Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage
I thank Senators for their presence. This is a relatively short technical Bill that amends the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. Its aim is to remove the legislative barriers to redeployment and overall mobility within the public service and to address other issues that arise on changing employer. If passed, it will facilitate greater movement across the broader public service and into and out of non-commercial State bodies. This is vital in the current context, where the redeployment of surpluses in one organisation to meet deficits in another is likely to continue for some time as we seek to maximise the existing resources within the public service.
I am also taking the opportunity of the passage of the Bill to remove a provision in the 2004 Act. At present the Act provides for an exemption in relation to appointments recommended by the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, following competitions confined to certain civil servants. The rationale for the exemption was that Civil Service candidates for senior posts had already been subjected to a recruitment and selection process that had been regulated by the Commission for Public Service Appointments, CPSA. As a result of the extension of TLAC to candidates from outside of the Civil Service since 2007, the exemption no longer applies. As open competitions are now the norm and TLAC appointments are subject to the provisions of the Act, I have taken the opportunity to reflect the new reality in the legislation by deleting the exemption.
The Bill is being read here today in the context of a clear vision for the public service for the future. It will be a public service that is better integrated and more responsive to an ever-changing environment, with a focus on the needs of citizens and business customers and on the need to deliver value for money. It will be more open and accountable in how it spends taxpayers' money and in decision-making.
Significant progress is being made in achieving the vision and implementing a programme of reform with a scale and ambition unprecedented in the State. The very difficult fiscal position and increased demands on services is driving the reform agenda. We must continue the process of meeting the five major commitments in our public service reform plan that we published in November 2011 as follows: placing the customer or citizen at the core of everything that 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 a strong focus on implementation and delivery.
The ability to move and redeploy staff from one post to another, and from one organisation to another, is an integral part of delivering on the reform programme and in supporting a more fit-for-purpose public administration. Redeployment and mobility will be required on an ongoing basis to meet demands for staff to support priority programmes and schemes from within existing public service resources. At present, definitive redeployment from one sector of the public service to another is not legally possible. Secondment arrangements are used pending the enactment of appropriate legislation. This is the purpose of the Bill. It intends to provide certainty of assignment for those on secondment and for those who will move in the future. It will also provide certainty for the sending and receiving organisations involved in the redeployment process regarding their staffing assignments.
The public service across Europe is operating in an environment of reduced resources and 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 places extra demands on public administrations. The demand and supply pressures require more specialist skills and competencies in key strategic areas, including procurement, ICT, and change management.
The demand and supply pressures require more specialist skills and competencies in key strategic areas, including procurement, ICT and change management.
One of the key instruments in addressing the staffing capacity challenge as we move towards a more fit-for-purpose administration is the adoption of a strategic workforce planning approach. It is vital that this approach is 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 decisions made by managers. A key enabler of this is the design of an appropriate workforce planning process to ensure that the right staff are in the right place, at the right time. Cross-sectoral mobility is intended to support this objective and the passage of this Bill is required to facilitate definitive cross-sectoral transfers.
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 Departments are currently preparing the next iteration based on the feedback provided. This will allow a more consistent approach to be adopted right across the public service. It will also support central monitoring, as well as playing a key part in the provision of robust and timely information to decision makers. This, in turn, will enable service-wide analyses of staffing supply and demand as part of ongoing Civil Service resourcing.
Redeployment and mobility are not merely aspirational values to be achieved as part of some future public service. In the past the Croke Park agreement has been an enabler of the public service reform plan and has played a strong part in underpinning many of the changes we are making in the public service. It has provided an unprecedented opportunity to achieve changes in an atmosphere of stable industrial relations and co-operation.
For the first time, the Croke Park agreement provided a basis for movement within the Civil Service, the health services and local authority and education sectors and, where internal redeployment is not possible, between these bodies and non-commercial semi-State bodies. These arrangements have played a key role in the reassignment of over 10,000 staff at this stage - it is remarkable to think that 10,000 staff have moved in the past couple of years - and were reaffirmed under the new Haddington Road proposals currently being voted upon. Redeployment will continue to facilitate flexibility and ensure that we can make the best use of staff resources by moving staff from areas where there is surplus capacity to areas of greater need.
I have noted in this House previously that there has been a substantial ask of public servants under the Croke Park agreement and in the context of the Haddington Road discussions. I have spoken in recent debates in this Chamber about the reason that was, and remains, necessary. I have also acknowledged, both in those debates and elsewhere, that public servants have contributed significantly to addressing the current fiscal and economic challenges through the pension levy imposed in 2009, a pay reduction imposed in 2010 and through other measures, including head count reductions, reduced salary rates for new entrants and reductions in pension payments to pensioners.
