Reforms of civil service ‘don’t go far enough’

Moves to make it easier to sack civil servants who fail to do their jobs properly do not go far enough, opposition TDs have warned.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin insisted the reforms would lead to a streamlined departure for under-performers as he promised a more cohesive and professional civil service.

However, Fianna Fáil’s Sean Fleming said the move meant fewer civil servants would be fired, not more.

Mr Fleming said that plans to establish what objectives all civil servants should meet, and plans to set up an objective system to evaluate their work, are too loose, and will lead to a moratorium on sackings.

“This actually long-fingers the prospect of sacking civil servants,” said Mr Fleming. “They have to set up objectives, then find an accountable way to judge those objectives are being met, then — God knows when — maybe they will do something.”

“What this does is create a moratorium on sackings because these procedures are not in place.”

A picture of a poorly managed civil service was painted by the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt.

“The process under which we can exit people is too burdensome. There are too many steps,” said Mr Watt.

He said that the civil service had been “very bad at managing people, managing their performance, investing in them, making sure we have the best people in the appropriate role”.

He added that, where staff were considered to be under-performing, they would be given the opportunity to improve.

“The big challenge is to enable human resources managers to manage,” said Mr Watt, who is to act as a general spokesman for the civil service under the changes.

The shake-up is to see the creation of an accountability board, chaired by the Taoiseach, but there will be no head of the civil service as recommended by an expert panel the Government set up to advise on reform.

The reform plan is expected to take three years to fully implement, with Mr Howlin saying he wants to see a system of awards put in place for civil servants, but not bonuses.

Mr Howlin said that he wanted a “celebration of excellence” in the civil service, where the system of paying increments would remain.

Mr Fleming said the Government had failed to come forward with ideas to deal with a situation where 75% of civil servants are aged over 40 and, while 60% are female, women are very under-represented in top posts.

“The Government’s plan is completely lacking in ambition and will not bring about the necessary transformation that civil servants themselves believe is required,” said Mr Fleming.

The Association of Higher and Civil Public Servants generally welcomed the proposals, but queried why the recommendation to establish a head for the civil service had been ignored.


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