Extending public service ID cards part of reform plan

Brendan Howlin: public sector transformation was without precedent in EU

The number of public service picture ID cards issued to claimants will nearly double to 900,000 by the end of the year.

Some 500,000 such cards, used to access free travel and social welfare payments, are currently in use.

Ministers intend to explore the possibility of extending the initiative to act as an ID card for older teenagers.

The move was announced as part of an ongoing streamlining of the public sector which saw the Government claim it had reduced staffing levels by 30,000, or 10% of the total, and reduced pay and pension bills by 18%.

However, Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure minister, came under fire from the opposition for not living up to his promise to preside over a “cull of the quangos”, as only 46 such organisations have been abolished or merged.

The opposition insisted Mr Howlin’s target of 48 abolitions was far too low to begin with.

Mr Howlin was unable to say how many jobs had been reduced as a result of the attempt to cut quangos, insisting that the €20m savings as a result of the move did not amount to “a hill of beans” compared against the bigger scope of the bid to cut back the public sector.

Opposition parties also accused the Government of glossing over the failings of the Susi student grants system, which had been trumpeted at the launch of the first public sector reform plan in 2011.

Mr Howlin insisted that he had presided over a “remarkable transformation” of the public service which was “without precedent in the EU”.

But Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Seán Fleming accused ministers of producing a self-serving report.

“This was written by civil servants for civil servants. The people trying to access public services, via HSE appointments, welfare appeals and the like have not seen much of an improvement in the way things are done,” Mr Fleming said.

Mr Howlin said that he wanted to move towards the introduction of an outside element for the appraisal of public sector workers, so that under-performing staff could be dealt with better.

Office of Public Works Minister Brian Hayes said that he hoped to save €500m over the next three years by centralising the way all government departments access goods and services.

The report confirmed that all post-primary schools would have broadband by the end of this year and post codes would be rolled out by the middle of next year.

Debt management and medical assessments are two of the areas ministers intend to outsource from the public service in future.

Mr Howlin praised the Haddington Road Agreement for ensuring industrial peace while the public sector shrunk from 320,000 people to 288,500.

Ministers intend to get the figure down to 282,500 by 2015.

The financial crash has seen social welfare payments increase by 18% since 2008.

The amount of children in schools has risen by 49,000, or 6%, and the total for pensioners is up 13%.

With some 1.8 million smartphones in use across the country, ministers also plan to outline a switch to greater use of digital access to government services by the public in the coming months.


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