Water, water, everywhere…

There is a lot I could say about Irish Water. I will quite probably write in some depth in the very near future about the topic.  But one thing really jumped out at me in the coverage and analysis pieces on last Saturday’s protests.

One of the reason we must have Irish Water, we are told, is that the infrastructure is leaking. 40% of our water, apparently, leaks straight into the ground.  “This must be fixed!”, we are rightly told.

Irish Water have therefore budgeted the princely sum of €51 million to deal with leaks. Until the end of 2016.

Irish Water has already spent €50 million on consultants.

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They haven’t gone away, you know…

I see that the party that came up with the policy of moving government departments and offices to their ministers’ constituencies – at the cost of efficiency, corporate memory, careers, effective public service and €238,000 per job – still think it’s a good idea.

Facepalm. And obligatory Einstein quote.

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Einstein

Except that’s not quite apt. It’s more accurate to say that a Fianna Fáil politician will do or say absolutely anything to get elected or re-elected, and hang the consequences for the country in the medium to long term.  Which is, of course, just like any other party.

Between this, and the utter stroke politics being attempted by Enda Kenny in the past week, I’ve come up with new guidelines for Irish elections:

1. Don’t vote for any candidate from a party with an Irish-language name.

2. See who is left.

3. Sigh. Select the least worst.

Qualified?

The woman in the video has the opposite “problem” to me.  Applying for a System Administrator’s job, she states “As my resumé indicates, I have a Masters degree and a lot of education in non-technical topics.”

The satirical video is, ironically, exactly what much of the Irish public service is doing when it recruits.  If you don’t have a degree, you don’t get in the door for an interview.  It doesn’t matter what the degree is actually in – you just need to have gone to college for three or four years and passed an exam.  It doesn’t matter that you’re already doing exactly what the job requires.  That you have been for years.  That you do it consistently well.

No “qualification”, no interview.  A degree in Agricultural Science, or French Literature, or – as one’s qualification doesn’t have to be Irish – a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Degree in Comic Art – gets you in the door of, for example, the Office of Government Procurement, who were recently recruiting specialist ICT buyers.

If you’ve actually been working in the ICT sphere, administering hardware, software, systems and policies, for over a decade – and been buying the stuff you use, too, for all of that time! – but have no degree?  Nah, not interested, no interview.  Grr.

Howlin’s most petty last “last ask”

In the past couple of weeks, some public servants have started receiving emails and circulars regarding their temporary cut to annual leave.  This was one of the minor clauses contained in the Haddington Road Agreement (aka Croke Park II), something glossed over or ignored by the unions when advising staff to vote in favour of it.

In essence, those on the max of their salary scale, earning between €35k and €65k per annum, and with more than 23 days’ annual leave entitlement, lose up to six days’ annual leave, temporarily, between now and 2015.  So, e.g., an Administrative Officer reaching the top of their scale this year will lose 2 days in 2014, 2 more in 2015, and one in 2016 – and in 2017 will be back to their full leave entitlement.  People effected are essentially working an extra six days over three years.

Why? Er, reasons. Just because.

I suppose ostensibly Howlin will claim it’s necessary, it’ll increase productivity, and sure look, it’s part of the (cue his overused phrase) “last ask” for public servants.

So the Administrative Officer on max of scale loses 6 days leave. Her division head on more leave and a lot more money loses nothing.  The Junior Systems Analyst on max of scale loses 6 days leave but his boss on possibly less money loses none.  Two people in the same grade but where one started a couple of months before the other – one loses days, the other doesn’t.

It’s petty.

It won’t increase productivity by any measurable amount.  Every office, department, and public body has lost staff that haven’t been replaced.  Some of us working an extra two days a year for a couple of years doesn’t – can’t – make up for that.

It’s there because Robert Watt told Brendan Howlin to do it, because, on paper, x number of civil servants working 2 days extra per year for three years can apparently roughly translate into a monetary amount that can go onto one side of a balance sheet.

What isn’t taken into account is that after the pay freeze, the numerous pay cuts, the lack of any promotional opportunities, the longer hours, the reneging on the Croke Park Agreement by Labour and Fine Gael, the gutting of family-friendly work practices (such as flexi-time and term-time) and everything else, this latest unnecessary, inequitable exercise does come at a cost – whatever goodwill or flexibility that may have remained.

Another cost may well be a pretty direct relationship between the number people losing leave and the number of votes lost by Labour and Fine Gael…

How to save €300 million: an aside

I’m not even going to mention the “Let’s get multinationals to actually pay something approaching 12.5% Corporation Tax on profits” thing, because there’s your €300m right there – and, in fact, the billion you need to save by 2015! –  and that’d make the series very short indeed.

Incidentally – how is it that a corporation can manage to be non-resident anywhere for tax purposes?

Is Apple really just a giant L. Ron Hubbard-esque Sea Org at this point?

How to save €300 million: #2 in an occasional series

3. Stop making websites – or better yet, do them in-house.  The new eTenders site is an ugly, unintuitive godawful mess of a website, but assuming you manage to navigate it properly, you can find that last year, the public service published 49 requests for tenders for website design/redesign or redevelopment.  Not counting tenders that were about web security or filtering.  Or the three separate tenders about “Web surveys and habitat assessment for the Marsh Fritillary“… which I’m sure is an important project.

Minimum cost – let’s say €10,000 per tender.  Yes, I know, some will be a lot cheaper than that.  But don’t forget the labour cost in writing, publishing, evaluating, and providing feedback on those tenders.  Double that cost if you’re using the National Procurement Service’s procurement templates, which weighs in at 50 pages, minimum, no matter what you’re procuring.

And some will be a lot dearer.

Like the EU 2013 Presidency website, for example. €249,000 for a website lasting six months.  Really.  A quarter of a million, for a temporary website.

Oddly, that particular tender didn’t show for me on the eTenders site.  I must not be using the search engine correctly.  (Speaking of search – a couple of tenders are looking for search functionality to be added to their websites.  What’s wrong with Google?  I mean – really – why pay for something when there’s an excellent free alternative).

Some other people were talking about this a while back, too.

So, yeah – stop redeveloping websites, especially at extortionate prices.  Recruit five web developers from withing the public service, and have a central unit doing all of the public service’s websites.  Admin done centrally by CMOD.  Add in a couple of Jobbridge interns, too.

Savings: €490,000 for 49 websites, plus €250,000 for the EU website:  feck it, let’s call it €750,000.  Cost of five web developers: say, €50k apiece.  Saving to do everything in-house:  €500,000.

Running total: €6,086,180.

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…