Public service delivery has faced significant challenges in recent years due to tight resources as well as demographic factors, including a growing population and rises in the numbers aged under 15 and over 65. The improving economic picture has enabled the reinvestment of some of the efficiencies we have made back into key frontline activities and this is evident in the modest rises in expenditure and staff numbers noted in Dr Boyle’s paper.
The paper also reflects the significant reductions achieved in the size and cost of the Public Service, including for example a very significant reduction in Public Service pay and pensions as a percentage of GDP. This rose rapidly from 2007 to 2009 but has fallen back significantly since then and continues to fall (11% of GDP in 2009 to 8.6% of GDP in 2014).
We must maintain a focus on the ongoing implementation of the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016. This will sustain the provision of vital frontline services and deliver on our vision of better outcomes for users of public services.
The Trends Report gives us some insight into many areas where our programme of reform has been effective. For example, Ireland performs above the European average in a number of comparative surveys, ranking:
  • 4th in the EU28 for quality of public administration;
  • 11th in the EU28 in the World Bank composite indicator of government effectiveness;
  • 7th in the EU28 in the World Bank regulatory quality indicator;
  • 4th in the EU28 for perceptions that government decisions are implemented effectively; and
  • 6th in the EU28 for upholding traditional public service values, such as independence from political interference, freedom from bribery and corruption, and reliability and administrative fairness.
Significantly, Irish public services are seen as the least bureaucratic in Europe according to executives surveyed for the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Competitiveness Yearbook. These findings align with the results of the Civil Service Customer Satisfaction Survey, published earlier this year, which found that over three-quarters of customers of the Civil Service are satisfied with the service they receive and more than four out of five say service levels are mostly meeting or exceeding expectations.
I am also pleased to see that Ireland has the highest take-up of electronic procurement in Europe. This undoubtedly reflects the very significant work we have done to reform public procurement under the guidance of the Office of Government Procurement.
One area where Ireland has performed less well in the Trends Reports of recent years has been in respect of the level of trust in government and local authorities. The very comprehensive programme of reform implemented by Minister Howlin in this area since 2011 is now showing an improvement. This includes key legislative reforms, such as Regulation of Lobbying, Whistleblower Protection, and Freedom of Information. Together with initiatives in respect of Civil Service Accountability, State Board appointments and Ireland’s participation in the Open Government Partnership, these reforms will bring further improvements in this trend in the coming years.
Ireland’s strong performance in reforming its public services is recognised across Europe and beyond. We have a large number of delegations from international public administrations coming to Ireland to try to learn from the reforms we have delivered in the past few years.
The reforms we have achieved would not have been possible without the collective effort of public servants across all sectors. In this regard, thet Civil Service Excellence and Innovation Awards where the exceptional performance, creative thinking and hard work of just a small sample civil servants was acknowledged and rewarded. There is much to learn from their example and they provide an inspiration as we continue the work to reform and modernise how we work in order to deliver better outcomes for all.
Robert Watt is Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.