Introduction – the rationale for reform
I welcome this opportunity to address the National Conference of the Ireland Chapter of the Project Management Institute. The theme for today’s conference of “Driving Value through Project Excellence” is a topical one for those of us charged with leading the reform agenda in the Public Service.
I do not need to remind anyone of the challenges we face as a country. The scale and complexity of the task to place the public finances on a sustainable footing is all too evident. We remain reliant on emergency funding from the EU and IMF to fund our public services and pay people’s wages, pensions and social welfare benefits. We have made good progress in dealing with the situation but we cannot afford to be complacent.
We are obliged to adhere to the Stability and Growth Pact and bring the General Government deficit back below 3% of GDP. It is currently estimated that an adjustment of some €8.6 billion over the three-year period 2013-2015 will be required to achieve this target. As part of this process, we have implemented a fiscal consolidation of €3.8 billion in 2012 to deliver a deficit of 8.6% of GDP, with €2.2 billion of this coming from expenditure reductions.
Reducing the cost of the public service paybill is clearly a key objective in the current climate. Over the period 2009 to 2015, the Government expects that the pay bill will reduce by about €3.8bn from its peak. Even when the inevitable increase in public service pension costs over that period are included, as a result of retirements, there will still be a €3.3bn or nearly 19% reduction, which, by any measure, is very significant. Critical to delivering the reduction in paybill costs over the next few years will be the fall in public service staff numbers. By the end of last year, there were 23,000 fewer staff working in the public service than in 2008. A further 7,500 retired in the first two months of this year. Our overall target is that by 2015, there will be 38,500 fewer staff in the Public Service than there were in 2008.These significant reductions in numbers are being actively facilitated by the Croke Park Agreement, to which I will return.
It is not enough just to cut public spending. We must also maintain, insofar as is possible, the public services upon which so many of our people rely. The demand for these services is now greater than ever. Sustained reform of public services is essential to ensure we can continue to provide services, to protect the vulnerable members of our society and to drive job creation and rebuild our economy. We must focus on changing business practices and changing the way we use available resources to deliver services.
The reforms we are implementing
On the 17th of November last year, I launched the comprehensive Public Service Reform Plan, which outlined key commitments and actions for change across the Public Service under five central themes. These are:
- Placing customer service at the core of everything we do;
- Maximising new and innovative service delivery channels;
- Radically reducing our costs to drive better value for money;
- Leading, organising and working in new ways; and
- A strong focus on implementation and delivery
Under this Plan, we are reforming how people are managed through the introduction of new working arrangements including new rosters, standardised arrangements for annual leave and an improved performance management framework. The introduction of a new single pension scheme will deliver significant long-term savings in pensions costs. Outmoded practices such as bank time and privilege days have been eliminated in the Civil Service. Redeployment arrangements are protecting frontline services as staff numbers fall by enabling staff to be moved to those areas of greatest need. We are implementing a framework for the Civil Service and the non-commercial State Agencies that seeks to put in place strategic workforce planning to ensure that we have the right people with the right skills in the right places at the right time.
We are reforming the management of expenditure through the introduction of Performance Budgeting, Medium-Term Expenditure Frameworks and a new VFM Code. We are continuing to reduce public procurement costs by implementing further initiatives in aggregation, mandated use of common frameworks, performance measurement, increased professionalism and more innovative use of technology. We are reforming how we administer the State’s property portfolio so that it is managed in a strategic and integrated manner to allow the Public Service to maximise value-for-money from its footprint.
We are reforming how we are organised though the introduction of shared services models in areas such as HR and payroll to reduce duplication, streamline business processes and reduce transaction times. We are also looking at innovative ways of delivering non-core public services to reduce costs, increase flexibility and allow Public Service organisations to focus on their core value-added activities. We have embarked on a new and expanded programme of State Agency rationalisation to deliver enhanced service efficiencies. Last week, I published a new eGovernment strategy, which will ensureIreland will be in a position to benefit from the opportunities offered by new and existing information technologies to deliver Public Services faster, better and more efficiently to citizens and businesses.
The Reform Plan contains some 70 recommendations and over 200 actions grouped under 14 headings. This is an enormous undertaking, involving hundreds of different organisations and around 300,000 employees. I will repeat what I have said before: this is the most ambitious and far-reaching reform plan since the foundation of the State. Without proper programme and project management skills and discipline it would be an impossible mission.
Programme and project managing the process of reform
I want to talk to you today, therefore, about how we are programme managing the process of reform. We have all seen plans for the reform of the Public Service in the past that have not lived up to expectations, in some cases because of a lack of focus on action and delivery. The core of the Public Service Reform Plan is implementation and delivery with real actions and real deadlines focussing on real results. It is for that reason the Government decided to establish a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with a Cabinet Minister dedicated to driving the reform agenda. This has placed the issue at the centre of government and facilitated a direct relationship between the reform and expenditure functions of Government and their mutual oversight.
My Department will take the lead on key cross-cutting initiatives and enablers but it cannot micro-manage the delivery of the Reform Plan in each individual sector. It will, however, facilitate, support and drive the process across all sectors.
To this end, I have established a dedicated Reform and Delivery Office in my Department to strategically manage and coordinate the various reform initiatives across the Public Service and to provide a strong focus on the implementation and delivery of the commitments made in the Plan. It is headed by a Programme Director who has previous experience in implementing large-scale change in complex environments in the private sector. In addition, each Department and major Office has put in place a Change Delivery Team to manage and drive the reform process in their organisations and sectors and in the various bodies and agencies under their aegis.
