochána, need a particular quality of life. If one speaks to doctors, nurses, gardaí or teachers who work in difficult schools, one will hear about the effects on their lives of the types of difficulty they sometimes encounter. They are asking for some fairness in how they are treated. They want to be treated with respect and allowed to have some quality time with their families and friends when they finish their jobs. That is why I am urging the Minister to look carefully and compassionately on redeployment. Like other Deputies, I have spoken at length on the redeployment section of this Bill. I do not think there should be any forced redeployment. Some consideration should be given to family members who have to travel long distances. We should not be asking two members of the same family to travel extraordinary distances to do extraordinary jobs. I have not found many faults with this Bill. Perhaps the Minister will answer the questions I have asked. I will probably support the Bill as I do not see why I should not. I ask the Minister to consider some of the issues that have been raised by the Independent Deputies.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this largely technical Bill. Perhaps the Minister might refer to the exclusions when he responds at the end of this debate. They might be mentioned in the explanatory memorandum. I have no doubt that they are covered in the legislation. I understand the rationale for making exclusions in cases of political, judicial and constitutional posts, special advisers, etc. Much reference has been made to the exclusion of commercial semi-state bodies, as opposed to non-commercial bodies. I can understand why public servants might want to stay outside the commercial sector because of their job security and everything they have. Having said that, individuals in the semi-state sector or in public bodies might wish to transfer to avail of the great career opportunities in Irish Water and other dynamic commercial semi-state bodies. Perhaps the employee and the new employer could find common ground in such cases. I wonder why such cases are not included here. Obviously, there is nothing to prevent people from leaving. It may have something to do with carrying forward pension entitlements. We have the ambition to drive down the total numbers in our public service - I note that the Minister is nodding - so I would appreciate it if some reference could be made to this aspect of the matter at the end of the debate.
If I were to compliment the Minister, Deputy Howlin, and his colleagues in the current Cabinet, I would refer to the manner in which the narrative with regard to the public service and the people working in the private sector has changed in recent years. During the last Government's period in office, which was a very damaging time in Irish life, both sides were somehow blaming the other for the ills that were affecting our country. That narrative has now been removed to a very large extent. There is a far greater sense that everybody is collectively responsible for bringing this country back to where it needs to be. Those who work to provide public services deserve huge credit for making the changes they have made. It has to be acknowledged that the people who work in the public sector and for our semi-State bodies always believed they had certain securities that were different from those enjoyed by private sector workers.
During the times of great wealth and growth in this country, perhaps public sector workers did not benefit to the same extent as some people in the private sector. I believe the vast majority of people accept that this country had an economic requirement to make reductions in the cost of the public service and the number of people working in it. All taxpayers are benefitting from the reduction in the cost of running our State and returning this country to economic sovereignty. While there have been public service pay reductions in this country, it must be acknowledged, without naming any particular country, that there have been much more significant pay reductions and forced mandatory redundancies in other parts of the EU. It has been difficult for people to take some level of pay reduction, but the reality is that jobs in our public service have been protected. That has to be welcomed.
Part of the narrative we have heard from Opposition spokespersons, many of whom are supporting this legislation, has involved a suggestion that people are being forced to move between sectors of the public service. I think people should embrace the fact that the concept of a job for life is being removed and reduced on a permanent basis. Clearly, all sides will agree there is no need to move productive people who are happy where they are working. There is great potential in this area, however. I do not want to be critical of one of the previous speakers when I say my experience is that people tend to have a far greater degree of flexibility than we give them credit for.
A Deputy mentioned how someone who had been a binman could not be a librarian. I would challenge that stereotype regarding the abilities of people who work in our public services. I would not for one moment suggest that someone who had been working in one sector of our public service should be forced to work in another where greatly varying skill sets are required. At the same time, the opportunities should be presented to people. We will find ourselves very surprised by the great degree of flexibility and the willingness to undergo training and acquire new skills that people will display.
