Friday, October 30, 2009

on passing by- again

So the report of An Bord Snip, or to give it its correct title, the “Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes”, has landed on the Governments doorstep. Before we even get in to the nitty gritty we know that this one is different, by the sheer fact that once it was set up it started working straight away and has presented its report in such a short time frame. If the group had been comprised of the usual public servants they would probably still be sorting out their office space, administration staff and expenses. Now that the report has been presented, and given the scale of the financial problems facing the country, the Government has gone off on its summer holidays to think about it. I suppose crisis or no crisis the lads and lassies are entitled to their nine week break. The fact that this will give the general public a chance to see how bad things are (as if we didn’t already know), and give the unions a chance to calm down, has probably not occurred to them. Perhaps they don’t think that if we are left to stew over the summer worrying about over five billion in cuts then we won’t feel too bad when they only cut things by three billion. Having said that I am sincerely of the opinion that the ordinary taxpayers, or at least the few of us that are left, are going to get walloped again. Nothing I have seen from either Mr Cowen or Mr Lenihan would lead me to believe that they are going to take any kind of drastic action in relation to public service numbers, pensions or entitlements. The fact that Mr Cowen still wants a consensus approach bodes ill for the whole process as Mr Cowen’s idea of consensus means letting the unions run the show. After the long years of Bertie Aherns pandering to the unions they feel that not only are they entitled to a seat at the cabinet table but also entitled to a veto on any decisions that are not to their liking. To illustrate to the ordinary paye worker just how far removed from reality the public service unions have become one of their top stalwarts announced that he would have absolutely no problem sitting down to talk with the Government to discuss the report and its implications. He did however want one small consideration from the Taoiseach before deigning to attend. As long as the Taoiseach guaranteed that public service wages, conditions and pensions would not be touched than he would be only too happy to advise the Government on where the cuts needed to be made. He went on to say that cuts in the public service would be of absolutely no benefit and would do nothing to stimulate the economy. How anyone can be so blind to the current situation is mind boggling. Does the whole country have to go down the tubes before these people can actually see what is really happening outside their cosy featherbedded existence? Do we have to wait until the only people working are public servants before the Government actually starts walking the walk instead of talking the talk? Exactly how bad does it have to get before these people are forced to take of the rose tinted glasses and see how bad things are?
I am sincerely sorry if all this seems like a bit of a rant but I have seen the value of my pension drop over the last two years. This is the pension that I personally contribute to, using after tax income. The Government does not guarantee me a pension, or promise to index link it for me. I have seen my take home pay decimated by a two percent rise in tax and a one per cent rise in the “ temporary health levy” I have seen the cost of my petrol rise daily as the cost of a barrel of oil fell because the Government refuses to take on the oil companies. Despite all this I feel privileged to still have a job and a wage. How long I will continue to have these is anyone’s guess. Like a large number of private sector workers I can see the problems facing the country and the economy and if we have to pay a bit more to get us back on track then I am resigned to that but there are certain things that I need as well. I need to know that the sacrifice is being shared.
I need to know that the extra tax is being spent wisely. I need to know that the Government has the gumption to reform the public service. I need to know that the benchmarking process that has the average public service wage at forty seven per cent higher than the average private sector wage will be capped or overturned. In response to this knowledge I will partake of the pain but I am not going to do it while the Government sits on its hands and does nothing except tell us how well they are doing their jobs when even the dogs in the street know the truth.
The Bord Snip report outlines numerous ways to save money. Some of these are of no real practical use because of the small amounts they would save. The report says the number of Garda stations should be halved to save one million euro. Half the Garda stations in the country already seem to be unmanned so I can’t see the sense in that one. They want to increase hospital charges to save six million. Are we not already paying enough? They want to make cuts to the 2011 census to save two million. I know all the little things add up but why not attempt some of the big recommendations? Get rid of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This would save over one hundred and fifty million.
Carrying out all the recommendations for the Department of Social and Family Affairs would yield over eighteen hundred million. Yes I know they want to cut all social welfare payments by five per cent but this would only bring them back to the level they were at in June 2008.
Implementation of a range of measures in the Department of Health and Children would save another twelve hundred million. Reform the Department of Agriculture and end the ridiculous situation where we have over six thousand public servants catering for less than one hundred thousand farmers. Find out why the Department of Education needs ten and a half thousand special needs assistants at a cost of three hundred and fifteen million and see what cuts could be achieved. While you are at it ask the Department why the Report reckons that there is a high level of inefficiency in the primary and post primary sector, which it says is largely due to the working terms, conditions and practices for teachers, calling these very restrictive in comparison to the private sector and the public sector, and even by reference to common sense requirements. Reform of this could save over a hundred million euro. If I can save three point three billion in one page imagine what a bit of Government courage could do.
All for now. Mike Edmonds. July 09.

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