Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Challenges to Public Sector Reform

There are three obvious major obstacles to achieving meaningful public sector reform:

The Government: Their long-standing display of a lack of political will and dearth of management competence gives no confidence in their ability to achieve any meaningful change.
Benchmarking, decentralisation and the creation of the HSE without displacing any existing Heath Board staff, all illustrate the scale of the problem.
Every potential problem in the past decade has been fudged or had money thrown at it. So we can expect a slash & burn “across the board” approach which is likely to leave the end-user, the citizen, as the biggest loser.

The Unions: David Begg, General Secretary of ICTU is the highest ranking representative of the Union movement in Ireland but his public persona is not at all representative of that body’s members in their modus operandi. Begg is a consummate media performer, always coming across as intelligent, articulate, measured, moderate and calm. On the other hand, SIPTU’s Patricia King or the ATGWU’s Brendan Ogle are traditional “not an inch”, “over my dead body” intransigent union reps – where the strike threat is the first rather than the last option put on the table. These are the type of union reps who will be “negotiating” change.

The Management: Senior management tiers within the public service are almost completely untried and untested with regard to executing major strategic change. In the private sector, such management in any large company would have been through a number of major restructurings. In the public sector, the dead hands of Government and the Unions have ensured that no senior manager would even attempt major structural change.

Paradoxically, the one major change attempted in recent decades has also been the one which has most alienated the same senior managers who would be charged with leading such change.
The 2003 Decentralisation political stroke effectively ended the career prospects of many senior civil servants, who were unwilling to move with their departments to locations outside Dublin. Has anyone calculated what impact this has had on motivation these people and what impact that will now have on their appetite to facilitate and lead the necessary change?

Other than the above, it should be a doddle!

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