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…


Croke Park 2.1

A circular arrived from Tom Geraghty during the week.  Geraghty is head of the Public Service Executive Union. He is also, unfortunatley, the head of the Public Sector Committee in ICTU and was therefore one of “our” “lead negotiators” in Croke Park 2.

This was a pity, because my understanding is that his entire union experience has been in the Social Partnership era, where the union “leaders” and figures such as Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy sat around a table and decided what percentage increase everyone (including them) would get and sure isn’t life grand, all the same, and pass the canapés, please.

To remind people, thanks to the Celtic Tiger, public servants needed the Benchmarking deal to ensure that an average civil servant could afford, with a partner, and a hefty mortgage, and many years, to buy a house.  The Benchmarking II deal a couple of years later said no, we got it right first time, and gave very small increases to a tiny number of grades. Then the Tiger died, and we got a pay freeze, then a pay cut averaging more than the Benchmarking increase, and a pension levy and universal social charge (which turned “temporary” levies into permanent ones), and…  Long story short – civil and public servants have already played our part to bail the country out of a mess not of our making.

So we had a “Croke Park deal” – which is supposed to run until the end of 2014, except the government changed their minds.  And Croke Park 2 was negotiated, without any input from general union membership, and to Geraghty’s shock, was roundly rejected, because enough, already.

Austerity. Does. Not. Work.

Anyway – here’s Geraghty’s letter to his members (in italics), and my comments:

30 April, 2013.

Dear Branch Secretary,

As you know, the Government has asked the LRC to see if it can identify any potential basis for agreement on its proposals to cut the Public Service pay bill by €300m this year and €1Bn by the end of 2015.

Fair enough so far.

The LRC is contacting all unions individually this week and we have spoken to them. The Government asked them to convey the following:

 €300m in savings from the pay bill will be achieved this year and €1bn will be achieved by the end of 2015. There is no question of these amounts being made up through increased taxation and/or cuts in other areas. The cuts will be applied to the pay bill

What?  Why not?  Why, exactly, can there be no increase in taxation?  When I started work, there were three tax rates – a reduction from previous times when there were more, going up to 60%, I believe, if not more!  What, exactly, is so, so wrong with a 48% tax rate on amounts over €100,000 (a far, far smaller tax take than used to exist in the 80s!)

 The Government remains interested in seeking agreement on how these cuts can be 
achieved and is open to all suggestions. However, if agreement cannot be reached, the 
Government will take the steps necessary to achieve these reductions

The Government is clearly being extremely hopeful, here.  What, they want us to break into even smaller factions, each trying to protect their own interests and point at that other lot, over there, who should face cuts, but not us!

 If agreement cannot be reached the Government has identified a range of measures that will achieve the cuts through imposition

The Government has not identified a range of measures, Robert Watt, the Secretary General of DPER, has decided to attack family-friendly policies, because of reasons.

 There would, in those circumstances, be two stages to the process. The immediate 
requirement to save €300m would be met through legislation to give effect to permanent 
cuts in pay above €65K, (of unspecified amounts), and the abolition of increments for all 
Public Servants. This would be supplemented by reductions in overtime, premium 
payments etc., which would not require legislation. If agreement cannot be reached, the 
Government envisages a start date of 1 June 2013, rather than 1 July 2013

This is the Government threatening its workers, pure and simple.  Banning increments is sheer crazy. Hey, you, executive officer on €32,687!  You thought after ten years satisfactory service with no promotion, you’d be on €47,975?  Wrong! You’ll be on: €32,687!  Enjoy the motivation!  (In the civil service, there are two clerical grades on lower pay than executive officers.  A clerical officer starts on €23,177, and after 12 years satisfactory service can aspire to €35,471).

Banning increments and cutting pay would, of course, require legislation.  This would need to be introduced by Brendan Howlin, a Labour minister.  

In the year of the Great Lockout’s centenary, a Labour minister is going to avoid a moderate tax increase on the well off and will instead legislate to ban increments and cut wages even further.

Yeah. Right.

The climbdown on this one, I predict, will be even more embarrassing than when Howlin was set up to take a prattfall over the elimination of allowances.

 If there is no agreement, Government would achieve further cost savings through 
increased use of outsourcing


 Without agreement, Government would not be constrained from enforcing compulsory 
redundancies, where deemed necessary, nor would there be any limits on redeployment 

More threats.

 In addition to rate changes, further savings on overtime and premium rates would be 
achieved through roster changes and reductions in the amounts of overtime etc. worked

Overtime? I remember that! (The work – got outsourced…)

 Later this year in the absence of agreement, in advance of the next Budget year, 
Government would move to implement increased working hours and wider pay cuts, in 
order to achieve the €1Bn savings required.

Oh, more threats.

That’s a great way to start new negotiations…

One of the “money-saving” actions is to increase the working week across the board by a minimum of two hours.  Fair enough, probably, in some areas.  In others, less so. In fact, counter-productive.

My own workplace could do with more manpower to replace some of those we’ve lost, but we’re still mostly keeping pace with work.  My own section’s role sees most tasks done on time. So – we’d be sitting around staring into space or surfing the internet for two extra hours a week. With light and heat and aircon being paid for? And no money for new projects?  And the staff – who’ve had their increments frozen – get to pay for extra childcare…

The preceding bit is all government.  The next bit is all Geraghty.

This Union asked the LRC to convey back to Government the clear message that members of this Union voted in favour of the LRC proposals and that any attempt to go beyond these proposals through unilateral actions would be unacceptable to the Union and would meet resistance.

The Union also pointed out to the LRC that if there is any potential for modification of the proposals then this Union had a long list of issues that it would wish to have discussed and modified, which covered the full range of concessions/disimprovements set out in the LRC proposals. Furthermore, that as the members of this Union had made the sensible and rational decision to vote in favour of the LRC proposals, the Union would insist that its issues would be taken seriously if there was to be any “tweaking” or modification of these proposals.

Well, Jebus.  That was embarrassing…

The LRC is to complete this exploration exercise by next week. It is likely that Government will make its decisions in the following week, in the event that the LRC is unable to identify a possible basis for an agreed outcome. Members will be kept advised of developments.

Yours sincerely,
T. Geraghty,
General Secretary.

“We were the good boys, we even voted for Croke Park 2, please be nice to us! Or – or – we’ll offer some resistance!” is the best Geraghty can come up with. Really?

I really hope the ICTU Public Services Committee replace him before the 2.1 negotiations start…