That’s according to university professor, Niamh Brennan, a self-confessed privileged public servant who lectures on management in the private sector but has also acted as consultant and board member for State bodies.
Speaking to an audience composed of senior officials from Government departments, State agencies and public bodies, Prof Brennan slated the absenteeism rate in the public sector, saying it ran at 6.5% compared with 3.5% in private companies.
“If I pull a sickie, I might as well put my hand in your pocket and take your money,” she said. “That is fraud and the notion that it is somehow acceptable behaviour or a little joke is stealing taxpayers’ money.”
She said the proportion of public servants who underperformed in their jobs was more than twice that of private firms and hit out at managers for failing to tackle the problem.
“There is a dragging down and demoralising effect if people get away with murder.”
Prof Brennan also criticised public sector benchmarking as money for nothing. “It gives pay increases without increases in productivity.” And she said public servants didn’t appreciate the value of having a defined benefits pension and “zillion per cent job security”.
Her attack continued with criticisms of public sector unions, who she said were resistant to change and hampered by “chip on the shoulder merchants”.
“After two years of interminable negotiations you might get to where you want to get to. You are pushing up against concrete which does eventually give way but I question whether that’s efficient.”
She cited an example from the HSE, of which she is a board member, where plans to introduce a whistleblower scheme were still not in place. “I cannot understand why we will have to go into interminable union negotiations on it — after the Michael Neary scandal, we should have it yesterday.”
Prof Brennan, wife of the former justice minister, Michael McDowell, was addressing a seminar on accountability in the public sector hosted by law firm, Mason, Hayes & Curran.
However, Blair Horan of the Civil, Public & Services Union, said there was “no basis in fact” for Prof Brennan’s claims about underperformance. “The civil service has a very specific performance management system and it actually shows that the proportion of underperformance in the civil service is very low.”
He said public servants were aware of the value of their pensions. “We are not going to apologise to anyone for protecting people’s pensions.”
He said Prof Brennan espoused free market philosophies when the current global economic crisis was caused by such thinking. “It’s a bit rich for the likes of Niamh Brennan to be criticising the public service when the philosophy of the private sector has been a massive failure.”