Croke Park agreement – delivering savings and reform
Following recent discussions in Ireland about the Croke Park agreement on public service pay and reform, and its effect on conditions of employment for higher education staff, the following general assessment of the agreement is offered by Shay Coady, General Secretary of IMPACT, Ireland’s largest public service trade union.
The Croke Park agreement is delivering huge savings as services are reformed to deal with a huge reduction in the number of public servants, which has fallen by 14,000 over the last 18 months. More substantial savings will follow this year because public service employment will have fallen by almost 19,000 by the end of the year – 75% of the target of 25,000 fewer public servants set out in the ‘national recovery plan.’
These are among the savings and reforms listed by the Croke park implementation body on its new website, which also says the staffing reductions among management grades has been particularly pronounced, with a 10% reduction in the civil service alone since 2008. Under the Croke Park agreement, savings and reforms must be delivered in exchange for the commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies or further cuts to public service pay. The new website also says the pension levy and pay cuts sliced the pay bill by €1.8 billion last year as individual public servants saw take-home pay slashed by an average of 14%, with higher reductions for the better paid.
The lion’s share of the staffing reductions is due to the moratorium on recruitment and promotion, although 2,000 left the health service through voluntary redundancy and early retirement schemes last month. According to the implementation body: “Despite these very significant reductions, services have been maintained and in some cases expanded. Productivity has increased across the public service because we are getting more work for less money and fewer people. Since the Public Service Agreement was ratified in the June of last year, many changes to the way in which the public services are delivered have been implemented, with the agreement and cooperation of management and staff.“
On top of the reduction in numbers, the implementation body says more reforms will occur in 2011 including a greater emphasis on meeting clinical standards in healthcare, more services delivered in community settings, fewer delays for medical tests, and care available closer to the community. There will also be specific programmes targeting the five chronic illnesses that account for 80% of the total health spend at present.
Among other things, teachers will spend more time in the classroom as less school time is spent on training and parent meetings. More savings will follow VEC rationalisation. More online services and more flexible opening times will be introduced and it will no longer be necessary to provide the same personal information to different Government bodies.
The website lists other major reforms that have already been agreed and delivered including:
- Redeployment of health staff “at very short notice” to address the impact of voluntary redundancies and early retirements – an issue that media commentators last year dubbed the first major test of the agreement
- Reform of the medical laboratories system, including a longer working day, extended working week and less costly on-call and call-out arrangements
- A reduction of the health service and civil service ‘footprints’ as offices and smaller facilities close with staff transferring to other facilities
- The introduction of a single central unit for processing medical card applications, with on-line application facilities
- The introduction of a national procurement structure for the health service, which will facilitate millions of euro of savings
- The transfer of 1,000 community welfare officers from the HSE to the Department of Social Protection from January 2010
- Additional working hours for primary school teachers with training, staff meetings and parent teacher meetings to take place outside of school time
- A redeployment scheme for surplus primary school teachers so that vacancies can be filled and gaps avoided as teachers retire
- The introduction of redeployment arrangements for all non-teaching staff in institutes of technology and universities
- More flexibility in the deployment of special needs assistants
- 500 staff redeployed from Government departments and agencies to deal with unemployment-related workloads in the departments of Social Protection and Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
- The introduction of a new civil service sick leave management regime, with a target of a 10% reduction in sick leave absence
- Less costly rostering and working practices in the prison service and cooperation with the downgrading of some prison service posts
- The rationalisation of state agencies including the merger of the Local Government Management Board and Computer Services Board and the Commission for Taxi Regulation merged with the National Transport Authority
- A newly-established National Procurement Service, which generated savings of €7.5 million on existing public service contracts worth over €100,000 in 2010
- An increase in the availability of online services including taxes, the environmental protection grant management system, and the non-principal private residence charge.
- A reduction in requirements for documentation in many public services including a 75% reduction in documentation relating to capital acquisition tax.