As part of the negotiation process that has resulted in these outcomes, the Government has agreed that compulsory redundancy will not apply to public servants, subject to the agreed flexibility on redeployment being delivered. The passage of this Bill will allow definitive cross-sectoral redeployments to be made and in doing so will enable the Government to meet part of its commitments, both under the existing Croke Park agreement and, hopefully, the newly-to-be-agreed Haddington Road.
I will briefly go through the sections of the Bill and give a brief outline of their content and purpose. 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, 5 and 6, to include all public service employers except commercial State bodies and their subsidiaries. Section 3 removes the existing exemption I just indicated, under section 7(2)(a), from the general provisions of the principal Act in respect of the Top Level Appointments Committee, TLAC, appointments, bringing these within the ambit of the Act.
Sections 4, 5 and 6 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 Public Appointments Service 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 his or her 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 also with its role in operating the existing redeployment arrangements for transfers between public service bodies under the existing Croke Park agreement over the past few years.
Section 57C provides that redeployment is to be on no less favourable conditions of basic pay - defined in section 57A - and pension, except in relation to fast accrual arrangements. It will provide certainty for the individual being redeployed in two ways: first, it provides for the transfer of the responsibility to meet the redeployee's superannuation liabilities to the receiving organisation; and, 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 1973 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.
Section 57D sets out the factors to be considered by the Public Appointments Service 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 redeployed; the terms of any policy of the Minister, or 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, 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.
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 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 the Minister, by order.
I am asking the House to support this short, limited but important Bill as part of the reform agenda under way in my Department.
The Fianna Fáil group would like to support this Bill but, today, we will be reserving our position on it. In this regard, I will be putting a few queries to the Minister.
As the party that helped negotiate the original Croke Park deal, Fianna Fáil is prepared to play its part in and support the reform of the public sector to ensure it is more flexible, while valuing its work and making it work in even more efficient ways. We support redeployment and making the staff resources as flexible as possible to change in response to the needs that arise as the years go by, but I have a few questions for the Minister in this regard.
The Minister has been careful not to frame the legislation in terms of the Haddington Road agreement. My overarching concern is whether this is going beyond Haddington Road and whether it is part of a wider reform agenda of the Government, and I suppose the question comes down to how that relates to the workers. Have the unions been consulted specifically on this legislation because I have not heard much about it in the media?
Redeployment is dealt with in the Haddington Road agreement, which contains quite a considerable number of paragraphs about it. However, there is a procedure within the aforementioned agreement for redeployment, which refers to looking for volunteers for redeployment before one starts to get into a mandatory situation. As far as I can discern, this is not reflected in the legislation and it is not a factor that must be taken into account legally. The other general point I wish to raise is that the redeployer, that is, the Public Appointments Service, must take into account a number of items when it decides to redeploy, one of which is sectoral agreements into which the Government has entered. The Bill refers to the "terms of any policy for the time being of the Minister, or collective agreement negotiated with any recognised trade union or staff association" and I assume the Haddington Road agreement is such a thing. What in practice does the Minister envisage over the years? Will this be just one item that is taken into account or is this what actually will decide how things operate?
I have another major concern about a definition in the Bill and I seek some comfort from the Minister on this point. As I stated, Fianna Fáil will be reserving its position on the Bill today and certainly will not object to it today. However, I will listen to what the Minister has to say and my party will consult further in this regard. A definition of basic pay has been brought into the principal legislation via section 6 of the Bill, which states:
'basic pay' means, in relation to the person the subject of the designation concerned, the amount of the person's pay or salary, by virtue of the position held in the public service body, by the person immediately before the redeployment day, other than amounts in respect of--(i) specific work or a specific duty undertaken,I do not know whether there is such a definition of basic pay in the statute because were a definition along those lines to be put in, which did not take account of the normal allowances, for example, of nurses, which form part of their core pay, that would be different to what public sector staff members themselves consider to be their core or basic pay. The Minister might recall that in the original Croke Park II talks, before they became the Haddington Road proposals, the nurses voted overwhelmingly against the Croke Park II provisions. I believe it was 95% to zero, precisely because of this kind of thing, that is, it was perceived to be an attack on the allowances that people outside the system and who are not obliged to work overnight or on Sundays perceive as some kind of bonus. I am afraid that were this to be put into statute, Members would be setting a new standard for pay, which in practice might work out as reducing pay in the long term. Moreover, it might not take into account, as does the Haddington Road agreement, the type of work that actually is done by many in the public sector at a time when many of us are asleep. In my own case and that of many other families, while I am asleep at home someone else is working as an nurse overnight.
