How to save €300 million: #1 in an occasional series

The Government keeps telling Brendan Howlin to insist it needs to save €300 million from public pay this year because of reasons.  It really doesn’t, but let’s ignore for a moment that they could increase taxes on the wealthy or refuse to pay foreign bankers who gambled and lost.  There is still another way – which Croke Park 1 was achieving in large part, anyway – and that’s to reduce costs.

So here are some ideas.  Feel free to contribute your own.

1. Bring the Garda Síochána into the 21st century.  Actually, that may be too ambitious. Let’s just say the 20th century. Introduce legislation that allows statements to be taken electronically.

Seriously. I had to give a statement to the guards last year. I knew when they were calling and so prepared a statement and printed out two copies. Two of them arrived at the appointed time, read over my statement, said “That’s grand” and proceeded to write the entire thing again. By hand. Because the law doesn’t permit them to take a statement any other way, apparently.  It took over an hour (and was almost word for word identical to the original version I could have emailed them).

If they could take statements electronically, they could be emailed in advance, only printed off when required, digitally signed…

Savings: Hmm – the force is 14,000 strong. Let’s say half of them take a statement, once a week.  It takes (based on my admittedly limited experience) one hour less to witness/print off/have someone digitally sign a statement – even if the Garda is typing it him- or herself – than it does to have to write a statement out longhand, read it back to someone, make any corrections, and have it signed. So – we save 7,000 hours a week across the country.  No Spin Ireland(!) conveniently tells me that a Garda a year out of Templemore earns a mighty €28,867 per annum, and why would you send anyone more senior to take a statement?  Assuming a 40-hour week, that’s the princely sum of €13.87 saved on each statement.  7,000 of those is €97,090 a week, or €5,048,680 in a full year.

Sure, you’d have initial expenses as you equipped the force with laptops and email addresses, but after that – all those guards are freed up to do policework.

2. Let us buy stuff cheaply. I don’t care if you’ve arranged a “Central Model Of Distribution” framework contract that in theory saves everyone money, I get angry when I see stuff costing more than it should and I’m forced to buy it. Do not force the public service to use the National Procurement Service. At least until it’s able to negotiate proper deals that allow us go elsewhere if stuff is cheaper elsewhere.

Seriously. It’s got all of these various agreements in place, and we’re supposed to use its catalogue.  But when I see a standard backup tape costing a tenner more in the NPS catalogue than Joe Public can buy it for, from an Irish-based distributor, over the internet and without a contract – then I have to wonder how much more we’re being ripped off on other stuff.

Savings: Ok, just taking the silly example of the backup tapes.  I use five a week. €50/week for my employer saved if we buy from this company (or that one, or that one) rather than who the NPS says we have to use.  €2,500/year.

It’s hard to find out how many public bodies there are in Ireland. This report from 2007 claims 213 regulatory bodies (but omits “The Judiciary and Quasi-Judicial Bodies; Gardai & Defence Forces; Ombudsman Services and Offices”).  Assuming every organisation only uses a very modest five backup tapes a week (many would use far more!), that’s still a saving of €537,500.  From one single item in the NPS catalogue.

Running total: Two ideas, €5,586,180 in savings.  Just another €295m to go, give or take.  Don’t worry, I’ll have more ideas…


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