Public Service Decentralisation : Governance Opportunities and Challenges

Humphreys, Peter C. ; O’Donnell, Orla


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Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: CPMR- Committee for Public Management Research
Schriftenreihe: CPMR discussion paper
Bandnummer: 33
ISBN: 978-1-904541-40-0
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2006
Publikationsdatum: 28.03.2009
Originalveröffentlichung: (2006)
DDC-Sachgruppe: Öffentliche Verwaltung
BK - Basisklassifikation: 88.00 (), 88.12 (Territorialverwaltung, Regionalverwaltung)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.7 Verwaltungswissenschaften

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

Background This discussion paper identifies and analyses a number of key governance issues that are relevant to ‘decentralisation’ as a concept in public sector reform. It explores, particularly within the context of contemporary Irish experience, some of the key opportunities and challenges for effective leadership and collegiality in a geographically decentralised Irish civil and public service: areas which may have been comparatively neglected, in both research and policy terms, in the past but which demand further attention for effective implementation of current initiatives. The research draws upon: · an extensive review of the national and international literature on civil/public service decentralisation, as well as effective leadership and positive collegiality in the commercial and non-commercial sectors; · in-depth discussions with those engaged, at a senior level, both in Ireland and elsewhere with developing and implementing decentralisation programmes; · in-depth discussions with the chief officers in a crosssection of Irish public bodies directly affected by the current programme, as well as senior trade union representatives and senior private sector managers; In this regard, it must be stressed that the geographical decentralisation programme currently in hand for the Irish public service will have a direct and/or indirect impact not just on those specific bodies identified for decentralisation under the current programme but will have an impact across the public service as well as in other sectors. Indeed the changes that are afoot are of a scale and character that should lead to a fundamental recasting of the Irish system of public administration. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Policy context Since 1994, the Irish public service has been engaged upon a long-term programme of public service modernisation, also known as the Strategic Management Initiative (SMI), broadly along New Public Management (NPM) lines. While Ireland’s efforts at geographical decentralisation long predate the SMI and have not, until now, had significant, explicit implications for the modernisation agenda, a considerable sense of urgency has now been injected into this gradually, self-modernising administrative system. For, into a previously consensual and gradualist policy environment, the Minister for Finance in December 2003 announced the Irish government's commitment to the voluntary decentralisation of over 10,300 posts in civil service departments/offices and agencies to over fifty locations across twenty-five counties throughout the country. Of this total, over 3,000 of the posts earmarked for relocation are in state agencies. Additionally, the government decided that, save in exceptional circumstances, any new agencies/bodies being established in the future should be located in areas compatible with this new programme. While decentralisation has not formed an explicit plank of either current or past Irish public service reform initiatives and while Ireland's experience to date has demonstrated little devolution of fiscal and other high-level decision-making functions from central to local levels, the spatial decentralisation of Dublin-based public service employment and functions to non-metropolitan locations has been a feature of Irish administrative reorganisation at least since the 1960s. Broadly speaking, there have been two previous phases of geographical decentralisation in Ireland: (a) dispersal during the period 1967 to 1987; followed by (b) a complex period of dispersal, deconcentration and regionalisation (1988-2003). Thus, even before the new programme is implemented, previous national-level initiatives, together with the adoption of regional strategies by some departments/offices, have already resulted in a complex spatial mosaic of public service locations. Together with dispersed functional units, this complex mosaic includes regionalised and/or county-based offices supported by networks of branch, district and local offices. However, there is little doubt that, although it builds upon these earlier initiatives, the current decentralisation programme will present unprecedented management and operational challenges at the departmental/organisational and publicservice wide levels. It will also be important to learn from experiences in the past regarding leadership and collegiality in a geographically complex civil service in order to help plot the future. The current proposals will not only mean that the majority of civil service, as well as public service, posts will be based outside Dublin but no fewer than eight government departmental HQs will be located away from the capital, while the government itself and many other departments and stakeholder organisations will continue to operate from the centre. As a consequence, an entirely new approach to the governance of the service will be required and, in particular, new models of leadership and collegiality developed. This dramatic policy initiative, in the short-term, has not only reverberated throughout the administrative system, but, in the longer term, has the potential to present hitherto un-thought of opportunities for radical reform and improvements in the way the Irish public service operates. Learning from others A number of other countries have implemented decentralisation initiatives in the past number of decades. For example, in the Netherlands and UK up to the end of the 1980s the decentralisation of public service employment away from the capital had been used as part of a regional development strategy to relieve long-term unemployment in declining industrial areas. More recently, evidence from secondary sources indicates international experience of relocation and decentralisation in a wide range of countries and/or other public administrations; e.g. France, Germany, Norway, Japan and Canada (British Colombia). Internationally, the geographical decentralisation of the civil and public service is seen as an opportunity to secure improved efficiency on the back of business process reengineering (BPR), new working practices and modernisation. However, this research found that, although some useful inferences can be drawn from a review of available international evidence, it is difficult to identify in other public administrations in OECD a direct comparator for the current programme of Irish decentralisation. This lack of a comparator relates to the scale of the current programme, its scope, timing and, above all, its inclusion of proposals to relocate entire organisations in locations away