FINE GAEL is set to launch a radical plan of 100 ideas to reform the entire public service – including the dismantling of the HSE – in the coming weeks.
The Sunday Tribune has learned that an initial draft of the plan was discussed at Fine Gael's front bench meeting last week and will go before the parliamentary party for approval within the next fortnight. The party has pledged to transform the state's annual €20bn deficit into substantial surpluses through bold public sector reforms. The Fine Gael plan is part of a strategy to put clear blue water between themselves and Labour by emphasising the parties have different ideas on restoring order to the public finances.
Fine Gael will also be emphasising its approach is different from the government's, with the main opposition party advocating repairing the deficit through increased productivity and efficiency in the public service, rather than increased taxation. Suggestions that the party was almost ready to unveil spending cuts of up to €5bn for next year were described as very "premature" by senior party figures.
The broad ranging document will recommend the dismantlement of the HSE in its present state so there is more devolution of decision making to individual hospital managers and managers in community care units.
These areas will be governed by an overall 'national policy' which will be the responsibility of the Minister for Health. Fine Gael are adamant that the health service cannot run by a "semi-detached quango like the HSE" that allows the health minister to shirk responsibility and "farm out" problems.
A new pay and conditions dividend will be introduced for workers and there will be a ban on bonuses and golden handshakes to prevent people who have done wrong walking away with large rewards.
The number of state 'quangos' will be scrapped, while the 2008 OECD report, titled 'Towards an Integrated Public Service', will be implemented and the radical reforms advocated in the party's 'New Politics' document will go ahead.
A new clearly defined direct line of responsibility between the government and the public service will be created. As part of this new measure, individual government ministers will have to sign service agreements with service bodies so there will be a new system of openness and accountability.
Decisions on procurement will be more open to scrutiny and services will be sent out to tender on a more regular basis in local authorities to give better value for money, with every purchase of €20,000 going out to tender.
The secretary generals of government departments will be directly accountable to Oireachtas Committees to help eradicate the culture of no accountability.
There will be a complete evaluation of the public service on the basis of the social dividend for the citizen and the new system will be modelled on the public service in Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
There will be increased investment in early childhood education programmes and great investment in areas of educational disadvantage.
One party figure said, "Unlike Labour we have had a strategy over the last two years to produce policy documents ahead of an election and we will increase these policy documents from now on. Labour has taken the view that people have short-term memories and they will only concentrate on policy in the three weeks of an election campaign."