#RealityCheck: What happened to the Five Point Plan in relation to Public Sector?

Newstalk Breakfast analyse the Government's promises ahead of Election 2016

You may remember that famous Fine Gael five point plan which was going to rescue the country.

Newstalk Breakfast has been reviewing what Government actually delivered in relation to its plan– including the Budget, Health, Jobs– and today, we look at the Public Sector:

What the Five Point Plan promised

Fine Gael will make the public service better, smaller and cheaper. We will reduce the cost of the Public Service by eliminating waste and abolishing 145 Quangos. We estimate 30,000 administrative positions can be eliminated by natural wastage, voluntary redundancy and relocation. We will replace the outdated and inefficient annual budget system with an open and transparent system to manage the nation’s finances.

What the programme for Government promised:

  • Concrete mechanisms to improve performance, using a range of external standards and benchmarks, and to deal with persistent under-performance.
  • Reduce the total number of public sector employees by between 18,000 and 21,000 by 2014, compared to the total number at the end of 2010.
  • Reduce this number by a further 4,000 by 2015.
  • Where appropriate, agency boards will be scrapped and agency managers will report directly to Ministers and their Departments on performance against targets.
  • We will put in place a Whistleblowers Act to protect public servants that expose maladministration by Ministers or others, and restore Freedom of Information.
  • There will be no more “golden handshakes” for public servants that have failed to deliver.
  • We will require Departments to carry out and publish Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) before Government decisions are taken.
  • We will make substantial cuts to the number of State bodies and companies

What's the Reality?

Cormac Lucey of the Sunday Times, and a former advisor to Michael McDowell, joined Ivan in the studio today to go through the Government’s five-year performance on reform.

Listen: #RealityCheck - The Five-Point Plan on Reform

To start, Ivan asked Cormac: What’s the overall take on how the Government have done?

“There were two phases of this government. There was the phase when the Troika was in town and when the boys had to do their homework every Monday and show that they’d done their stuff, and then there’s the phase when the Troika left town.

“In the first phases I think the government did some great work, and I also think Brendan Howlin did some great work.

“But since the Troika left town we’ve seen slippage in health spending, we saw a big slippage last December in social welfare spending. I also think that health spending, there’s just a fundamental structural problem there.

“The government has focused on the high level aggregate spending, but it’s the same old mismanagement systems.”

Did we waste the crisis, and with it the chance to make major reform to public services?

“Fine Gael’s five-point plan featured a commitment to universal health insurance, and that’s now discarded. So they’re half way up a road saying we want to abolish the She, but they’re unclear on what the want to put in its place.

“What’s happened in government after govt is there’s public dissatisfaction with health, the government commits to structural change, they go a few steps down the road, and then all the objections kick up.”

The Quangos?

Cormac's rating: Three our of ten.

"A lot of the structural changes were just for the sake of getting the numbers down.

"What does the consumer authority have to do with the competition authority? Very little, but they were shoehorned into the one body just so they could say ‘we’ve eliminated one govt body.’

"Another reason I would give them a low mark was they committed to appointing people onto these boards through public competition – and that hasn’t happened.

"I think if you’re running a political party you need some sort of little Dolly mixtures to feed your supporters, to keep them in line."

Has the cronyism ended?

"No. It will never end, it’s part of our culture."

Political reform? A democratic revolution?

Cormac's rating: One out of ten.

"To dress up abolition of the Seanad and to reduce the the voting age to 17, to call that revolution, that is just a crime against the English language.

"It’s political tinkering wrapped up in a slogan to give Fine Gael canvassers cover when they were canvassing at the last general election.

"Their proposal was extremely modest and it didn’t really address core issues. Irish politics is dominated by short term thinking against long term thinking – it didn’t address that. It didn’t address the failure to account properly for the State’s liabilities, particularly in the pension area. This is an explosive issue.

"The real liability the government faces both to PRSI contributors and former civil servants, is about €400bn, at a time when the national debt is about €200bn.

"We’re talking about a real liability that’s off the books, that’s twice the size of the national debt that we’re getting so vexed about. And this is being accounted for in a manner which when Breifne O’Brien did it for his pension fund saw him imprisoned.

"These are the accounting techniques of a criminal ponzi scheme – and we have Joan Burton promising to increase pension payments."

Any plus points on the reform front for the Government?

"I think they were right to look for increased power for Dáil committees, although if we look at yesterday’s Oireachtas banking inquiry report, the strength of these committees isn’t in the report or the findings, it is the hearing of evidence and uncovering of positions we might have suspected were there but we never heard of. So I’m not sure it was that big a disaster that referendum was defeated."

Is reform now off the agenda?

“It’s gone off the radar because the government looks like it’s going to be re-elected. If you’re in govt today you’re broadly, ‘I’m alright, Jack’. You’re satisfied with the way the system is running, whereas if you’re in opposition trying to get into government, you’re having to court the votes of people who are dissatisfied with the way things are run.

“The best chance of genuine political reform won’t come from government parties and given that the outcome of this election looks at the minute like re-election of the government in some form, political reform is well down the agenda.”