‘An Bord Snip’ – some general comments

First, maybe a word of explanation for any non-Irish readers. What has popularly been called ‘An Bord Snip Nua’ is in fact the ‘Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes’. This was established by the Irish Minister for Finance in late 2008 as part of the government’s developing strategy on containing public expenditure. As its main task it was asked to ‘identify specific options for reducing current spending and the numbers employed in the public service.’

The report was drawn up over several months and was (with more detailed appendices described as ‘detailed papers’) recently submitted to the government. At first it was unclear whether its content and recommendations would be kept secret, but at its meeting on Tuesday of this week the cabinet decided that it should be published, and this has now been done.

In essence the recommendations contained in the report set a framework for the development and containment of public services and administration in Ireland. The implications go far beyond the sums that may be saved, and move into both general strategy and policy and, perhaps, ideology. Whatever decisions the government now takes in responding to the recommendations will shape the Irish state for a generation to come.

This latter aspect – the frame of reference of the report – is something I will comment on on a later date. For now in the next two posts, I am going to focus on two aspects of the report’s recommendations on higher education: (i) staffing in the sector, and (ii) research funding. The recommendations on both of these have the capacity to change fundamentally our acquired understanding of the main objectives of universities and of the direction of the Irish economy.

But it is worth noting, in passing for now, that there are other fundamental issues raised, including the overall institutional shape and structure of higher education. I had already in an earlier post foreshadowed the recommendation on the Higher Education Authority – and the report now proposes to merge the HEA with the Department of Education and Science – and here my arguments from that post hold: I cannot see this saving any money whatsoever, while creating a much less enterprising context for the future. There are also recommendations on realignments and mergers in the sector, particularly effecting some institutes of technology. More on that another day.

But perhaps it is worth making one more general point. Overall, these are harsh and difficult recommendations, affecting the whole public sector in Ireland. There will be strong and indignant opposition to quite a lot of it. As it happens, to my mind there are quite a few recommendations across the report which disclose a poor understanding of the purpose of the public service and its potential. But there is another dimension to all this: we have no choice, money will need to be saved, and at this order of magnitude there are no easy options. Whatever is proposed, and regardless of who might be proposing it, it would be very very painful. What is probably instinctive to all of us – that we know we need to cut but really it shouldn’t affect us in our particular concerns – is not a viable position. So we need to respond constructively. And one way or another, the savings will have to be found.

These really are interesting times.

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5 Comments on “‘An Bord Snip’ – some general comments”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Good for you F 🙂 I think one issue is that often people IN a system know well where there is waste and money could be saved but I fear that people in the PS instead of suggesting those savings will confine themselves to protesting about the proposed cuts. I’d love to see public sector reps saying “this proposal is bad but here’s another way to save money that would be good”.

    • Perry Share Says:

      I think it is going to take a while to work out how to respond to this report.

      On the one hand it provides a very valuable insight into how the institutions of the state spend our money. A million a year to pay for the army’s show jumping team! ‘Tipstaffs’ paid to run around the Four Courts opening doors and serving sangwidges for judges. Free lifetime parking at Leinster House for all ex-TDs. The state running little ice factories for the fishing industry. Independent TDs paid a ‘leader’s allowance’ of over 40K for their non-existent political parties. You couldn’t make it up!

      Also it does seem to make a lot of sense to amalgamate, say, the safety organisations that deal with planes, trains and automobiles, or to put all the Ombudsmen into the one room. And as a vegetarian I’d be delighted to see the demise of An Bord Feoil – sorry Bia! Let the meat industry flog its own taxpayer-subsidised products.

      But these eminently sensible suggestions (unless of course you happen to work in an ice factory or the FCA) are counterpoised with some deeply worrying suggestions. In particular, in our sector, the termination of the PRTLI will see the demise of some important research bodies – one of which (the Irish Social Science Platform) I must admit I’m associated with. Much of what has been established in Ireland over the last decade of research funding only reflects the common-or-garden research infrastructure that already exists in virtually all other developed economies. Now the funding is to be cut off and I don’t see the ‘private sector’ rushing in to assist. I would imagine that Chuck Feeney won’t be too happy to bail out the Irish state again.

      The notion that all ‘research’, from the agricultural research of Teagasc to the humanities research of the IRCHSS, can all be governed by the one funding body, presumably run by the Department of Finance, seems unlikely to work. It would certainly be the death-knell for humanities and social science research in Ireland.

      I hope, like others, that there will be a rational, critical and searching debate on the recommendations of this report, and that people will not simply retreat to their own trenches. Of course it is deeply ironic that the one group that will not be involved in this debate – the members of the Oireachtas – are the ones who led the country into this fiasco in the first place. I hope they enjoy their holidays.

  2. In comparison to what is going to be squandered in NAMA, these cuts will be miniscule.


  3. Sandy Says:

    What an irony! Gobt. now wants to get rid of 17,000 public workersto save few billions. Why Bord Snip havent cut general spending which is happening?
    For ex:
    1. why cant we cut TD’s pay package by 30K instead of putting one public servant on dole?
    2. Why cant they provide part-time jobs to people on dole? Nobody wants to be on dole. Let the unemployed get the dole benefit, but Govt. can use this resource for some part time work. I have seen 100’s of Garda positioned for Croke park matches and shows on Sunday. Instead of paying them over time, why can’t the Govt. engage dole resources?
    3. Govt. always talks about resource crunch in its public offices. Why cant they engage qualified dole resources to fill in this gap temporarily? Anyways, Govt. is paying them dole money. It can also think about flexing their muscles at no additional cost to the govt.
    4. There are thousands of IT resources on dole. Why cant Govt. use their free services to build better system?
    5. There are thousands of construction workers on dole. Why cant they help in building terminal 2 of dublin airport in lesser time? They are getting their dole money… aren’t they?

    It is high time for govt. to think out of the box. What to do? they are bunch of gangsters out there.

  4. Pol60 Says:

    Up to 20 percent of the metals can be lost in a crusher. ,

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