I wish to highlight the position of the local authorities. While there has been great change, there is very significant room for savings and mergers in local authorities. I am speaking specifically about my own county of Cork where we have two local authorities. Both these local authorities have directorates that overlap very much. While I am on the record, I wish to state that I agree with the argument in Colm McCarthy's report that Cork would be better served by a single local authority, which would be a very dynamic and large local authority, although not the largest in the country. It would be a very significant local authority. In respect of the ability to transfer personnel, we already have two housing authorities in a very small geographical area and roads directorates relating to very small areas in the city centre. This kind of thing has happened successfully in other parts of the country. I believe there would be a financial saving to the Minister, which I am sure he is still very anxious to achieve. Most importantly, it would give the second largest urban centre of our country a proper, large and dynamic local authority that could compete successfully with any other region in the country and would be a valid and genuine counterweight to what we have in Dublin.
I will discuss a great feature of some countries that have been in great economic difficulty in order of where they are. Athens is disproportionately the largest economic city in Greece, the second area that is most balanced towards the capital in Europe is Lisbon and Dublin is the third. Any country that seeks to develop economic policy must spread it evenly across the country. In that regard, I suggest that it would achieve efficiency, save money and, as this ambition behind this Bill states, allow a good exchange of talent between people in our region and other regions. It would also be to the benefit of the citizens so it is a classic "win-win" situation. There may be a number of local authorities and Members from all parties who may not agree with it but we have an obligation to look to our citizens first and economy second.
This is a technical Bill and it is welcome. People should embrace it. I do not think there is any great fear from people in our public services. I reiterate that the removal of the battle between the public and private sectors has been one of the great successes of this Government and I urge the Minister to maintain that over the next couple of years because it has certainly improved many a family function and event in Ireland.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. While it may be referred to as a technical Bill, it is very important. As an entrepreneur who runs an SME, one might expect my attitude towards the public service to be tough but that is not the case. We need an effective and efficient public service because that is where much of our growth will be initiated. This Bill was initiated in the public service reform plan 2011, which had five major commitments that are worth noting. They were placing customer service at the core of everything we do; maximising new and innovative service delivery channels; radically reducing costs to drive better value for money; leading, organising and working in new ways; and placing a strong focus on implementation and delivery. All these are being done and could be placed over the door of every private business as well. This is common sense and the proper way forward and everyone recognises that.
While it is similar to the private sector, it is important to have a commitment to change. We must increase skills in the public sector. In particular, I would look to see those skills being changed with regard to SME growth and innovation. In the past number of years, these have been areas within the public sector that have not received the attention they should have received. At times, I see issues relating to planning. We know all the issues relating to planning but we are now talking about planning for where jobs will be - these are common sense issues. We need people who will look at how we can get the job done and not how we can put an impediment in the way. Every time, we create a job, we keep another family in this country, particularly in rural areas. I cannot emphasise this point more.
There is a new challenge here. We should incentivise public servants who contribute to major savings or figure out how we can enhance the wealth of our citizens. One does not get the best out of people unless one provides them with incentives. I hear people talking about semi-State bodies with which I have close connections. These bodies have been doing this successfully for many years. I do not think we could merge the two straightaway because it will take a while for everybody to bed down in this system. Perhaps it can be addressed at a later stage.
It is very important in whatever walk of life to match people with their interests and to encourage the public sector to keep an up-to-date register of the skills status of its members because there are many people with an interest in a myriad of things but we do not know what they are. Once we find out what people are interested in, we know the areas they can serve best. We certainly need buy-in from everybody concerned. The third report of the organisational review programme in 2012 was an interesting read for anybody who struggled through it. It highlighted a lack of skills in some Departments. There is no point in wondering why people do not have the skills they should have. The onus is on us to make sure that they are re-skilled and that is happening. Other people who may be in different Departments have those skills so we could move them around. Retraining needs to be there for those who are willing to put in the effort out of hours.
I was not and am not a great fan of the outsourcing policy. There was a time in this country when we thought we could outsource everything, including the dirty work. The problem is that when one outsources to so-called experts they will, like Members on both sides of this House, argue all day yet there will be no defined conclusion. This outsourcing became quite common and the document even mentioned the risks of policy capture. That is a very dangerous place to be. Policies can be implemented based on favouring one group of people over another rather than for the benefit of the State.
Moving people into different places must be viewed by all in good faith and not as a way to extract more remuneration. It should be viewed as a skills build-up. If people move around the system and get experience through different Departments, they have a fuller knowledge, understand the running of the public service much better and become eminently more qualified in many areas because it is general knowledge that sometimes pieces together a conclusion of many of our problems.