This report is the first of a series of country reviews undertaken by the OECD to analyse the success and challenges of Public Service reform from a comprehensive perspective, taking into account the array of public service reforms conducted in Ireland since the mid-1990s. It seeks to deliver a highlevel perspective on the preparedness of Ireland’s Public Service for meeting upcoming economic and social challenges.
Ireland’s economic success story is one that many OECD countries would like to emulate. While the reasons underpinning Ireland’s success are varied, the Irish Public Service has played a central role in ensuring that the right economic, regulatory, educational and social conditions are in place to facilitate growth and development. As with other OECD countries, Ireland has continually sought to modernise and reform its Public Service systems and practices to ensure that it can continue to meet the needs and expectations of Government and citizens. Over the past decade, thanks in no small part to its economic performance, the country has also seen significant changes in its demographic make-up. Ireland is now looking for new directions in which to further renew its agenda for public service modernisation, so that it continues to deliver improved outcomes for citizens, to respond to shifting and complex societal needs, and support business in gaining competitive advantage, thereby contributing to sustained economic success for Ireland. The approach taken by Ireland in trying to assess its Public Service as a whole is a first in terms of reviewing and seeking to benchmark the Public Service and its contribution to national well-being and quality of life. In undertaking this first such Review, the OECD provides a new and different kind of analysis that seeks to contribute both to a renewed agenda for Public Service reform in Ireland, and to the international effort to describe a comprehensive approach for public service reform. The line of inquiry suggested by the OECD in terms of deepening connections at all levels may offer member states new directions or ways to advance their reform agendas.
Main Assessments and Recommendations
Over the past decade, Ireland has achieved the highest real economic growth rates within OECD countries (Figure 1.1). This success has been supported by an active and progressive Public Service that over the past decade has sought to modernise itself to improve openness and service quality through a programme of public management reform known as the Strategic Management Initiative. In light of a growing and more diverse population with increasing expectations, the Irish Government is looking ahead to see what should be the next stage of reform in order to ensure that the Public Service continues to best meet the needs of citizens and to support sustained economic growth and stability. With this in mind, it has asked the OECD to review public service reforms to date, assess how the Public Service is meeting these new challenges, and to identify a possible agenda for the next stage of reform. This chapter presents an overview of the main assessments and recommendations of this report.
Fiscal and Demographic Developments
Over the past decade, Ireland has managed to achieve the highest real growth rates in the OECD. The Irish Public Service has a crucial role to play in enabling, strengthening and sustaining this economic growth by creating the conditions for investment, and rapidly and efficiently investing billions of euros in infrastructure, scaling-up services, managing public private partnerships and testing new service delivery models. This chapter examines Ireland’s current economic status and performance since 1995, and identifies the future challenges for the Irish Public Service to maintain and build on its economic progress in response to changing infrastructure and demographic needs.
The Irish Public Service
"The public service changes and will change: in fact we have been impressed by the continuous process of adaptation which is taking place. The remedies we prescribe today may, in some respects, be outmoded in ten years’ time. Behind all we recommend, therefore, we stress that the most important feature is the establishment of machinery for review which, if properly operated, will guide and facilitate the necessary changes in the years to come." Devlin Report (1969)
Public Service capacity can be broadly defined as the totality of the strengths and resources available within the machinery of government. It refers to the organisational, structural and technical systems, as well as individual competencies that create and implement policies in response to the needs of the public, consistent with political direction. Public Service capacity cannot be measured in totality, and there are no universal rules about what level of capacity is necessary to deliver a certain level of Public Service outputs. The analysis of long-term trends in capacity and public service delivery, however, accompanied by qualitative comparisons of capacity among OECD countries, can contribute to an overall analysis of capacity in the Irish Public Service. The challenges for government organisational capacity in Ireland are addressed in the chapters on Governance, Performance, and a Citizen-centred Approach, and in the case study on Managing Agencies. This chapter focuses on the human resource aspect of capacity.
Citizens ultimately judge governments, not by intentions, but by results. OECD countries are under pressure to improve public sector performance as its citizens are demanding that governments be made more accountable for their performance. The fundamental challenge for governments is how to interlink their key components – policy, people, money and organisations – in a manner that promotes the translation of broad policy goals into desired outcomes.
Moving Toward a Citizen-centred Approach
The traditional point of direct contact for citizens with government occurs when they access public services. In this capacity, they judge governments’ performance by the ease with which they can access services and by the quality, effectiveness and timeliness of the service provided. People in Ireland rightly believe that the Public Service should be able to translate increased wealth and prosperity into better services. Instead, many experience delays in response times or lack of response from the Public Service, and they regularly see anecdotal evidence – usually through media reports – of service breakdowns and failures. Delivery of health, education, transportation, and justice services make headlines daily.
In an increasingly globalised world, the stakes – as well as the complexity – of public management are ever increasing. The Public Service is subject to more pressures from the supranational level, as well as from civil society, businesses, and individual citizens. Internally, public services tend to become more complex over time as they grow and as constituent populations become more diverse and more sophisticated. Balancing competing concerns – between coherence and innovation, between efficiency and representation, and between flexibility and equality – requires debate over values and objectives, as well as careful reflection about the institutions, accountability structures, and formal and informal networks that best promote them. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each country must find its own equilibrium based on its values, laws and national consensus.
Case Study 1: Reconfiguration of Hospital Services in the Health Sector
It should be noted at the outset that this case study is examined in a time of significant transition for the Irish health care system. The Health Service Executive (HSE) came into existence on 1 January 2005, merging eleven organisations and a number of specialist agencies into one. Furthermore, compared to other European countries, Ireland is not only facing the challenges of developed countries – ageing, chronic diseases, demand for more and better care, etc. – but also has a rapidly growing, relatively young, population (increasing by some 8% in the past four years).
Case Study 2: Managing Agencies
Arm’s length bodies are not a new phenomenon in Ireland. Since the 1990s, however, the number of state agencies1 has more than doubled, reflecting the growth of the Public Service and the need to respond to new regulatory and service delivery challenges. This process, termed "agencification", occurs when new state agencies are created either ex nihilo or to take over existing tasks from government departments.
Case Study 3: Local Waste Management in the Local Government Sector
This case study reviews the regulation and provision of municipal waste management services in Ireland and assesses its implications for the Irish Public Service. The shift from public service provision by local authorities to an increased involvement of private enterprises in the waste management market raises concerns about "cherry picking" i.e. the selective servicing of the most lucrative markets, and the delivery of environmental and social public goods. It also raises concerns over the dual role of local authorities as both regulators and service providers. This case study gives a brief overview of the context of waste management in Ireland, the main policy goals, the main actors and inputs, outputs and outcomes for the public, and the planning and implementation issues that are raised.
Case Study 4: School Planning in the Education Sector
In the 1980s, Ireland undertook a comprehensive restructuring of its expenditures in an effort to address the fiscal imbalance resulting from a persistent slowdown in economic growth. This Programme for National Recovery entailed reducing Public Service personnel and cutting wages, income transfers and subsidies. Although necessary at the time, these restraint measures led to a significant overall deficit in infrastructure, in particular, to a shortage of new school buildings. This also meant that existing school buildings were not adequately maintained. With renewed economic growth, tackling this infrastructure deficit has been a priority
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