Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences

Public Affairs Ireland Croke Park Conference Report

The Public Affairs Ireland conference on the Croke Park Agreement took place on September 23 at the Croke Park conference centre. The conference – sponsored by Deloitte and Hayes Solicitors – featured a range of speakers from public and private sector backgrounds. The conference was introduced and chaired by Andy Cullen who is a business consultant and former Assistant Secretary in the Civil Service.

The opening speech by Minister of State for Public Service Transformation Dara Calleary TD stressed the need to reform the Public Service following the OECD review of the Public Service of 2008 and the subsequent economic crisis. He also spoke about how the Croke Park Agreement will give certainty and confidence to both staff and management in an uncertain environment. “It will provide a framework for public service pay determination over the next five years.”

Minister Calleary said that it was possible to restore order to public finances, in addition to reducing the deficit to less than 3 percent of GDP; however, harsh budgetary cuts would have to be taken to ensure that public finances remain on a sustainable path. He also outlined the savings of €27m across public bodies made by the National Procurement Service in 2009, which intends to make savings of €40m for this year.

He also noted that the Government will be establishing the new Senior Public Service to manage and deploy top public servants that will lead to increased mobility at senior levels and provide for a wider talent pool in relation to leadership. He urged public servants to show greater flexibility in implementing the changes outlined in the Agreement. “The Public Service must display flexibility in being able to respond to rapidly changing demands, and it must manage to do this with significantly fewer resources.”

Philip Kelly,an Assistant Secretary General in the Department of the Taoiseach and a member of the Implementation Body spoke about the need to transform the public service regardless of the crisis, and to create a more sustainable model for greater efficiency. Mr Kelly said: “embedded in the actions set out in the Croke Park Agreement is a need for innovation in how we do our business. That requires us to capture ideas about redesigning the processes we use to manufacture the services we deliver and to change our administrative processes.” Mr Kelly also focused on integration of policy making and service in the public sector from a management perspective, and noted the need for better combination and provision of services that are on offer to client groups at present. He stated that this could be achieved if organisations share data and assets, in addition to pooling human and financial resources.

Mr Kelly stressed how public services are an integral component of the business community, thus it is crucial to ensure that the sector is providing efficient services for State support in marketing, technology and infrastructure development, and in training and up-skilling of the unemployed and for those at work. He also spoke of his role in the Government’s Organisational Review Programme.

Shay Cody, General Secretary of the trade union IMPACT and member of the Implementation Body spoke about the need for public service management to “up its game” and said that management must allow staff and their representatives to participate in the development of proposals. Mr Cody stated that “the key phrase in the text is that the parties will work together”. He also emphasised a fundamental notion from the union debates on the Agreement of doing more with fewer resources that will be a challenge for managers to undertake. Redeployment of staff from areas of lesser priority to those with the greatest need is a facet of the Agreement that will be met with some resistance from managers but not from unions, according to Mr Cody.

He stressed the need for the removal of barriers to talent in the Public Service that will lead to a wider expertise pool at management level. This notion was included as a recommendation in the OECD review of the Public Service in 2008. He also addressed the issue of “buy in” by staff, which will be motivated by management, and he regards this as an essential element of the implementation process, although it will be a challenge to secure. Mr Cody said “at the very least it sets an extremely high bar for the delivery of an extensive change programme”.   

Lucy Fallon-Byrneof National Economic and Social Development Office (NESDO) concentrated on the topic of motivation in the Public Service and referred to National Workplace Surveys conducted in 2009 (published on September 28) that detail morale from employers’ and employees’ perspectives in the midst of the economic crisis. She addressed the issues that emerged from the surveys as affecting employees in time of recession and presented some of the negative effects that employees are experiencing in organisations that have been subject to cuts. These effects include: decreased motivation, reduced organisational commitment, increased work pressure, higher levels of stress and reduced creativity and risk taking.

Ms Fallon-Byrne suggested several solutions to boost workers’ morale:

·         direct involvement in work practices;

·         flexible working arrangements; and

·         job sharing.

Furthermore, she offered advice on how employers and managers should proceed with the various elements of public sector transformation in relation to employees She stressed the importance of consultation as a tool to improve work place practices. “Consultation has the highest impact on worker well-being, as it reduces work stress and pressure and increases organisational commitment.”  She also stated that pressure must be taken from managers, and that barriers to change such as “excessive centralisation of financial and HR functions” must be removed.

William Slattery, Managing Director of State Street International (Ireland), spoke in a personal capacity and gave a private sector perspective on issues surrounding the implementation of the Croke Park Agreement in the context of the challenges facing the Exchequer.

A lively discussion took place between delegates and presenters.