Ireland on Tuesday published a new public service reform plan, setting out an ambitious new phase of reform measures in this sector in three years.
"The new reform plan will set the basis for a new public service, one that is focused on delivering better outcomes for citizens and business customers; one that is efficient and responsive; and one in which public servants are empowered to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future," said Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, while launching the plan.
Just over two years since Ireland's first public service reform plan was published, the new Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016 builds on the progress made on implementing the first reform plan and sets out an ambitious new phase of reform.
There are four key themes running through the new reform plan: delivery of improved outcomes for service users; achieving and utilizing the "reform dividend"; greater digitalization and use of open data; and more openness, transparency and accountability.
While maintaining the necessary emphasis on efficiency and cost reduction, Howlin said the next phase of reform will focus on achieving the best outcomes for people, the economy and society as a whole.
He said savings will be reinvested in improved resources and reform dividends will underpin and sustain the agenda of reform.
He added a rationalization of state agencies will be completed by the end of the year.
At the launch, Brian Hayes, minister of state for public service reform, acknowledged the progress made, and also the need to maintain the focus on delivery.
"While we have made considerable progress in terms of public service reform, we still have further work to do. We must continue to drive the implementation of the reform program with energy and commitment," he said.
The reform plan advocates increased digital delivery of services and better sharing of data across the public service.
Under the plan, Ireland will introduce a data sharing and governance bill to address data protection issues that may arise. The rollout of the public services card will be accelerated and possibly extended to other transactions. Postcodes will be introduced by the summer of 2015.
There is to be further amalgamation of functions such as payroll and pensions in shared services initiatives.
The plan also advocates further outsourcing. Among the functions that may be considered for outsourcing are debt management and medical assessments.
It also outlines deadlines for the government's legislative reform program and initiatives in individual sectors.
By the end of this year, all post-primary schools will have access to broadband.
In health sector, there will be a review of the fair deal nursing home scheme with a view to providing more financial support for home care.
There are also measures to facilitate the transition to universal health insurance. A free general practitioner service will be provided to the entire population by early 2016. A Patient Safety Agency is to be established on an administrative basis in 2014, initially within the Health Service Executive (HSE) structures.
Since 2008, Ireland has cut public expenditure by 13.5 percent, and the public sector pay bill by 17 percent. Staff numbers have fallen from 320,000 to 288,500 at present. Ireland is aiming to get staff numbers down to 287,000 by the end of this year and reach 282,500 by 2015.
However, the demand for public services has risen dramatically over the same period. Social welfare payments are up over 18 percent since 2008. Another 600,000 people are now eligible for medical cards, bringing the national total to 1.8 million or 40 percent of the population. The number of children in schools is up 49,000, while the number of pensioners has risen by 13 percent.