The key political direction, governance and accountability for the reform process is provided by the Cabinet Committee on Public Service Reform, which is chaired by the Taoiseach and meets to consider priority issues and ensure that overall progress is being achieved. Support and advice on strategic and policy issues is provided to the Cabinet Committee by an Advisory Group of Secretaries General, which meets every quarter.
A Reform Delivery Board, primarily consisting of Assistant Secretaries responsible for leading reform in their respective Departments and Offices, meets regularly to oversee and monitor the delivery of Public Service Reform at organisational and sectoral level and to provide assurance to the Reform and Delivery Office and the Cabinet Committee that Public Service Reform is being delivered.
A number of major projects have been identified as being of particular strategic importance and a priority for delivery. These are the Public Services Card; HR and Payroll Shared Services for the Civil Service; Public Procurement Reform; Property Asset Management; GovStat, the whole-of-Government performance measurement system; and the Senior Public Service. Overall responsibility for each of these major projects has been assigned to a Senior Responsible Owner or an “SRO”. This is an important and pivotal role in ensuring that each project delivers the expected outcomes and benefits. The SRO is the active owner of the business case for the project and is empowered to lead and direct the project and has clear authority to take the key decisions necessary for its implementation.
Each SRO chairs a Project Board, composed of representatives of key stakeholders across the Public Service and may also include supplier representatives, where appropriate. The Project Board is responsible for the quality assurance of the project and ensures that the aims of the project are delivered on time, on budget and within agreed quality specifications.
Resources have been allocated within the Reform and Delivery Office to support and drive specific and focussed aspects of the reform agenda. A Shared Services Transformation Manager has been appointed to lead and coordinate the delivery of shared services. A Baselining Unit has been established to assess the current performance of specific back office and administrative activities across the Public Service and to identify opportunities to maximise benefits realisation though delivery of Public Service Reform. A Business Consulting Unit has been established to drive a strong focus and culture of business process improvement across the Public Service. The Project Management Office is responsible for overall leadership, oversight and reporting on the Reform Plan.
In respect of monitoring our progress and ensuring an integrated approach to reform, the Change Delivery Teams in each Department and major Office have completed Integrated Reform Delivery Plans. These high-level plans map out the key milestones and interdependencies that need to be managed to ensure the successful delivery of the priority reform initiatives set out in the Programme for Government, the Public Service Reform Plan, the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure and the Croke Park Agreement as well as sector-specific reform initiatives. Departments and Offices are required to produce regular reports on progress under these plans to the Cabinet Committee, via the Reform and Delivery Office. Similarly, SROs must report on a monthly basis on progress on the major projects.
Leading and communicating change
By developing integrated plans with clear milestones and deliverables, by reporting on progress on these plans in a simple but reflective way and by assigning responsibility for particular initiatives to specific individuals and making them accountable for progress, we are showing that we are focussed on concrete actions and delivery.
I am confident that the management structures we have put in place are driving the reform process forward and will continue to do so as we face into the significant challenges ahead. These structures and processes will empower public servants to assume ownership of the change process. The important role of individual public servants – many of them project managers in their own right – should not be underestimated. The vision for a new leaner, more responsive and citizen-centred Public Service must, therefore, be communicated effectively to all public servants. We must ensure public servants are fully aware of what we are trying to achieve, their role in that process and the benefits that this will bring to them and to their work in the future.
The Government sees the Croke Park Agreement as a key enabler for the delivery of the overall reform programme. The Agreement is helping to extract costs and secure improvements in productivity and work practices while, at the same time, ensuring industrial relations stability across the Public Service. Under the Agreement, staff are co-operating with extensive redeployment within and across sectors and the widespread reconfiguration, restructuring and rationalization of structures and services. Efficiencies and improvements are being made, in particular through the introduction of changes to work practices and the greater use of shared services and online services.
The Agreement has its critics. However, the evidence to date from Reports published by the Implementation Body charged with overseeing progress is that it is working and delivering. The Government has made clear that it wishes to stand by the commitments it has made under the Agreement. But clearly this can only hold as long as there is full co-operation with the implementation of the change and reform agendas set out in the Action Plans for each sector of the public service. The Implementation Body is currently undertaking its second annual review of progress and I look forward to receiving their detailed report in June. It will be important that this Report can point to further tangible evidence of progress on the delivery of sustainable savings and reform.
There has been some recent criticism of public service management, particularly in the context of management practice and performance management. Of course, reform in this area needs to be introduced and there are obvious challenges associated with managing a system of almost 300,000 people. As well as achieving an increased level of accountability and performance management, I believe that we need to improve how we develop managers across the system, so that that can empower and realise the potential of public servants. Firstly, the Reform Plan has been a significant step forward in this regard. The plan has identified senior management owners for every action and committed timelines for delivery. Every manager is held accountable on a quarterly basis for the delivery against these commitments. Secondly the plan commits to strengthening our performance management processes so that we plan for and develop managers, and indeed public servants generally.
It is only through strong leadership and robust programme and project management discipline that the Reform Plan will be able to deliver tangible results and achieve a Public Service of which we can all be proud. Events such as this enable us all to enhance our capacity and skills in this area through dialogue and exchange of ideas so that we are ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
I wish you all an enjoyable and productive conference.