Ivan, I’m going to have a shot at proving you partly wrong- if “they” will let me get on with it.

Ministerial Muppet mayhem as Croke Park ‘reform’ exposed

By Ivan Yates

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A FORTNIGHT from today, Mar 1, is the first day of the new public
service provision after 8,118 retirements.

Obfuscation, downright denial and mismanagement by Government
ministers and senior officials is about to result in disorganised
chaos. There is no precedent for what lies ahead in human resource

Two years of pretence that the Croke Park Agreement is achieving
enhanced productivity and reform, is about to be exposed as a gigantic
sham. Consequences for hospital patients, students and victims of
crime are potentially disastrous. Contingency planning is dependent on
the willingness of disappearing personnel to agree to being re-hired.

Fundamental flaws in the architecture of public service structures,
which have been swept under the carpet through mutual collusion, lie
at the heart of this impending shambles. 3,817 employees of the HSE
are due to depart. The final figure may vary because individuals may
stay, due to miscalculation of their one and a half year’s lump sum
entitlement — opting at the last-minute to cancel resignation.
Minister For Public Service Reform, Brendan Howlin, and
Secretary-General Robert Watt, tried in vain to ensure there would be
a three-month gap between the deadline to seek an exit and the
departure date. This was rejected by unions. Despite concessionary
terms worth up to 15% of enhanced entitlements, by using pre-pay cut
salaries, the Government declined to insist on proper breathing space
for reorganisation. Adopting new technology and outsourcing takes

The second enormous error was to abandon any attempt at selectivity.
The selection process as to who goes, within 300,000 personnel, was
entirely at the behest of applicants. Units with a preponderance of
senior staff, close to retirement age, will bear the brunt of
vacancies. No regard was had to the impact this will have on specific
regions or specialised divisions. If handfuls of theatre nurses and
midwives depart from a particular hospital, there are no controls to
refuse requests. No attempt was made to target staff rationalisation
in the context of reorganisation.

Take the Defence Forces, where 520 army personnel applied to leave.
This is totally unconnected to closures of barracks or scaling back
overseas UN deployments.

The Bord Snip Nua report in 2009 advocated that 17,300 public service
posts should be abolished. It set out how this was to be achieved, by
identifying quangos to be closed, schemes to be terminated and
departments to be merged. It said the number of Garda stations should
be halved from 700 to 350. It proposed 6,168 employees of the HSE
could go through reorganisation of administration — the personnel
section alone employs 8,000. In education, they set out plans for
staff cuts at third level, merging smaller primary schools and a
reduction to the pupil teacher ratio. There was joined up thinking
between the delivery of public services and reduction in job numbers.
The current free for all represents an abandonment of any semblance of
private sector human resource management. Harsh consequences are about
to be visited on us all.

The Croke Park Agreement has a mythical jewel in the crown,
‘redeployment’. The notion is that by implementing a Big Bang mega
departure, public bodies will be obliged to transform themselves with
flexibility, subject to a 45kms movement limit. All evidence indicates
a culture of systemic resistance to change. There has been no
reduction in 13 separate management grades, facilitating a
disconnection between top decisions and frontline execution. Multiple
layers of middle management need to be reorganised into a much flatter
structure, which is resolutely defied. This obstruction is
underwritten by conciliation and arbitration systems that stubbornly
refuse to adapt.

Remember Privilege days and the 30 minute breaks to encash
non-existent paycheques? Arbitration bodies determined workers were
still entitled to celebrate the King’s birthday, Empire Day and race
festivals. Unions won both cases on appeal.

Suddenly, we’re expected to believe that supernumerary remaining staff
can be slotted into vacant posts. It hasn’t been explained how
specialist skills are to continue. A departing neurosurgeon in
Beaumont Hospital cannot have their duties carried out by excess
janitors or clerical officers. A retiring secondary school biology or
French teacher can only be substituted by a person with relevant
qualifications. The middle of an academic year, with class timetables
already set out, is the worst possible time to retire teachers. School
principals and management boards face immediate dilemmas if retirees
don’t stay on until the summer holidays.

How quickly will approval be given by the Department of Education to
rehire? Disruption is inevitable for students. Up to 3,000 replacement
staff are to be approved. Nobody yet knows who or where.

Public service entities comprise empires of mandarins. Their retention
is a matter of the most guarded territories. Turf wars lie at the
heart of senior officials’ decision-making. We can anticipate the
mother of all infighting battles to ensue as line departments seek
exemption for their staff in the decision-making process as to which
posts will remain unfilled.

Within the HSE, this conflict will be geographic in the absence of
policy decisions. When asked by media to outline specific
rearrangements, top brass referred queries to local hospital and area
administrators. In turn, local bosses stated they awaited decisions
from on high. Expect bedlam, unless there is blanket pragmatism to
retain people on short-term contracts or a major influx of agency
recruits. They are literally making it up as they go along.

This shambolic scheme is supposed to reduce the public sector pay bill
by €2.5bn before 2015. This has to be achieved while adhering to the
two core tenets of the Croke Park Agreement — no pay cuts and no
compulsory redundancies. There is no transparency on the overall
finances. Cathal Magee (HSE CEO) claimed at a hearing of the public
accounts committee that the average savings to be made, where staff
are not rehired, would be 33% of salary costs. Lump sum packages are
expected to be of the order of €183m in health and €159m in education.
Ministers have declined to give top line figure of total gratuities.
They may be as high as €630m. We do know the vacancy attrition will be
worst in senior echelons, such as Garda management. Only 33 of 56
positions above the rank of superintendent have been sanctioned for
appointment. The brain drain of experienced key individuals is

Failure by Cabinet to take tough decisions on the Comprehensive
Spending Review makes this downsizing almost impossible. The Taoiseach
invented ‘Transition Teams’ during media interviews — no one knew what
or where they are. U-turns on disability allowances, community
employment schemes, disadvantaged schools, Vatican embassy and septic
tank inspection charges augur poorly for cabinet collegiality when
Brendan Howlin insists on a tough line against concessions.

The retirement scheme and moratorium on public service recruitment,
both predated the Croke Park Agreement and could have been achieved
without it. Its job is to facilitate transformation in this fell
swoop. It’s a con job. It doesn’t alter the glacial pace of change.
More Muppet mayhem.

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