A famous man once said that the definition of insanity was:
“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Obviously, nobody has repeated these sage words to Young Dev. Somebody let him near a microphone again, and so at the Merriman Summer School, he’s been extolling the virtues of decentralisation.
I used to work in a government department which had a head office and several smaller offices around the country, with a workforce of over 1,000 people. Around 50 to 60 or so worked in “my” area, and I had excellent promotion prospects. I now work in an organisation with less than 100 people, total, and my only hope of promotion in this organisation is if my boss dies, or retires. I believe the Klingons have a word for the former method? The reason for my move was, of course, decentralisation. I had no desire to move to a midlands town. Even if I did have, my family didn’t. And y’know, my wife has a job in Dublin too…
This notion was first inflicted on the country by then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds (after advice from the self-congratulatory Terry Leyden), who took ten years to “move” the General Registrar’s Office from Dublin to Roscommon, where it’s no good to anybody. (Really. It’s actually easier for an American tourist to trace their Irish roots by visiting the Mormons in Salt Lake City, Utah, than it is to get access to Ireland’s public birth, marriage and death records. But sure who needs tourist dollars, it’s not like there’s a recession).
The idea was more or less parked for several years. We had some decentralised offices – generally sections of larger departments. The Collector General’s office was based in Limerick, and Pensions were in Sligo. It kind of worked ok, though if you were on the inside looking out, you could see the problems.
Then – Charlie McCreevy. We were going to decentralise, and how! Forget this piecemeal moving of bits of organisations! Let’s move whole government departments! 11,000 jobs taken out of Dublin and moved around the country! Because that made perfect sense…
Only it doesn’t. The project was, of course, a complete and utter expensive failure. Loss of corporate memory. Huge inefficiencies. More expense. No proper planning. No planning at all. Sticking departments where it’d win votes (Marine to a landlocked county? The Irish Prison Service to somewhere with no prisons?), not where it might make some sense. Ignoring the government’s own spacial strategy. And so on.
Éamon O Cuiv wants to go back to all that.
“Decentralised offices had lower staff turnover, saved money on property expenses and ensured economic growth in areas that would otherwise not attract industry, achieving balanced regional development.”
“Decentralised offices had lower staff turnover”: Yes, this is true. This is a bad thing. They have low staff turnover because if you’ve decentralised to, say, Killarney, there’s nowhere else for you to move to that’s within a reasonable commute. So you stay put. Stagnating. Forever.
“…saved money on property”: Yes, this is true. An office in Sligo is cheaper than the equivalent office space in Dublin. Assuming everything was procured properly and above board, and not done on a nod and a wink basis. Which I’m sure never happened anywhere. We won’t mention all the additional costs associated with decentralisation, either, cos that’d be embarrassing.
“…ensured economic growth in areas that would otherwise not attract industry”: Well – if providing 100 or so jobs in a town is the purpose of a government department, then I guess this could be true. Except no. The purpose of government departments is to help develop and implement government policy, at the behest of our elected politicians, in conjunction with stakeholders and, well – ideally – other government departments! You know – that “joined-up government” that everyone thinks would be a good idea!
Ok, Éamon, you’re a politician. You were speaking to your audience – mainly people from the country, while in your own back yard. You know your audience. But please tell me that’s all it was, a bit of harmless showboating in the middle of silly season. Rather than a serious FF policy, which will cost us if you ever get back into power.
€238,000. Per job.