Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)
Civil Service Renewal Plan
The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform has overall policy responsibility for the Civil Service renewal programme. The Civil Service Management Board, CSMB, provides collective leadership of the programme. The CSMB is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government and its membership comprises all Secretaries General and heads of major offices in the Civil Service. Staff in the social policy and public service reform division of the Department of the Taoiseach provide secretarial support to the CSMB. They work closely with the Civil Service renewal programme management office in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in that regard. The civil service renewal programme management office co-ordinates and drives the renewal programme, with regular progress reports provided to the CSMB.
Achievements to date include the establishment of OneLearning, the implementation of a range of initiatives to improve gender balance across the Civil Service, organisational capability reviews, a common governance standard for the Civil Service, the Civil Service people strategy, structured and transparent talent management programmes, the Civil Service excellence and innovation awards, Civil Service employee engagement surveys and a Civil Service-wide mobility scheme for clerical and executive officers. Detailed progress reports on the Civil Service renewal programme, CSMB annual reports and minutes of CSMB meetings are available on gov.ie.
The Civil Service renewal programme was launched five years ago by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and earlier this year, it was lauded for the improved gender balance across the Civil Service as an area of significant progress and achievement from the plan. Unfortunately for the women who work in the Civil Service and the public sector, the figures do not support the Minister's claims. In 2015, 20% of people in the top Civil Service jobs were female and in 2019 the gender breakdown in the top jobs remained the same. In fact, in the Department of the Taoiseach only 25% of the top grades are women, yet the reverse applies to the lower grades where 75% are women. That is the balance throughout almost all sectors we examined. We understand this is historical and that historical disadvantage for women takes time to resolve, but attention must be directed at middle management to ensure the disparity is addressed for the long term by putting in place work practices and employment protections that encourage and support women to move up the ranks.
Does the Taoiseach believe the Government is doing enough about this? Clearly, it is not. What actions is the Department of the Taoiseach taking to drive the objective of gender parity in senior roles throughout the Departments? Is that a strategy the Taoiseach and the Government have?
When the Civil Service renewal programme was launched in 2014 it unfortunately suffered over-hype from its early stages, which is now the dominant approach to all Government plans. At the end of the implementation period in 2017 it was declared both that the renewal plan had been implemented and that reporting would continue to ensure that the plan would be implemented. If we are honest, there have been ongoing improvements in the Civil Service over a period of 40 years. The Irish Civil Service appears to rate highly internationally in respect of efficiency and effectiveness. Problems certainly arise from the growing politicisation of all aspects of the public services, and this is a serious issue. However, I believe the core integrity of the service remains.
The core problem today continues to be the ability to attract and retain staff in critical roles in the civil and public sector. The number of vacancies in the health sector, in particular, is impacting directly on vital public services. The row about the moratorium on health service recruitment vis-à-visthe tortured language being used by officialdom in the Department of Health to justify the failure to recruit posts that have been advertised or to give people contracts for posts that were advertised 12 months ago reveals that.
I asked the Taoiseach last year and again this year to report on the growing habit of inserting Ministers into financing decisions where they had previously been excluded by changes introduced after 1997. For example, with regard to community development, advance research and culture money has been directed into funds where the relevant Minister has been given a role in deciding not just policy but also specific allocations. No justification has been provided for this strategy of re-politicising funding. The documentation regarding the Government's self-marketing campaign revealed that at least one Minister was personally deciding on the allocation of advertising spending between different publishers, broadcasters and newspapers, something that had not occurred for at least two decades. Will the Taoiseach agree to ask for the development of guidelines on how to reverse this trend towards the growing politicisation of day-to-day government?
The Deputy will not be surprised that I do not agree with him that the Civil Service renewal programme was over-hyped when it was launched in 2014. It was well presented and it was an important initiative for a number of reasons. We were in the middle of a crisis at the time. As I have said publicly, the day before the troika left this country the head of its team told me that the civil servants he had dealt with during the crisis were the best he had dealt with anywhere. That is an incredible tribute to the people who worked all hours of the day and all days of the week to address an existential threat to the country at that time.
I have two questions for the Taoiseach about ongoing issues. Constant renewal is very important in public administration and one of the objectives we were anxious to achieve was the recruitment of specialists. In general in the Civil Service, generalists were given jobs in, for example, human resource management or in carrying out economic evaluations. We created the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, in the public service to ensure we would have economists doing economic work and we recruited human resource specialists to manage human resources. Is that continuing?
