Reforms are key to our progress
MINISTER Brendan Howlin says that he is very pleased with the achievements recorded in the newly-published progress report on Public Service Reform.
Speaking during his last week as Minister and before heading to the Opposition benches, he said the progress builds on the achievements in the reforms since 2011 (when he came into office) and which further embeds reform as a key role for all of those involved in designing and delivering public services.
'We have seen strong progress at a central, cross-cutting level and also in the complementary reform programmes under way at organisational and sectoral levels across the Public Service, which have been led by the relevant Ministers and their Departments,' said Minister Howlin.
Building on progress on implementing the government's first Public Service Reform Plan (2011-13), the second Public Service Reform Plan, published in January 2014, covers the period to the end of 2016.
It contains more than 230 actions, with the overarching objective of achieving better outcomes for citizens, businesses and public servants themselves. The plan emphasises improved service delivery, alongside an ongoing focus on efficiency.
'Ireland has a long and proud tradition of service to the public and the State and looking to the future, I believe that ongoing reform should be central to meeting increasing customer expectations and demographic challenges,' he said.
The Minister also thanked all public servants for the role that they have played in delivering this significant programme of reform.
Among the highlights are:
• Public Service ICT Strategy was launched and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer is leading its implementation, working with Departments and agencies across the Public Service;
• Over 1.9 million Public Services Cards have been issued to date, including over 630,000 Free Travel variants;
• Benefacts.ie was launched with the aim of delivering greater public transparency on the work and funding of the non-profit sector in Ireland;
• In the three years to the end of 2015, the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) and its partner sector sourcing organisations in Health, Education, Local Government and Defence enabled procurement savings estimated in excess of €160 million;
• The Open Data Governance Board was established in October 2015 and will lead and drive the implementation of Open Data in Ireland;
• The Lansdowne Road Agreement was concluded in May 2015 and ratified by the ICTU Public Services Committee in September 2015, extending the Haddington Road Agreement to 2018; and
• A Corporate Governance Standard for the Civil Service was published in November.
The Report also presents some key achievements in Public Service Reform since 2011, highlighting examples of reform initiatives under the following four themes:
• A Focus on Service Users
• A Focus on Efficiency
• A Focus on Openness, Transparency and Accountability
• A Focus on Leadership, Renewal and Organisational Reform.
The first Public Service Reform Plan was published in November 2011. Fiscal adjustment was a key driver at that time and so the focus was, to a large extent, on cost containment and efficiency improvements.
Public Service staff numbers were significantly reduced, while meeting increased demand for services due to the downturn. The reform of public services became critical to the delivery of those services and strong progress was made, as set out in two published progress reports.
The second Public Service Reform Plan was published in 2014 and reflects the need to maintain a focus on reducing costs and increasing efficiency, having regard to the continuing increased demands for many public services.
However, the Plan has an ambitious, overarching objective of delivering better outcomes for all stakeholders and a strong emphasis on service improvement.
The Public Service Reform Plan 2014-16 includes a broad range of reforms, with over 230 specific actions set out.
Key priorities include, for example, more digital delivery of services, better engagement with customers, the use of alternative models of service delivery, implementation of shared services and more efficient and effective public procurement and property management, and increased openness, transparency and accountability.
Delivering improved outcomes for users of public services is the central theme of the Plan. To achieve improved outcomes, end-users of services, whether citizens or business customers, are being placed at the centre of service design and delivery, so that services better meet their needs and expectations.
These reforms extend from improving 'the customer experience at the CSO' to making it easier to make a tax complaint with the Office of the Revenue Commissioners.
Another reform was at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation which launched an Integrated Licensing Application
Services. The main objective of this project is to reduce the administrative burden on businesses which currently have to apply for a multiplicity of licences across a number of licensing authorities.
This is done by providing a one-stop portal for application, payment and renewal.
The same Department has also developed a new online status enquiry facility for employment permits, which allows customers
to enquire about the status of their application.
Another area is the National Library of Ireland (NLI) which is increasingly digitising its collections and making the digital resources available online. An example is the digitisation of the Catholic Parish Registers in 2015.
Previously, researchers had to visit the NLI's reading rooms in Dublin to use this genealogical resource.
The NLI digitised the microfilms to produce 373,000 digital images and metadata and published them online free for use. The digitised
Catholic Parish Registers was launched in July 2015 and has had over 6 million visits since then.
Farming too is not overlooked and according to the report by the end of 2015, over 93% (120,000) of all farmers had access to the Department of Agriculture and Food's agfood.ie portal.
In addition, some 105,000 farmers have registered their mobile phone number with the Department for information services and / or registered permissions for transaction services via mobile phone.