(ii) unsocial or atypical hours worked,
(iii) shift work,
(iv) piece work, or
I also am concerned about the practical implications of that definition. Leaving aside overtime, which pertains to additional work, I refer to someone who is redeployed and for whom a large part of his or her salary might comprise allowances for Sunday work. People begin to have an expectation that they will work two Sundays per month and so on and it all becomes part of the ordinary wages coming into those families and, in practice, is not perceived to be a bonus. This was the reason the nurses and a number of other unions voted overwhelmingly against the Croke Park II proposals. Given the previous experience with the 10,000 staff to whom the Minister referred, how will this work in practice? For example, can a nurse or fire fighter be taken out of his or her job - if for some reason the job is no longer required - and be put into a Civil Service job with a consequential loss of a considerable amount of pay if that person's actual pay as it was is not being taken into account? It is unfortunate that this definition is being included in the legislation. If the Minister tells me it already is in place I will accept that. While I do not believe it appears anywhere in legislation, I will listen to the Minister's response. It could send out a signal that this work is not valued and could inflame passions again, based on what happened in respect of the Croke Park II agreement. Moreover, I do not know whether it is necessary, when one considers the Haddington Road proposals, in which some allowances were cut but others that were extremely important to staff members and reflected the realities of the work were retained.
I reiterate that Fianna Fáil supports and wishes to encourage the Minister in his reform efforts. However, my party wishes to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly and I have raised some questions to which Fianna Fáil seeks answers from the Minister. My party may table amendments on Committee Stage but despite what the Minister said, this does not appear to be a highly technical Bill. I do not agree with the Minister's suggestion that this is a technical Bill, as it could be quite significant for many people. Therefore, it is important that Members tease out precisely what is happening and get the profile for it, if it goes beyond the Haddington Road proposals. While Fianna Fáil wishes to support this Bill, I ask the Minister to respond to the concerns I have outlined in due course.
I believe this Bill reflects a common sense approach to good governance and good government. The purpose of the Bill is to allow greater mobility within the public sector and, as a result, greater flexibility. The Bill sets out the technical amendments needed to facilitate such increased mobility. The Croke Park agreement provided a basis for movement within the Civil Service, the health service and the local authority and education sectors, as well as in cases in which internal redeployment is not possible between these bodies and non-commercial semi-State bodies. The arrangements are reaffirmed in the Haddington Road proposals. We live in a fluid business environment in which staff must be flexible enough to change and respond to new work practices and I commend the public service on working with the Government to bring about substantial change within the sector that has contributed much to Ireland's economic recovery. I believe this statement cannot but be reiterated and reaffirmed. At present, such movements of staff within the public sector are not possible legally and secondment arrangements have been used, pending the opportunity to address the legal impediments involved. This Bill removes the legislative barriers to redeployment and mobility in general within the public service, which I believe will create a better public service for better governance and better government. With this in mind, I believe there is little else to say but to commend the Bill to the House and to commend the Minister on bringing it before the House. However, before concluding, I have one query to make of the Minister. I refer to a hypothetical case within the public service, in which a person at grade 8 level was to retire and that post was to be filled from within through redeployment. Could it arise that a public servant at grade 5 or grade 6 level was redeployed into that position? Must a grade 8 level public servant be replaced by another grade 8 level public servant?
I welcome the Minister to the House and always have wished him well in his reform agenda. As for this one, I refer to the attempt at an internal devaluation, given we do not have a currency to devalue externally. In itself, that opens up issues as to the reasons we did not read the small print before joining up with the single currency. However, it is very difficult where one has an extremely strong public sector trade union movement and very little trade union movement outside of that because, as the Minister has pointed out himself so many times, they have taken the hits. This measure must come in tandem with other proposals. I have heard the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform talk about the need for a Government economic service to improve the expertise through all the Departments, rather than having them operating as independent republics. Similarly, the control of lobbyists is absolutely essential, certainly as one considers how we got into trouble. Moreover, I refer to the role of whistleblowers, where they see inefficiencies and so on, to tell the Minister or other Ministers as the Government tries to steer its way through all of this. I refer to a problem outlined on page 12 of the bord snip nua report, which is that in the period of expansion between 1997 and 2009, higher management levels in the Civil Service grew by approximately 82%, while Civil Service numbers as a whole increased by 27%.
