Dáil Éireann - Volume 648 - 26 February, 2008

Priority Questions. - Decentralisation Programme.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnellasked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has set any target for the number of civil servants and State agency employees who will move to decentralised locations during 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8061/08]

  Deputy Brian Cowen: A progress report by the decentralisation implementation group, DIG, was submitted to me and published on 8 October last. The group reported that implementation of the Civil Service element of the decentralisation programme is progressing. From the announcement of the programme in December 2003, the focus has been on detailed planning and organisation of the property, staffing and business aspects. The DIG has considered it essential that all organisations take the necessary time to prepare this groundwork well in order to ensure effective implementation of a programme of this scale and complexity. In short, its focus has not been on how speedily the programme can be achieved but how well. It is important to remember that the programme is not just about moving public services. It fundamentally impacts on the staff in those organisations, on their career choices and their expectations.

At the end of 2007, decentralising organisations had a presence in 33 towns. Approximately 4,000 staff had been assigned to decentralising posts and over 2,000 of these are currently in their new locations, while the remainder are being trained in advance of decentralisation to a new location, as soon as accommodation becomes available. Taking account of both posts moved and assignments, almost 50% of the Civil Service general service posts have already moved or have staff in place with a commitment to move. The comparable figure for the Civil Service professional and technical staff is 25% and current indications are that it is in the order of 20% for the State agency sector.

Property or sites have been acquired or are well advanced in a total of 38 locations. In addition, the OPW have been very efficient in securing suitable advance or temporary accommodation in over 20 locations to facilitate the early phasing of the transfer of business units. The October DIG report provides an update of the OPW timeframes for the expected completion of permanent accommodation. The OPW conducts a review of the property timeframes for permanent accommodation on an ongoing basis and is keeping these timeframes under review based on its experience to date in relation to property selection and acquisition, brief and design issues, tendering periods, planning issues and contractual arrangements.

I remain confident that the public service will deliver this programme in a considered, sensible and sensitive manner. The Government is anxious to ensure that the momentum of the programme is maintained and developed and in that context Secretaries General of decentralising Departments have been asked to review these timeframes in association with the OPW and the DIG to assess where earlier progress could be made either in relation to [191] permanent accommodation or advance accommodation. The Government has asked the DIG to examine the position in relation to progressing the relocation of the State agencies, with a view to providing a report, including target timescales, by the end of July 2008.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: The Tánaiste has not answered the question of how many will be decentralised during 2008. This is yet another example of the Government making a political decision, like setting up the HSE. Decentralisation was nothing more than a political decision, made in December 2003 for budget 2004. The Government is now hiving responsibility over to an unaccountable body, the implementation group. Does the Tánaiste take responsibility for decentralisation? Does he agree that, as it currently stands, it is a shambles? More than 14 months after the deadline his Government set, of 31 December 2006, we find that less than 20% of civil servants have been decentralised, only 50% of whom were based in Dublin. Furthermore, we find that there are 26 locations to which the Government has yet to decentralise. I note from his comments that in many of those cases, the Government has yet to acquire sites or properties. Is decentralisation the Tánaiste’s responsibility? What measures will he put in place to ensure that decentralisation takes place over a reasonable period? What targets has he set and, as the original question asked, how many will be decentralised in 2008?

  Deputy Brian Cowen: I do not accept whatsoever the assertion the Deputy makes on the progress being made on this programme. He might, if he has not already done so, read the decentralisation implementation group reports which have been published since it was first set up, which contain a number of revised timescales as a result of the work it has been doing. All of those reports have been accepted by the Government. It is clear that initial ambitions regarding the substantive programme we hope to see in this area have been altered as a result of the decentralisation implementation group’s assessments, based on working with unions and management.

We are committed to this programme. The Department of Finance has the job of co-ordinating the decentralisation programme and I take on that responsibility willingly. Good progress is being made. The continuous talking out of both sides of the mouth from the Opposition is I am sure noted in many localities. On the one hand, they are criticising the fact that we have a programme at all, while on the other there are parliamentary questions coming to my Department on a weekly basis from Fine Gael backbenchers asking when it is going down to their little area. It is back to the old story.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: It was a stunt. A stunt in 2004.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: In any event, the real position is that 2,000 people are already in position. Another 2,000 have committed to moving. The rate at which they will move during the course of this year will depend on the progress made in finalising the building programme and so forth. Considerable progress has been made and it is very early in the year yet to give a definitive answer as to where we will end up at the end of the year.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: This was a political decision by the Government, back in December 2003, when it said it would decentralise 10,300 by the end of 2006.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: That is right. I was here. I heard the Minister say that.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: The Government made that commitment but is now blaming the implementation body. Is the Minister taking responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves, where almost 80% of civil servants have yet to be decentralised and in more than 23 locations absolutely nothing has been done in terms of decentralisation? What is the Minister going to do about it?

[192]   Deputy Brian Cowen: To answer the Deputy’s question——

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: What is the Minister going to do about it?

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: I was here and heard the commitment being made.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: I was in the House at the time the commitment was made——

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: My party is very much in favour of decentralisation.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: Is it? That is news to me.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: The Government gave a commitment——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy O’Donnell will yield to the Tánaiste, please.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: Is the Government going to deliver on its promise?

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: What is the timescale?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Tánaiste, without interruption please.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: I hope the Deputy can speak with authority on the matter on behalf of his party because that is certainly not what his party spokesman has been indicating to me for the past several months.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: The Tánaiste should answer the questions.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: Absolutely. A voluntary programme was initiated in 2003. My predecessor indicated his hope that it would be substantially concluded by 2006. If the Deputy’s criticism——

  Deputy Richard Bruton: He said heads would roll if it did not happen.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: The Tánaiste is rewriting history.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: If the Deputy’s criticism is that they should have been involuntarily moved by now——

  Deputy Richard Bruton: The Tánaiste’s head should roll.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: That is not our position.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: No, my criticism is that this was a political decision taken with no preparation——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call Question No. 19, in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: It has not happened and the Tánaiste is not taking responsibility for it.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: We will see at the local elections, when the Tánaiste will have his answer.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: My party is absolutely for it.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: You have opposed it, all along. All your lives.

[193]   Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: If the Tánaiste needs our assistance——

  Deputy Brian Cowen: I was here in the 1980s when Fine Gael postponed a programme.

  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: We will help the Minister.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: I was here in the 1980s.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I have called Question No. 19.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: I was here in the 1980s when Fine Gael postponed one.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: So the Minister has postponed it.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: No, Fine Gael postponed it.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: It was supposed to be finished by 2006.

  Deputy Brian Cowen: Please, Deputy.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Tánaiste, I have called Question No. 19.