Monday, November 1st, 2010

I posted this morning about the need for a strategic approach to making cutbacks that envisages a future scenario and then plans for that within the context of the available budget.  This afternoon the HSE has announced that it going to cut 5,000 admin, clerical and support staff from the health service through an early retirement scheme and voluntary redunancy.   That seems to be the extent of the plan.  Let’s see who wants to go and then try and reconfigure the system to cope.  No evaluation of roles, functions, organisational structure and then working out how to best to re-organise the system.  No attempt to create a long-term strategic vision and plan as to what the HSE and the health system will look like in 2014 and beyond.   This despite the fact that the scheme has supposedly been under consideration for two years.  Must have been a lot of consideration done as what it appears we have is the following: simply open a scheme, let it run for 3 weeks, and hope for the best.  Will it improve the organisation and delivery of services?  Probably not as there seems as if there isn’t a whole lot of strategic thought behind the scheme other than to reduce the pay bill by €400m.  The potential for chaos as staff leave within a very short timeframe (Jan 1st) must be enormous.  Yes, the HSE does need reform and re-organisation, but it would be much better to do this through a coordinated, strategic, targetted plan, rather than simply making almost random budget cuts (in the sense that it is entirely unknown who will go, from what depts, in what locations) and hoping for the best.

Rob Kitchin

Claiming our Future, a novel civil society “think in” took place at the RDS on Saturday October 30th, 2010   There was a tremendous buzz in the Industries Hall from 9 am that morning as 1,000 people arrived to take their places at one of the 100 roundtables set up in the hall.  Throughout the day each table debated the kind of values we want to underpin our society; the priority that should be accorded to a range of policy objectives and the sorts of initiatives and actions that could be taken to achieve the agreed objectives. Using a software package (which only caused a few hiccups on the day!) every table was able to exercise their votes, and all the votes were aggregated to come up with an overall, consensual result. For details on the deliberative process and the outcomes see the website.

The most innovative aspect of the proceedings was the emphasis of deliberative engagement.  Normally at a 1,000 people conference it is the keynote speakers that get the air time and the audience simply act as spectators with limited opportunity for questions.  Here, there were no keynote speakers or experts telling us how it is.  At each table we drew on each others views and expertise to arrive at an agreed view and feed it back to all the other tables.  At my table there were a couple of civil servants, a retired teacher and a serving teacher, a recently unemployed journalist, a Filipino  woman who is a domestic worker, and an arts/cultural worker. The various sessions were bookmarked by fantastic musical acts including Mary Coughlan,  the Miracle Makers rappers and the Gloria choir.  The day was creative and  invigorating.  It gave people the sense that there was a substantial constituency out there who shared their own disenchantment with the direction taken by the government during the past decade.  The event made it possible to really believe in a politics of hope over a politics of catastrophe. If you are interested in finding out more about Claiming Our Future or you have any ideas to contribute on how the country can be renewed click here.

Mary Corcoran

Lorcan Sirr and Conor Skehan of DIT have recently argued that the present budgetary cuts are being made in the absence of a plan.  It is difficult to disagree with their argument.  Unfortunately all of the political parties seem to proceeding on the same basis.  Making budget cuts is not the same as making a plan.  A budget should be designed to support a plan.  In Ireland’s case slashing the budget is seemingly the plan and supports no strategic initiatives other than to hopefully cut the deficit.  What should be happening is a rapid reworking of the National Development Plan – linking up sectoral and spatial plans – to produce a reasonably coherent pathway to 2014, with a realignment of budgets to support that plan.  At least that would mean that what spending and investment remains has some strategic goals and there is a roadmap as to how Ireland is to proceed back out of the crisis it has created for itself.

So far, no political party has produced a master plan, with an associated budget, for addressing our multiple problems.  No-one has come up with a coherent set of interlinked policy initiatives that if followed will stabilise the economy and get it working again, addressing in particular the issue of job creation.  The starting point is always the size of the cuts to be made, not what kind of Ireland do we want in 2014 and how can we achieve that goal whilst making cuts.  What we have instead is soundbites, ad hoc responses, wish-list so-called strategy documents with no plans of implementation, milestones or planned financial investment, and no sense that there is a captain at the helm who has a decent map and an organised crew to first get the ship seaworthy or second to know where it is sailing to.  The idea at the minute seems to be to get the wreck across the ocean without hopefully sinking and be damned where we land.  All the time, over half the passengers are haranguing the crew whilst putting forward no coherent set of alternative measures.

The opposition parties at this stage need to set out their stall clearly.  To date they have hidden behind the excuse that they do not want to set out their approach without seeing the budgetary figures.  This is simply a delaying tactic.  The budget should not be driving their plan.  Vision and sound policy initiatives should.  They can tweak the plan in relation to the budget available.  But the plan has to be more than a budget.  They should come up with the plan and see if they can finance it, not vice versa.  If they really feel that they should be running the country then they should have the confidence in their ideas to set them out and argue for them.  By failing to do so, we are just prolonging the political charade and reinforcing the adhocism of Irish politics and policy making.

Regardless of political party, can we at least start the next four years on the right footing?  If all we are doing is slashing and burning with little rhyme or reason, with no sense of its long term implications or how what is left will deliver the ship and course we need, then in four years time we’re going to be in a far worse state than we are now, because we’ll have positioned ourselves in the wrong place, most probably without the apparatus to get ourselves back on course.

Can we have a four year plan please, not simply a four year budget?

Rob Kitchin