That is all part of the adjustment which the Minister is attempting. I welcome his statement on the first page that we must envisage a redeployment of surpluses in one organisation to meet deficits in another. In previous discussions on such matters I looked at the exemptions. I note that Córas Iompair Éireann, Cork Airport Authority, Dublin Airport Authority, the ESB, EirGrid, and the Shannon Airport Authority are exempted. According to Mr. Guiomard, the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation, they are documented bodies with surplus staff because of the decline in air traffic . The extra money that CIE got last year was used entirely to buy out surplus staff. Do we not have vacancies elsewhere for drivers of public transport vehicles? Could they not be redeployed? The Minister is unnecessarily constrained by Schedule 3. That does not mean I do not commend him for the significant issue being tackled. He can take it I will support him in that regard.
I have another concern. In the Book of Estimates for the Minister’s own Department, on page 59 there is a reference to the Exchequer pay bill between 2012 and 2013, which rose from €18.773 million to €20.382 million. As I am sure his officials correctly calculated, that is a 9% increase, but the associated public sector employees reduced from 340 to 318, which is a 6% decrease. There has been a large increase in average pay in the Minister’s Department. Perhaps that is necessary when we are trying to accomplish this reform but I have gone through the numbers and something similar happened in the Department of the Taoiseach where there was a 7% increase in staff and a 2% increase in pay. It also happened in the Department of Health, which as the Minister is aware has been a source of some discontent as far as the troika is concerned. There has been a large increase in the average pay of employees in the Department of Health. The salaries bill went up by 5% and the number of people employed went down by 4.7%. There was an approximate 10% increase in the staff of the Department of Health at managerial level. Are the managerial costs of what we are trying to do exceeding all benefits that are possible? We must review the situation. One could ask whether we should be much stricter in preparing the next budget than the figures that have been presented to us. Those are nettles that we must grasp.
I sat on the National Economic and Social Council and heard for years from the public sector trade unions that if only the Taoiseach’s Department, which controlled that entity at the time, would be imaginative they would be brilliantly imaginative and wonderful reform proposals would emerge. I have never seen them and I am still waiting for them. I hope the Minister will be the person to deliver them but it has taken an lot of hot air and empty promises. The legacy of social partnership in that regard is not great when one considers benchmarking and the recruitment of all the extra managers. Everyone who was elected two years ago must try to cope with that and we rely on the Minister for leadership. We need much stricter economic control. We must examine whether the managers are delivering. There is no point in getting rid of people low down the scale and for the average pay to keep rising rapidly. One could ask how much of the expenditure is influenced by social partnership and whether it is an appropriate model given that it is an insider-outsider labour market. More than 300,000 have left the country, 40% of whom were under 25. We would be in a similar situation to Greece were it not for emigration. I appreciate the Minister’s efforts to keep us out of such a situation by the reforms we are implementing but we need more radical reform than we are seeing.
The Minister referred to the top level appointments committee, TLAC, and the concerns that existed before he came to office. There was a remarkable record of appointing only insiders. Could the composition of the TLAC be changed to give one availability to a wider pool of people on which to draw? This is the kernel of a reform agenda that we need. All sheltered sectors in this country cost too much and public sector services are part of that. The Minister’s attempt to get more efficiency should be supported by the House.
I too welcome the Minister to the House. As he said, the legislation presented is required. It is common sense legislation that removes the barriers to redeployment and mobility within the public service and addresses issues that arise in terms of changing staff and the changed environment in which staff are employed. The Act amends the 2004 legislation and takes into account the circumstances and current policies of the Government.
It is a fact that 37,500 public servants have either retired or have terminated their retirement in one way or another through early retirement or other means. The public sector is under great stress with that number of people being removed. However, the public sector in this country is derided in some quarters. It is an excellent body of people. Those who are employed within the public sector are dedicated people and work extremely hard on a daily basis. They are cognisant of the situation the country is in and have sacrificed a lot in recent years in order to turn things around. That has been successful.
It is also worth noting that more than 10,000 staff have already been redeployed across various Departments and sectors within local authorities. It should be recognised that one cannot take staff from one section of the Civil Service or public sector and put them into another sector without proper training facilities being put in place. Funding has been set aside by the Minister for that purpose.
