Under performing public sector workers should be paid to go, says top civil servant

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Under-performing public servants should be “managed out” of their jobs but good workers who deliver should be rewarded, a top civil servant has said.

Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt said he wants a similar system to the private sector introduced where workers can be paid off to leave jobs.

Mr Watt was quizzed at the Oireachtas Committee on Finance about overspends on government-backed projects and performance levels among public servants. He said there is a “gotcha culture” which is a deterrent to people taking on civil service roles.

Nonetheless, if mistakes were made, “there should be sanctions of course,” he admitted. Senator Gerry Horkan asked him about incentivising performance among public workers, to which Mr Watt conceded there were problems.

He said he regretted there could not be a debate about different types of contracts in the public service, including ones that were temporary, ones that were linked to performance and ones that allowed for “greater penalties for not achieving”.

Mr Watt said in the private sector, if a worker did not perform at a senior level, they were given two years’ pay, they signed a confidentiality clause and they were “managed out”.

He also believes there is too much “hierarchy” in the public service, particularly among middle management. Nonetheless, he said some workers had been penalised by being denied the right of promotion and increments and that some had been fired.

Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt
Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt

However, no figures were available about how many have been removed from their jobs and how many were paid off to leave roles. These may be supplied to the committee at a later stage.

Committee chairman John McGuinness quizzed the secretary general about the system of fobbing in for TDs. Mr McGuinness said it was “wrong” that the Department of Public Expenditure did not have oversight of the attendance and expenses system for TDs.

“It is a farce, an absolute farce,” said Mr McGuinness, insisting that the vast majority of TDs worked hard. Earlier, Mr Watt said he and his department had no role in overseeing the attendance fobbing-in system and that it was a matter for the Oireachtas.



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