My second question is about senior management assessment, which is probably be the most difficult nut to crack. Has it been cracked? Is there a proper evaluation of the conduct and output of the most senior public servants and is that available for public scrutiny?
Does the Taoiseach have thoughts on how to achieve equality between women and men in the most senior ranks of the public service? We have never had a woman at the head of the Department of Finance, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or a number of other Departments. In addition, in Departments such as the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection which were headed by women in the past, the women have now been replaced by men. As somebody who casts himself as a young leader, what plans does the Taoiseach have to achieve at the top of the Civil Service a public and visible declaration of a commitment to equality, as it were, through a rough parity of 40% of either men and women, moving to a 50:50 situation? We do not have that at present.
I have the statistics which Deputy Martin Kenny outlined. We have gone backwards rather than forward. I am not saying that is the Taoiseach's fault per se. It is a collective matter for everybody who has been involved in government. However, the Taoiseach does not appear to be anxious to make progress. Where are the women who are going to be leaders in the Civil Service? I know from talking to civil servants in places like the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Finance that fantastic women with fantastic skills are not getting promotions at the same level as men. Ministers have a call when it comes to the most senior appointments. Has the Taoiseach discussed with the Cabinet the principle of ensuring, given the talents available, that the calls treat women at least equally to men?
As we all know, there is still a large gender gap at higher management levels in the Civil Service. The Civil Service renewal plan, whose implementation rests with the Minister for Finance for Public Expenditure and Reform, is working to change this. Our executive leadership programme is making a major difference. Thanks to encouragement and mentoring, more women are taking part in that programme. Since 2010, there has been a doubling of the number of women at deputy and assistant secretary levels but we have further to go, particularly at Secretary General level. Other initiatives in the plan that are driving this change include a wide range of initiatives to improve gender balance across the Civil Service, a study of gender in senior Civil Service positions in Ireland which was published in December 2017 and the development of guidance for Departments and an information pack on maternity and adoptive leave. I accept that we have more work to do in this area, particularly when it comes to Secretaries General.
In terms of problems attracting candidates and retaining them in employment, the Public Service Pay Commission was established to advise the Government on aspects of the public service remuneration policy. In the second phase of its work, the commission was tasked by its terms of reference to undertake an examination of whether and to what extent there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in the public service.
As part of this final module, the commission considered the issues and policy challenges associated with pay setting for top level posts in the public service at the current time, as evidenced by recent competitions to appoint a Garda Commissioner and a new director general of the HSE. In its final report, the commission included findings regarding senior executive recruitment and retention issues. It noted as a matter of fact that the pay reductions introduced during the fiscal crisis were structured with greater reductions at the most senior levels, steps that in my view, were appropriate at the time. The commission also noted that the unwinding of pay reductions, which commenced in 2015, has been progressive and focused rightly on prioritising restoration for those at the lower income levels first. That action will be ongoing at more senior levels until July 2022 under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017, which provides a statutory roadmap for the continued controlled unwinding of FEMPI as it applies to all public servants, including those in the most senior positions.
On the question of pay determination for future such posts, the commission stated it would be appropriate, should it be decided to conduct a review of remuneration of senior level posts, that the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector, which was in place between 1969 and 2009, be reconstituted for this purpose, given the diversity of posts in question, as well as the range of issues affecting them. I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has asked officials in his Department to examine the re-establishment of this review body.
In regard to Deputy Martin's assertion that financial decisions are being re-politicised, I would not accept that assertion. In fact, I would give an example of the contrary, which is the sports capital programme. When I was in the Department with the Minister, Deputy Ring, we put in place very clear rules to determine which projects were valid or invalid, and we put in place a points system which means it is the officials who score the different projects using that points system.
There is also an appeals system, which was a very significant change to the approach taken by the former Minister, John O'Donoghue, and the former Minister, Jim McDaid, before that.
IGEES is a very good project and is continuing to develop. Deputy Burton is right to point out that we have never had a woman at the head of the Department of Finance or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Of course, the person who is at the head of the Department of Finance or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in my view, is the Minister. Unfortunately, the Deputy's party leader decided not to appoint her to those roles and decided to appoint her to social protection instead, which is a great job and a really important one too. Perhaps if I have an opportunity to appoint a new Cabinet, I will be able to appoint at least one woman to one of those two roles.