The Civil Service and the public sector are completely different to how they were 25 years ago. When I started my working life I was a public sector worker. The agreement in place at that time was that for every person who got promoted another person had to be taken from the seniority panel to complement the promotion. That was the environment in place at the time but it has completely changed now. The opening up of positions, in particular for the recruitment of senior staff, to external applicants has completely changed the focus of the public sector in this country. That is to be welcomed. If people are in a job for too long they lose their flair and energy. There is no point in saying otherwise. It is always good to have new people coming into a job, be it in the public sector or private sector. The legislation will help to re-energise the public sector by allowing senior staff to redeploy to other Departments or between local authorities. The Bill amends existing legislation. In spite of the indication by Senator Barrett that a number of areas are precluded from the remit of the Bill it is still a positive development. I would be interested to hear a response from the Minister on the sectors that are excluded.
Senator Byrne referred to staff and union agreements. The Minister indicated that the legislation is technical in nature. I assume agreements are in place to deal with the 2004 Act and that those arrangements will follow through on the enactment of the amending legislation. I would like the Minister to clarify the point.
It is very important as we move forward and, although this is separate from the Haddington Road proposals, it has ramifications for staff and it is important people would move into this in a willing way rather than there being an issue about it in future.
I welcome the legislation and hope it will be passed swiftly. I hope it will help the recovery of the country and ensure those staff who are under-employed because of changes in their areas can be redeployed to allow them to find fruitful employment in the future.
I thank Senators for their contributions on this Bill.
Senator Byrne asked a number of questions. Is this wider than the Haddington Road agreement? It builds upon what has happened in recent years. We had significant redeployment of 10,000 people under the Croke Park agreement without any great hassle. That was unprecedented. There was, however, no legislative basis for that redeployment. It was done on the basis of secondment and those people must have their positions formalised for their own security and that of their employers. This legislation does that. It removes the legislative barriers that prevent that.
There has been significant redeployment in the health service, which has been extremely flexible, with 5,880 people moving across the executive in the last couple of years. In education, 1,772 staff, comprising 1,675 teachers and 97 administrative staff, have moved in the last couple of years. In the Civil Service, 600 staff have moved into the Department of Social Protection, while another 1,770 from FÁS and 1,020 from the community welfare service moved into the Department. These were not easy movements because the pay and structures were different. It has always been difficult to achieve that flexibility. It is important we put a formal structure in place to allow that to happen much more easily in future.
The unions were consulted on this and they raised no issues on these proposals. They are consistent with Croke Park arrangements that were formally agreed and the arrangements outlined in the Haddington Road proposals.
Senator Byrne mentioned volunteers. Organisations will identify posts that are surplus to requirement and will ask people to redeploy and look for suitable redeployment for them. In the Bill, sectoral agreements will be fully maintained. Haddington Road will run its course in the next few years, assuming it passes, but this Bill will be a permanent feature. We do not want to instance particular agreements but all sectoral agreements will be reflected. This Bill will fully reflect Haddington Road and the agreements on redeployment.
The Senator raised the important issue of a definition of basic pay. The Senator is right that basic pay is core pay but not overtime pay. It is important where a person is moving from a job, such as a nurse who routinely works overtime or is on night shift-----
-----that the core pay would be protected, but a person will not get a shift allowance if he does not work the shift. There is a formula agreed with the unions and this has been worked out in detail. Will a redeployed person retain his allowances? Yes, if he is working to another pattern that would require the same anti-social hours. If that is not the case, there is an agreed formula for the allowance to be capitalised and a lump sum payment to be made. That is all in an agreement with the public sector unions and that is why there was no resistance in the past and we do not expect any in the future. It gives certainty to people when it comes to redeployment.
Senator Sheahan welcomed the proposals. No one will be disadvantaged. When a post at a fixed grade becomes vacant, unless the post itself is to be suppressed at that grade, we would not expect someone to work that grade for a lesser pay grade.
Senator Barrett raised a number of issues. The Government economic service has been an extraordinarily good innovation but we have hired a number of young economists, some of them trained by the Senator no doubt, and while they were originally located in my Department, they are to be redeployed across the public service. They played a sterling role in the Haddington Road negotiations. They were of huge value.
This relates to the second part of the Senator's question on average play increasing. The unit costs will increase into the future because the bulk of the Civil Service up to this point were clerical officers because of the nature of bureaucratic administration. It is part of my job to get rid of that as far as I can. There are more than 300 Government services available online. When I started out 30 years ago, if I wanted to buy an airline ticket, I would go to the travel agent to buy one. We would not dream of doing that now, and an increasing number of services are going online.
