STATEMENT TO THE IMPACT CONFERENCE
FRIDAY 22 MAY 2009
Catastrophic policy errors have catapulted Ireland into the deepest economic crisis of our generation. It will test us to the limits. At least 20% of the value of our National Income will be wiped away. As a community we have choices. If those of us who are strong enough, protect ourselves from any change, then 20% of our population will have to take a 100% fall in their incomes. It will be those – who become unemployed, those forced to emigrate, those whose homes are repossessed – who will make the adjustment.
Ireland will emerge from this crisis. We will find a new level, a new standard of living which will be sustainable. However, there is a world of difference between the Ireland that will emerge if we move rapidly now to adjust to the new challenges, to fix the broken systems; and the Ireland that will emerge if we all sit tight and wait for the unforgiving international market forces to grind out a sustainable profile for the Irish economy and the social system that it can support.
Time is not on our side. We have a window of opportunity when we can shape our own fate. We must not waste that opportunity by only operating within well-trodden comfort zones.
This time of crisis is the time to make changes, which most realise have to be faced, but whose time has never been ripe. We have to design a new model for success that can carve out for all shared prosperity in these tougher times. Everyone must make adjustments and the strongest cannot seek to avoid taking the strain.
We are at a watershed in our thinking about the role of the State and of the public sector.
• It is rightly in the dock for failed regulation, for the failure to manage the public finances, for waste and poor value for money.
• But it is also looked to for leadership in new spheres where it has little experience – in sorting out the banking crisis, in opening up opportunities in the new economy.
We in the public service are pivotal to the changes that must occur. It is not just about fixing old systems. It is about tooling up to meet new challenges.
• To do more with less.
• To re-assert accountability of powerful interests.
• To lead investment and development in key sectors.
• To create more devolved, more innovative and more accountable structures, to deliver public services.
• To shut down non-performing programmes and re-integrate people to the areas of greatest need.
• To handle recruitment bans, early retirement and pay curbs, and still preserve corporate effectiveness.
This will not be easy. Never were the words “public service” more apposite to the challenges ahead. Like the first generation of nation builders, we must take courage, forge new ambitions and be innovative. We must put behind a period when the ethos of the public service was devalued, when it was corralled into a cramped view of itself and its capabilities, when professional standards were undermined by opportunistic political decisions.
Committed and talented people in our public service are been trapped in a system that has failed them – hollowed out by the spawning of new agencies, undermined by decentralisation, over-run by “soft option” politics, blinkered by a budgetary system not fit for a corner-shop, spoilt by political leadership living in Easy Street.
We must not diverted into a sterile debate about whether we need a bigger or a smaller State. The debate must be about how we create a smart State. The State must regain its dynamic force in the economy, in delivering public services, in shaping social solidarity. We have to ask hard questions about ourselves and our organisations, are they fulfilling the demands of a smart State?
• Being ambitious, enterprising and innovative.
• Being professionally focused on results.
• Being flexible and diverse in provision.
• Being quick to anticipate and agile in response.
Big changes are needed. However, this is an exciting vision for the State about which members of trade unions should have no fears.
It is a vision of the State which challenges an alternative view that is sometimes heard from people who say they represent the interests of workers in the public sector. That view seeks to preserve very different characteristics in our public sector.
• Immunity from competition.
• Uniformity and top-down control.
• Concealment of standards of performance.
• Rigid lines of demarcation.
• Absence of client choice.
Fine Gael is very clear as to where we stand in respect of the future role of the State. It is a path which embraces change, which sets its ambitions high, which demands high performance, which forges a new social contract appropriate to the challenges domestic and global which we face.
• A “NEW ERA” in investing in vital public sector utilities.
• “FAIR CARE” in Health with equal treatment and resources flowing to the most efficient providers.
• Replacing the sham drama of Budget Day with a system where performance drives the allocation of money.
• Forging a new Social Contract which embraces necessary change but reduces the risks for individuals – on pensions, on re-skilling, etc. – that come with change.