In this column a number of weeks ago, I suggested that it was necessary to reduce public service numbers by up to 100,000 people. What surprised me was the number of readers who made the assumption that these hundred people would have to come from the lower ranks or grades of the public service.
I can only assume that those people who did contact me and were negative in their comments regarding my proposals, were themselves employed by the public service in some of the lower grades. These are the people who are on the worst salaries and generally do the most difficult work. These are also the people who live in a constant state of anxiety brought on by a lack of direction by government resulting in perceived job / insecurity. It appears that everybody in the public service, just like in the private sector, is afraid of what will happen to them and their families given the severity of the upcoming budget.
My proposal for removing up to 100,000 public servants is relatively straightforward although it will have to be accompanied by substantial reforms in work practices, promotion policy, pension entitlements and attitude. For example, the defined benefit, indexed linked pension scheme is simply too expensive for our country to afford for the foreseeable future. The abolition of this pension must include all public servants whether employed now, in the past or in the future. If new legislation or constitutional amendment is required to make this happen, then so be it. ~The fact that there are people who retired over ten years ago and are presently receiving pension that are actually higher now than their salary they were on when they left, is outrageous.
We have reached a stage in a country where the “sacred cows” of entitlement, by persons engaged in either the public or private sector, must be challenged and if necessary reform. This is not part of a personal wish list; it is part of the reality of where our country finds itself at present. It is utterly pointless to sit on the sidelines pontificating about the reasons why we can’t change this or implement that, particularly from those pursuing a personal agenda such as senior trade union officials and others.
We are a modern democratic republic and we can do whatever we choose. It is government of the people by the people for the people and our present government incumbents would be wise to remember that. Changing the fundamentals of any society takes courage and leadership, both virtues which the present administration is sadly lacking in.
But before we collectively criticise our government for lack of courage maybe it’s time that we all showed some personal leadership in this regard. You see, as a citizen of the state, you have certain privileges which are bestowed on you at birth not least of which, is the right to vote and the ability to actively participate in the administration of your society, at any level.
Most of us abdicate all our responsibilities to those whom we elect, assuming we bother to elect anyone at all. The present state of our country is a true reflection of this. We are where we are because we allowed and caused this to happen. And we will only get to where we collectively want to go, if we all decide to play our part in building that vision of a New Ireland. A Country that is fair and equitable to all. How is it that a wealthy person can afford to buy a new Mercedes only pays €384 in road tax and a poor person just trying to keep an old car on the road has to double the amount? How is it that a parking or speeding fine can account for 20% of a poor person’s weekly income and only 0.02% of the weekly pay of some one earning €100,000?
I digress. My suggestion in regard to the reduction in public servant numbers is that we start by eradicating 75,000 positions from the very very top of each department and working our way down through the different grades. I’m sorry to say, but the people at the very top and those immediately below them in the public service have proven conclusively that they are incapable of running a modern, efficient and cost-effective service. Consequently, it is only right that they should lose their jobs.
You see, the reason why people are on one grade higher than another should be based on their ability and not the longevity of service. Although this has changed somewhat in recent years the legacy of the system remains and permeates every avenue of the public service. I propose that up to 5000 professional, capable, educated and experienced private sector managers are recruited to fill the managerial function and administer the strategic requirements of the public service, and well paid but on a performance related basis. No performance, no pay.
They should be accountable for their successes or failures. Furthermore, managers at the highest level should have a limited tenure not exceeding seven years. It should be seen as an honour and an opportunity for personal advancement to be a manager within the public service and not a ticket to a life of relative idleness, outlandish salaries and unbelievably generous pensions.
As part of this organisational re-engineering, I suggest that all public servants who retain a full-time and permanent position should be moved up at least one, if not two, grades in the present system and controversially, have their salaries increased. We need to value the people at the front line because it is they who do the work. We then abolish the ‘grade’ system as it is now constituted. After all, why should a public servant in the department of finance (who obviously does bugger all) get paid the same as a frontline worker in Health or Social Welfare (who put up with disgraceful working conditions and have to take ‘dogs’ abuse) ?
In exchange for these changes, all future promotions must be based on ability as measured by modern private sector inspired assessment methods for both competency and suitability. Also, an agreement to a new pension regime and the removal of the “job for life” where it still exists must form part of the shakeup. I know that a substantial number of people who work in the public service may be very annoyed with me and what I’m proposing. But before you shoot the messenger, ask yourself whether or not you believe the public service is as efficient as it should and could be. If you’re at the higher levels within the service you will probably say that everything is as good as it can be. If you work at the lower levels, you are probably more than aware of the inefficiencies that exist, particularly the further up the organisation you look.
The bottom line is simply this; the public service for all of Bertie Ahern’s Benchmarking antics is still an incredibly inefficient organisation in terms of delivering the services which it is tasked with. I mean, they’re still using Rolodex paper cards and biros to keep track of when I sign on, for Christ sake. You use a blue biro to sign on if you are on time and a red one if you’re late. Knowledge economy my arse! The computer system in Kilbarrack social welfare office, which was installed three years ago, I understand, is actually running DOS -based program which I consider twenty-five year old “technology”!
Where are the managers, external consultants or scores of committees who made these decisions? How much did it all cost? Was anybody fired for total and complete incompetence? As usual, nobody will be personally responsible for any of these decisions that were taken.
Sorry people but this can’t go on any longer and not just because we can’t afford it. No, because it’s an absolute disgrace that in a country with so many capable, intelligent and well educated people that this is the best that we can do. We can and will do better but all of use must play a part, however small and by whatever means we can.
Whether you agree or disagree, please leave a comment below or share this article. Thanks