The Senator mentioned external recruitment and TLAC. One of the first things we did as a Government, and which I did in my Department, and I do not mind admitting to the House there was some resistance from the permanent government, was to appoint a lay majority of non-civil servants to TLAC and a lay chair. All senior appointments are now filled by a committee with a majority of non-civil servants and non-civil servant chair, and each interview panel is constituted on that basis.
In my Department, I have made three significant appointments in the recent past. The new director of the office of reform has been working marvellously, and we presented the reform agenda in November 2011 - I am not sure if the Senator has had a chance to read it - with 200 timelined significant reforms, and we are on target as we roll those out. They are ground-breaking reforms. Last week it was my privilege to open the first significant shared service centre, PeoplePoint, where 48 human resource management centres are migrating to one. Instead of every Civil Service agency and Department having its own human resource management, there is now one centralised unit for the entire service. The next project we are working is to centralise in three centres the payroll for the entire Civil Service, which is currently in 16 centres. We are looking at financial service management and a range of other services we can centralise in a shared services centre. That model is also being rolled out to local government.
As there is less bureaucratic work, we will see more specialists working in the Civil Service, with more policy-driven economic advisers who are very competent people.
While the unit pay costs will probably increase, the volume of personnel will decrease over time as more of the mundane work is done electronically and by means of new technologies.
I strongly endorse Senator Barrett's comments on the suite of activities under way in my Department. The reform agenda being undertaken by the office of reform must be mirrored by the political reform agenda. In that context, significant reform lies ahead in the Civil Service. Senators will forgive me for pointing out that reform of the structure of the Oireachtas is part of this process. Within the Oireachtas, the whistleblower legislation, restructuring of the Freedom of Information Act and a Bill providing for a register of lobbyists, all of which the Senator alluded to, will come on stream this year. We have already completed, through the Seanad, legislation expanding the role of the Ombudsman and so forth.
Senator Barrett always refers to the commercial semi-State bodies when I bring legislation before the House. These companies have a unique mandate and are not part of the Civil Service or Haddington Road agreement.
I do not agree with the Senator's comment that Ireland would be in the same position as Greece if it were not for emigration. Our colleagues in RTE will be shocked by the decision of the Greek Government to close down the state broadcasting station last night. I will have to restrain the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, in these matters. If one examines in detail the calamity that has befallen Greece or the position that pertains in Spain, Portugal and Cyprus regarding benefits, supports and social transfers, one will find that despite the unprecedented meltdown in our economic fortunes, we have been extraordinarily resilient and resourceful in maintaining resource transfers, social welfare benefits and so forth at a much more robust level that obtains in the countries in question. This should be acknowledged.
Senator Landy made an important remark on the quality of the public service and we should acknowledge that point. In my first two years in office, I regularly read in some quarters a diatribe against and vilification of the public service as if all public servants were overpaid and underworked. I see at first hand the quality of people in the public service, not only those on the front line such as doctors, nurses and gardaí, to whom Senator Byrne referred, but civil servants who, throughout recent months, have taken on the most complex of agendas in the European Union and worked all the hours God sent in the interests of this State and the European Union. It has been remarkable. I am highly impressed by the work done by my team in all the areas of activity in which I have asked them to engage. Senator Landy is correct in this respect. I answered the Senator's other question on union consultation.
We will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to tease out any other issues Senators may wish to raise. In essence, what is at stake here is the need to provide for a formal capacity to transfer public servants. Where staff are moved, they will hold on to their pension rights, pay rights and so forth. There is significant frustration in the public service, including among workers, that staff are under-deployed in some areas and completely overworked in others. We need to have the capacity to balance this.
On that point, while a period of six days between Second Stage and Committee Stage is an improvement on previous legislation in respect of the time provided between Stages, the programme for Government contains a commitment to have one week between legislative Stages. Last year, the House took all Stages of various Bills on the same day, which is a disgraceful and, as the Government Chief Whip noted, deplorable approach.
Before the Minister leaves the House, the Cathaoirleach accepted an Adjournment matter on a proposed sewage treatment plant for north County Dublin, which was tabled to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. More than a year ago, the Minister gave the House a commitment to investigate this matter.
The Cathaoirleach ruled on this issue this morning. I am being entirely reasonable. In the past two days, my office has received a succession of telephone calls from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform seeking to transfer this matter to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I have refused to accept this suggestion because the matter I raise relates specifically to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is a disgrace that the Minister, having been present for the past hour, chooses to leave the House now that the Adjournment debate is about to commence.