13. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the Civil Service People Strategy 2017-2020 and on the way in which this is being delivered to create a high-performing Civil Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 53255/17 asked on 14 Dec 2017)
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Obviously, we have all been reading Our Public Service 2020-----
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Excellent.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: -----which is a fine summary of the work of our 315,000 public servants, to whom we are greatly indebted, across all of the key sectors of the public service - health, education, security and so on.
I wish to ask about this matter because the public service resource is our people, the men and women who are all around us in the Chamber today, in Departments and throughout the Republic. How will the great slogans and 18 actions contained in “Our Public Service 2020” operate in terms of the three pillars of the HR function, those being continuous professional development, strengthening performance management and promoting equality, diversity and inclusion? One wonders why we do not achieve equality, diversity and inclusion all the time as we recruit. How do we manage the outstanding people who work for us?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I am delighted that the Deputy has read the document. It was great to launch it earlier this week with the Secretary General of my Department.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Minister did not invite me.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Now that I know the Deputy has such an interest in it, we will make sure to invite him to the sequel and other events that happen in the run up to it.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Okay.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: As the Deputy knows, this is the third iteration of what we have been doing in terms of Civil Service reform. In direct answer to his question on how we will make these things happen, two developments will allow for much of that. I will then conclude with an observation on the interesting point that the Deputy made about diversity and inclusion.
First, we will soon set up a public service management leadership board, an entity that will have all of the senior leaders, not only in our Civil Service, but across the public service, coming together on a regular basis to review progress in delivering this plan. That is not something that we have done previously. It is separate to the Civil Service Management Board, which considers how to implement Government decisions, policy and so on. This will all be about how we bring that document to life.
Second, we now have a chief HR officer, who is looking to roll out consistent HR practice across all Departments. In the next three years, HR sections in Departments will be strengthened and supported more from the centre, which is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to make that strategy happen.
It is interesting that the Deputy made a point about inclusion. I have noticed, as recruitment into the Civil Service has returned to reasonable levels in recent years, the significant quality and diversity of young civil servants who have joined. This is encouraging for the future of the Civil Service but we cannot take it for granted. We are examining ways of better recruiting on university campuses, for example.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I welcome the Minister’s establishment of a public service development board, if that was the name mentioned, but a basic point must be acknowledged. The report includes the findings that our Civil Service ranks as first in the European Union as the most professional and least politicised public service, ranks sixth for the quality of our public administration and ranks fifth in terms of the perception that government decisions are implemented effectively. Reading this is heartening, given the fact that the austerity and cutbacks across the public service since 2008 and 2009 were devastating.
I wish to address some issues specifically. Is the Minister concerned that, for specialist areas in the public service, salary structures, rewards and so on are insufficient? Yesterday, Members were discussing the Department of Defence and how some specialists needed by the Defence Forces, for example, in the medical corps, are not available.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Do we have another question?
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Regarding professional development, is there a role in Ireland for third level specialist colleges like those in, for example, France, where the cadre of leading civil servants receive continuous professional education?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has asked his two supplementary questions.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: The Deputy asked a number of questions. We will also have a strategic advisory board, whose job it will be to oversee the implementation of the strategy.
Regarding salary levels and the retention of specialists, there could be an issue with a number of specialist roles across the public service. I have asked the Public Service Pay Commission to investigate the matter, beginning with the health service. I met the commission and its chairman, Mr. Kevin Duffy, a number of weeks ago. That work is under way. I must be careful that any decision we make regarding individual roles does not unravel or adversely impact on the integrity of our overall pay policy.
The answer to whether I believe that a specialist university is required beyond what we already have is “No”. We make great use of bodies like the Institute of Public Administration. My Department has started running a number of diplomas and certificates in specialist areas to support the professional development of our staff.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does Deputy Broughan have another question?
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Just a follow-up. The report stresses service delivery and public feedback. There is incredible dissatisfaction among our constituents with the delivery of a modern health service or the delivery of any kind of social housing pipeline. People are much happier with the delivery of basic services in other areas, for example, education and the Civil Service generally. Is communication with the public something on which the public service is relatively weak and that needs to be strengthened in order that people are aware of the acute dissatisfaction with many areas of service delivery?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: The Deputy is right, in that the strategy points to customer engagement as something that we need to do even better in future. It is something we have begun to do a lot of work on over the past 18 months. The two examples I offer to the Deputy are, first, the survey the Minister for Health launched during this week regarding the patient experience for people looking to enter hospital and, second, the publication earlier in the year of a customer satisfaction survey for businesses that engage with the Civil Service. We did that by focusing on businesses. I was very pleased to see that, across a range of different areas, businesses felt they were getting fair and effective treatment from the Civil Service, with a particular focus on the professionalism of and role played by the Revenue Commissioners.