Outsourcing has not emerged as a systematically viable option for delivering public services, according to an OECD review of the Government’s second Public Service Reform Programme. The review notes the establishment of a number of outsourced initiatives, including Jobpath employment services. However, it finds that outsourcing and Alternative Service Delivery “have not emerged as systematically viable options for public service provision”. It says this may be related to cultural resistance towards outsourcing among managers, at the political level and in industrial relations.

The OECD found that the Second Reform Programme had by and large been successful in completing the majority of the activities it set out to achieve. It found that there remained a strong emphasis on achieving cost reductions and efficiencies, but said more could have been done to translate savings from corporate efficiencies into improved services and outcomes. It said focusing on outcomes can help to overcome vested interests that resist reform. The OECD notes that while progress was made on moving to digital government services, more could be done to increase the uptake of public service cards. It states that recent survey results show many users still prefer phone or face to face contact, and that satisfaction with the speed and efficiency of services delivered online appears to have fallen since 2015. It notes that public service numbers fell from a peak of 320,387 in 2008 to 288,217 in 2013, but by the end of last year had risen again to 306,578.

The OECD review confirms that public servants are delivering additional services with fewer staff, and cites savings from additional working hours, reduced pension benefits, and sick leave. The authors note that a number of shared services operations have been set up to deal with functions including human resources and payroll. However, they say interviewees felt the transition to shared services had not yet yielded more capacity in government departments as a result of no longer having to carry out these back office processes.

The OECD notes that more efficient public procurement was predicted to deliver savings of €500 million out of a government spend of €9.5 billion a year. Those savings were closer to €160 million in the first three years to the end of 2015, and €300 million of enabled savings to the end of 2016. The OECD team noted problems in recruiting procurement specialists due to a shortage of such professionals. It said moves to improve transparency and accountability had been largely successful, thanks to legislation on freedom of information, protected disclosures, and lobbying. There were 230 actions in the Second Reform Programme , but it was not immediately apparent which of the 230 should be prioritised for closer attention, or were key to delivering impact for citizens.

The OECD says that many of the changes require specialist skills in areas like digitalisation and data science, but that these were difficult to find in a civil service system which emphasises generalist profiles. They warn that the civil service may have to look at non-financial motivators including career paths and flexible working opportunities to attract the right candidates.

This is an original post at: https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2017/0713/889867-oecd-review/