Progress on reforming the public sector has been patchy but not without successes, according to a report published today by the Institute of Public Administration.
The report is the most comprehensive independent assessment to date of the Government’s November 2011 public sector reform plan.
The issues the IPA highlighted two years ago as being most urgently in need of reform are now being addressed “to varying degrees”, it says.
Most broadly, it notes that “many government departments, local authorities and State agencies are still in a coping phase and that much of their thinking is around the need to find ways to continue to do what the organisation has always done rather than use workforce planning to facilitate more fundamental thinking about new ways of working”.
The adds that “change management is in need of further improvement across the system”, stating policy development remains “a relatively underdeveloped theme”.
With regards both to State agencies and central government departments, the study finds that “the issues of agency governance and performance need further attention”.
On improving the levels of co-operation between Government departments, different levels of government and State agencies, the report concludes that “limited progress has been made on this front”.
In cases where different department and/or agencies pursue the same objectives, they should merge their budget to seek efficiencies, but the report says there has been “no new action on pooled budgets”.
The study raises questions over the Government’s use of a recruitment freeze as a means of reducing the overall public sector wage bill.
iting the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it notes that recruitment freezes tend to create skills gaps “that can take a long time to repair” and that because such freezes “are long-drawn-out, they may have a more detrimental effect on efficiency and morale than staff cuts, which are accomplished more rapidly”.
On the manner in which public sector workers are evaluated, the report says “most performance appraisal schemes absorb significant amounts of management time and resources, [but] have little if any positive effect on performance”. It advocates the devising of structures to tackle “chronic underperformance outside of the appraisal process”.
While the Government formally envisages an enhanced role for local government in its reform plans, its actions to date have conveyed “somewhat mixed messages”, the report notes, and that getting “people out of their silos and working together on projects at the local level” is required.
Also needed both for the local government system and the broader public service is “a shared, agreed, coherent view of local government and its role”.
The study notes that regulatory reform received relatively little prominence in the Irish 2011 reform plan, concluding that “it is difficult to get a clear picture of overall progress with regard to regulatory reform and the impact of regulatory impact analysis”.
The areas where the IPA believes real progress has been made include: the redeployment of staff, better medium term fiscal planning; and a “major enhancement” in the overall budgetary framework.
In its conclusion, it states that “managing the scale of reductions in numbers and pay across the public service without major disruption to services at a time of population increase has been a significant achievement”.
The report, Fit for Purpose? Progress Report on Public Service Reform, was written by Dr Richard Boyle.