Garda pay and numbers could be in firing line in budget

Numbers and pay in the gardaí and defence forces could be in the firing line when it comes to government spending after reviews found they were areas that could be targeted for savings.

Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe will assess reviews for a number of State agencies and spending areas, in lead-up talks on putting together next year’s budget.

A paper entitled ‘Challenges to Investment in Policing ‘finds greater civilianisation in the forces would result in better savings.

It states: “The pace of reform on civilianisation including redeployment, one of the core priorities for reform, remains slow.”

If up to 1,500 extra civilian posts could replace gardaí in some roles, then some €45m would be saved and an extra 2.5m policing hours would become available with those released for policing. There would also be significant pension savings, it notes.

Along with lower overtime, the savings would help boost garda numbers overall.

“Increasing the pace of civilianisation would facilitate efficiencies to fund other Garda priorities (eg recruitment) as well as lower overtime would allow An Garda Síochána to increase the volume of policing services it can deliver within a given resourcing footprint.”

The review says allowances are mainly driven by garda numbers and entitlement rules and “affected by the industrial relations environment”. Overtime is subject to control to a greater extent, the report states.

Nonetheless, the review of police spending also notes that, after a period of continuous reduction, “the level of expenditure on overtime is rising rapidly and is high by international norms”.

A review of spending in the defence forces concludes expenditure is low overall compared to other EU countries but this also means the money that goes on equipment and operations is at a low level.

Unlike other countries, most of the funds in Ireland go on personnel and salaries, which may be the only areas where savings can be made.

“That the particular structure and orientation of Ireland’s defence establishment mean that the majority of annual Irish defence spending is accounted for by a small number of spending lines; most specifically personnel costs incorporating both pay and pensions. Ireland has a small, professional military which does not maintain much cost-intensive equipment or infrastructure,” says the review, separate to the paper on the gardaí.

“That significantly reducing present rates of exchequer spending on the defence vote group would be possible only through addressing headcount and/or pay and pension rates in this sector.”

Another spending review on the environment fund, used for recycling and sustainability projects, is running out. One of the main sources for the fund has been money coming from the plastic bag levy and the accumulation of the charge since it was introduced. Due to changing consumer behaviour, less of the charges are being collected.

In general, the review suggests consideration should be given to new environmental charges or hiking up existing ones to ensure the fund is maintained.

The review says this includes “other levies that might be designed to drive desirable changes in environmental behaviour”.

Mr Donohoe yesterday also released his mid-year review which sets out the expected budget position for next year.

He reiterated it was in the order of €500m, €200m of which is already scheduled to go on public pay.

Repeat hospital overspends ‘untenable’

- Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

The Department of Public Expenditure has warned that repeated overspend in acute hospitals remains “untenable” and must be reined in if the budget issues in the system are to be addressed.

Minister Paschal Donohoe’s department drew the conclusion, signalling a need for deep cutbacks, in a review of spending. It was published as part of a series of documents due to form a key part of pre-budget negotiations.

The review, one of 13 documents released by the Government yesterday, outlines the spending levels in acute hospitals over the past 12 months.

While it emphasises that investment is still required and attempts to reduce costs without impacting on patient care have already been sought, the review says the overall budget overspend in recent years continued to be “untenable” for the wider economy.

“The inability of hospitals to stay within budget over the last few years has led to the necessity to provide €642m of public funds. This situation is untenable and action is necessary to ensure a more sustainable health spend in the future,” states the review.

It says that “investment has grown in the last number of years” in health and the system spent “an additional €215m last year”.

It says €500m in unbudgeted mid-year funding was needed for the system between 2011 and 2016 and the situation, while necessary, was not sustainable.

The Government spending reviews include a focus on the €2bn pharmaceutical sector and the impact any cuts could have on seriously ill people.

It says while there is “headroom” for money to be used elsewhere, the “ability to initiate new drugs remains a significant challenge”.

In housing, the spending review notes that €1.46bn is due to be spent this year, and “costs should be managed in an appropriate manner such that sufficient supply in terms of quality and sustainability can be delivered at a cost level that maximises value for money”.

It says cost levels relating to rent support need to be “kept under review” due to potential “future developments in the wider housing market pressures”.

In addition, it notes four primary housing support services — housing assistance payment, local authority leasing, rent supplement, and rent support — cost a combined €624m last year due to “significant pressure” in the wider market.

Similar issues were raised in education, special education and other key state services, which have high spending costs due to the vital supports that they provide.

HIGHLIGHTS

— Juno McEnroe and Fiachra O’Cionnaith    

HEALTH:

The Department of Public Expenditure has warned repeated budget overspends resulting in €500m in extra, un-budgeted funding since 2011 are “untenable” and must be definitively addressed.

DRUGS SPEND FOR SPECIFIC ILLNESSES:

While there is “head room” for money to be used elsewhere, the “ability to initiate new drugs remains a significant challenge”.

HOUSING:

The Department of Public Expenditure has said “costs should be managed in an appropriate manner” to ensure sustainable expenditure, and that it will be keeping the issues surrounding rent support “under review” due to potential “future developments in the wider housing market pressures”.

EDUCATION:

It has been stressed that an “appropriate balance” must be found in both the education and special education sectors to ensure money is still spent on services that need ongoing help and the potential need to reduce costs in other areas.

DEFENCE:

While spending is low here compared to other EU countries, the main areas where savings could be made include reducing personnel numbers. A review says the Government can only change spending by adjusting headcount, pay and pensions

POLICING COSTS:

The pace of reform on civilianisation remains slow and if improved could save tens of millions of euro and result in some 2.5m extra policing hours on the street. Overtime is also a concern and could be more than international levels if it is not controlled.

ENVIRONMENT FUND:

This is running out of cash. It helps fund recycling projects and is resourced from the 15c plastic bag levy. But behaviour is changing. New levies or higher charges for the environment should be considered, a review says.


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