The white collar union GGCA has hit back at Sir Joe Bossano after he again highlighted the need for greater efficiencies in the civil service.
Wendy Cumming, the union’s president, questioned assumptions made by Sir Joe about the performance of the public sector, adding that more focus was needed on training and succession planning for a “demoralised and despondent” civil service.
She was reacting after Sir Joe, the Minister for Economic Development, used a party political broadcast to underscore the government’s belief that a more efficient public service is needed.
“The strength of our economy is the key to our survival as a people,” Sir Joe said.
“But we will need to do more to achieve results if the global economic climate worsens.”
The key, he said, was improved efficiency.
According to Sir Joe, Gibraltar’s public services currently cost £50 million a month.
“To provide in the future the level of public services we have today, we shall need to introduce more efficient ways of delivery because the current cost is already too high and cannot continue to grow,” he said.
Sir Joe said his task therefore required a constant review of the way the Government organises the delivery of public services to ensure that it deploys its resources in the most efficient manner.
“This is absolutely vital to our survival because only if we are able to pay our way will we be able to defeat any attempt by our neighbour to undermine our economic model so that we are forced to negotiate a deal, something that no GSLP government is ever going to allow to happen,” he said.
But his comments rankled with the GGCA, whose president issued an eight-page rebuttal in which she questioned the core claim made by Sir Joe.
The GGCA said the government had not put in place any “independent or objective mechanisms” to measure the efficiency of government departments, and had turned a blind eye to the union’s efforts to identify where processes could be streamlined.
“When Minister Bossano categorically states that the civil service is inefficient it raises the question: how could he possibly know this?” Ms Cumming asked.
She said the government was making “mere assumptions” without factoring in issues such as resourcing and training, adding that the GGCA’s own research suggested most inefficiencies arose between departments, rather than within departments.
Ms Cumming said the government shied away from a holistic approach to improving inter-departmental efficiency for fear of creating a civil service that would be “too powerful”, adding that it was “easier to manage” departments that operated in isolation without a unifying, long-term strategy.
She voiced concern too about the appointment of workers from the private sector into key posts in the civil service, including the Financial Secretary, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“Needless to say, the GGCA stance on this matter is that civil services posts should be offered first to civil servants,” Ms Cumming wrote, adding that for some jobs the most experienced candidates were to be found in-house.
“This is also good for the taxpayer, as professionals from the private sector usually negotiate far higher salaries.”
“It is obvious that senior partners from top tier law firms such as Hassans and Isolas will only be tempted into the civil service by rather large and attractive salaries.”
Ms Cumming also expressed concern about the re-engagement of retired senior civil servants as consultants, leading to “another bottleneck” in opportunities for career advancement in the public sector.
“This practice is extremely inefficient in that it doubly remunerates those who have chosen to retire, whilst stagnating the growth and development of officers in that promotional chain,” she said.
“There have been at least three such consultancy arrangements in the last two years, yet it is the civil servants – who have absolutely no input into these decisions – who are tarnished as inefficient by Minister Bossano.”
“Perhaps he should redirect his gaze to fellow cabinet ministers.”
The GGCA president also echoed concerns previously expressed by Unite the Union and the GSD on the issue of agency workers.
Ms Cumming said the government appeared to trying to cut back on expenditure by using external supply workers on inferior terms and conditions to fill entry grade vacancies arising from the decision to suspend the recruitment process for Administrative Assistants.
But she questioned whether this was a cost-effective strategy or one that simply created profits for the supply company “…off the back of cheap labour to a supposedly socialist government?”
According to the GGCA, some 20% of the complement in the government’s financial departments was covered by supply workers, and most GGCA members want the recruitment process to resume immediately.
Ms Cumming questioned whether the use of supply workers improved efficiency and said the strategy created an unequal workplace, in which some workers were unable to access basic things such as mortgages and conditions that would allow them to advance in their personal and professional lives.
She said the administration’s e-government policy could create streamlined processes and more effective work methods, but that it must be implemented in consultation with the workforce, something which to date had not happened.
Ms Cumming said it was also vital to have an accurate picture of “the real state of our economy” in order to assess the cost of the public service and how efficiencies should be sought.
She pointed out, for example, that civil service pay for higher earners had been capped despite the government announcing a GDP increase at the last budget.
“We can only evaluate how much we should reasonably be spending on public services when we know how much money we actually have,” she said.
“This has been a source of contention in local politics for a number of years now, having the net effect of the taxpayer being completely in the dark as to where his/her money is going and as to the true state of our economy.”
“There is insufficient transparency and clarity and an independent assessment of all government finances – including that of the controversial Credit Finance Company Limited – is sorely needed and well overdue.”
“It is the right of every taxpayer to know the absolute truth about our economic status, rather than the mixed messages and confused political narratives on this issue.”
She added: “Sir Joe Bossano should stop focusing on public service inefficiencies and start concentrating on economic transparency.”