A new prison working rules system that officials said would save the State almost €300m over the past decade by replacing overtime has cut costs by just €8m.
The Department of Justice and the Irish Prison Service (IPS) admitted the situation after it emerged the much-vaunted overtime reform measures fell far short of predicted levels.
Under plans that were introduced in 2006, the existing overtime working hours system was replaced by an annualised hours process in Irish prisons.
The move was ordered by two separate cost and staffing reviews in a bid to quell growing concern over escalating overtime costs which were “unsustainable” and rose to an unprecedented €59m in 2002 alone.
Under the new annualised hours system, Ireland’s 3,300 prison officers were asked to sign up to one of four “additional hours” bands guaranteeing them a set amount of money for additional work each year.
The policy switch was implemented on condition that if prison officers exceeded these hours they would not be paid extra income.
When the scheme was introduced in 2006, officials predicted it would save the State up to €31m every year in overtime costs — a figure that should have reached €279m between 2006 and 2014.
However, detailing the actual savings at the latest Dáil public accounts committee meeting yesterday, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said the total savings during the entire period amount to just €8m.
“The prison service estimated that the annualised hours system would produce savings of €31m a year,” reported the C&AG. “This was not achieved.
“The examination estimated that the average annual net salary saving as a result of the introduction of the annualised hours system is of the order of €5.5m a year.
“Furthermore, savings achieved to end 2014 were offset by substantial lump sum payments to serving prison officers when the new system was introduced totalling €41m.
“The estimated net Exchequer saving for the period 2006 to 2014 was, as a result, a total or around €8m.”
Responding to the revelations that the cost-cutting measure has fallen far short of what was predicted, Department of Justice secretary general Noel Waters and IPS director general Michael Donnellan said introducing the new system was “hard-fought” and that it will prove effective.
Mr Donnellan said that while the actual annual saving was €19m, significant once-off lump sum and pensions payments to departing officers slashed the money brought back to the taxpayer.
However, he added that, in light of the significant difference between the expected savings and the financial reality, the IPS has “undertaken a review” of the new system and whether it can be “utilised more efficiently”.
The failure to reach the near €300m savings target emerged during a PAC meeting which also heard that gardaí and prison officials are investigating how €10,000 in cash left at Limerick Prison as bail money “disappeared”.
Asked about the situation by Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan, Mr Donnellan said the incident occurred in 2015 and is the subject of Garda and IPS investigations.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved