Prison Service overtime system saves €22m less than predicted

The State’s spending watchdog has found that a system introduced to replace overtime in the Irish Prison Service has only saved the taxpayer €8m over eight years — despite original estimates predicting it would save the State €31m a year.

The Comptroller and Auditor General yesterday published its special report on the annualised hours system, which was introduced in 2005 to replace overtime in the Prison Service.

Overtime costs had peaked at €59m a year in 2002 and 2003.

Under the annualised hours system, prison officers are contracted to work a fixed number of additional hours annually, to a maximum of 360 hours, over their standard rostered hours.

The report found that while there has been a reduction of 49% in the average number of hours worked by prison officers over and above their basic work week since the introduction of the new system, the savings have fallen “substantially” short of what was expected.

“While the savings are significant, they are substantially less than the Prison Service anticipated,” states the C&AG report.

The report found that the system has saved €5.5m a year since it was introduced — but that these savings have been offset by lump-sum payments to officers for agreeing to adopt the changes.

“The average annual net cost saving since the introduction of the annualised hours system is an estimated €5.5m a year. This is significantly less than the savings of €31m a year estimated by the Prison Service before its introduction,” reported the C&AG.

“However, the estimated annual savings were partially offset by once-off lump-sum payments, totalling €41m, made to prison officers for adopting the annualised hours system. As a result, the net saving over the period 2006 to 2014 was around €8.”

In its analysis, the C&AG identified two factors that the Irish Prison Service did not take into account when calculating its savings:

  • It found that that the service based its estimates on costs that incurred in 2002 and 2003, when overtime hours peaked. However, the number of overtime hours worked in subsequent years, prior to the new system’s introduction, reduced. This meant that the savings made were not as significant when compared to the years immediately preceding the new system’s introduction.
  • It also found that additional costs incurred as a result of the system’s introduction were not taken into account.

“The Prison Service’s estimate of savings did not include provision for the operational allowance of 8% of a prison officer’s basic pay that is paid to all prison officers as part of the agreement to introduce the system,” states the report.

“This is a recurring cost of the annualised hours system as implemented.

“In 2007 — the first full year of the new system — this amounted to €10.6m. In addition, the operational allowance is pensionable, whereas overtime is not.”

Prison officers may not be called on to work the full amount of their contracted additional hours but are paid for all of them, with the average level of so-called write-off hours at roughly 15%.


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