John McGuinness: Civil Service “Over-Protected by Unions”
IF you haven’t glimpsed the Sunday Independent, you can guarantee that the edited extract of a speech given by Junior Minister at the Department of Trade and Enterprise John McGuinness will be dominating discussion of the Social Partnership talks over the coming days. It remains unclear if the governmen is capable of steering a course between the interests of public, unions and employers which will generate another 12 or 18 month pay-deal. My own feeling is that there is not enough flexibility nor incentive for a deal to get done. Interests on all sides may mitigate against.
So McGuinness‘ article is very insightful-parts of it make imminent sense, why shouldn’t departments of state be ISO compliant?
Yet this is an issue already ironed out by partnership – the old process of promotion by longevity has been merged with a desire to promote by qualifications. More interesting was the assertion that the civil service continues to employ – despite a very public freeze implemented by Charlie McCreevy and never officially lifted.
For five years I sat on the Public Accounts Committee, with my businessman hat on, watching, with certain exceptions like the Revenue, a procession of representatives of boards and bodies peering into a series of financial black holes, completely unable to explain the mystery of it all, but content that no one would lose his job over it.
You get the drift, horrid inert civil servants are bleeding this good country dry through selfish short sightedness and a desire to cover their own arses. No resemblence to their political masters then. To his credit, McGuinness acknowledges this much – that many of the agencies lamented now were set up to put politicians a step further away from blame, accountability and uncomfortable questions (HSE anyone?). Ironically it is those agencies which are not being touched in the proposed merger, rather it is ones that do a decent job of making life more comfortable for the less well off in our society – the entire idea of having a public service in the first place.
Yes, I know the government, over time, established many of these organisations. We thought it was a good idea. It separated politicians from some things they could be blamed for interfering with. It wasn’t a good idea. Our job is to interfere, question, control, take responsibility, give leadership, admit to mistakes and do u-turns when necessary. We should do a u-turn now.
The big question is whether the bluster in the article is representative of government thinking for after all:
I am tired of committees with big names and small achievements. I’m a businessman, I know about keeping it simple, professional and tight. I don’t want to listen to or read ambiguous expensive consultants reports — the wastepaper baskets of the world are full of them.
IF that is coming from somewhere other than a corner office in Kildare Street, then it may well spell a much more difficult task reconciling parties in the partnership talks – a blessing in disguise it might appear for business, but the winter is coming.