Officials from the National Shared Services confirmed the situation to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee yesterday, despite stressing the system has saved the State up to €21m by reducing backroom costs.
Speaking during the latest meeting of the cross-party group, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said that since the new system was set up in 2016 it has overpaid salaries to the tune of €4.6m.
Mr McCarthy said the majority of the 650 errors was late notification of a change in a person’s salary and that it took an average of 13 weeks to agree a way to correct the costs accrued with the person who received the extra money.
Asked about the issues, National Shared Services chief executive Hillary Murphy Fagan said while the system has faced some difficulties the over-payments involved represent just 0.3% of the total State salary bill. Saying “we do not live in a perfect world”, Ms Murphy Fagan added that the new system has saved millions of euro in reducing backroom costs since it was established and that it is proving its worth.
However, while the view was accepted by committee members, it was still criticised, with Labour TD Alan Kelly questioning how Ms Murphy Fagan could claim the overpayments issue is being brought under control when “the trajectory year by year is going in the opposite direction”.
The claim was repeated by Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, who, noting a similar system in Britain said “far from saving money in the UK it [shared salary services] is costing more” and asking for greater transparency in the future on the issues involved.
However, Ms Murphy Fagan again repeated that the new system is saving the State millions of euro overall.
During the same meeting Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said she was aware of a “churn” of staff which has seen 5% of those working in the new system either leave or be moved to jobs in other departments, an issue Ms Murphy Fagan said was in part because of promotions to other areas.
Alan Kelly also said he was aware of a number of public sector workers who instead of being overpaid have in fact failed to receive their full salary due to errors in the system, and that this has left them “demoralised”.
“I spoke to a number of unions who obviously represent members that work with you. And to be honest without this wasn’t a good experience in the sense that they felt that a lot of their staff were demoralised in relation to a number of issues,” he said.
While State bodies have repeatedly stressed the need to merge backroom salary payment systems due to the mirroring of the same work in different departments, the practice has been approached with caution due to serious issues in previous attempts — most notably the PPARS system in the HSE.