from the capital city and centre of political life. For example, the UK approach specifically excludes the movement of head offices of government departments away from London. Leadership and collegiality Available research evidence suggests that both effective leadership and positive collegiality are key features of good governance and the significance of both these qualities is at a premium within the context of a geographically complex, decentralised civil and public service. Such qualities of good governance as leadership, effectiveness, participation, coherence, programme delivery and effective stakeholder engagement are particularly relevant in the context of the decentralisation programme given the continuing location of the Oireachtas and a number of departments in central Dublin and the particular challenges posed by the geographical decentralisation of others. Indeed, it is important to note that, as early as March 2004, the Decentralisation Implementation Group was beginning to acknowledge the importance of these qualities in forming ‘a post-decentralised civil service’: ‘The geographic relocation and dispersal of staff may help to reinforce existing moves towards greater devolution of authority and responsibility to, and within, organisations. There will be an onus on management at organisational and suborganisational level to exercise greater de facto responsibility for HR, finance and other organisational matters. A more geographically dispersed civil service needs to be balanced by sufficiently strong common values and culture to support effective system-wide co-operation and decision-making. It will be necessary to reinforce, and invest more heavily in corporate culture and ethos’ (First Report of the Decentralisation Implementation Group to Minister for Finance p.28). These opportunities and challenges are explored in this research at corporate/service-wide, interdepartmental and intradepartmental levels A review of the latest international literature and best practice management frameworks clearly highlights that not only is effective leadership the cornerstone upon which organisational excellence is built, it also: · gives strategic direction: it develops and communicates vision, mission and values; · achieves change and focuses efforts on customer service; · develops and implements a system for organisational management and performance review; · motivates and supports people, acting as a role model; · manages the relationships with politicians and other stakeholders, acting in a socially responsible manner. These qualities hold true across the public and private sectors. Effective and visible leadership is required to promote an emphasis on co-operation, consensus, persuasion and the like. A key quality of leadership is also the capacity to operate in a collegial manner and to support collegiality between and within organisations. Together with positive collegiality, these qualities of effective leadership apply at three levels: the corporate or service-wide; the inter- and the intra-departmental. The key research question for this study was to consider the extent to which these qualities of leadership and collegiality could be affected by the geographical dispersal of the public service organisations concerned and, specifically, to identify and discuss opportunities and challenges thus presented. Opportunities and challenges There is little doubt that the current decentralisation programme will have a profound impact on structures, communication frameworks, networking fora and the relationship interface between the civil service, the political and stakeholder systems. How this is managed is vital in terms of the effects on customer service and the efficiency of business processes during the transition phase and beyond. As such, if effectively managed and implemented, it could represent a unique opportunity to fundamentally revisit and restructure the ways in which the civil and wider public services conduct their business. There is little doubt that the movement of public service bodies away from Dublin will provide an unprecedented xiii opportunity for a fundamental overhaul of work done and the way it is done, through the use of business process reengineering and other techniques. Concerns from the past regarding blocked career progression for those in dispersed and regional civil service offices could be ameliorated by adopting a regional approach to facilitate promotion across public service bodies. Otherwise, a move away from Dublin would very definitely become a one-way journey. Because of the travel imperative for contact with the minister and meetings with other public servants, while the burden of travel will be greatly increased, especially when engaged in EU and other international work, it is very likely that both the frequency and management of meetings will become subject to stricter discipline. The use of ICT will help communication but it is expected to be only a limited substitute for face-to-face collegiality. The discussions that took place during this research also suggest that it could be timely to re-explore the potential benefits of a Senior Civil Service. Such an incremental step could support the development of leadership skills training and help sustain collegiality at the service-wide level. Respondents frequently expressed concern that local pressures could lead to a parochial mindset developing. For instance one respondent said: ‘Leadership has not historically been considered as a skill that can be learned - it has been regarded rather as Churchill described ‘greatness’: you can be born with it, achieve it or have it thrust upon you. Yet recent thinking in both the private and public sectors sees the development of the skills of leadership as essential to the effective delivery of any programme of change - and that all efficient organisations are in a state of ordered change’. It was outside the scope of this research to suggest or even less to prescribe firm recommendations for further action. That needs to be on the national agenda for another day. However, although no organisation is scheduled to decentralise before the end of 2006, there is little doubt that, if the current decentralisation programme is to rise above the very considerable logistical issues (around staffing/training and physical infrastructure) that have understandably pre-occupied the implementation agenda to date, then serious consideration of the governance opportunities and challenges arising from this programme need to rise up that agenda. Only two of these issues have been initially reviewed and discussed in this paper: namely effective leadership and positive collegiality. However, it is clear from this research that, if Ireland is to retain its hard won and justified reputation for first rate civil and public services, as well as its international standing, positive action is required across a wide front to turn leadership and collegiality challenges into opportunities. On the basis of this research evidence, such action should include constructive, informed and positive support being given to a wide range of issues, including: · Giving urgent attention to the development of a servicewide Knowledge Management initiative to minimise loss and open up new opportunities for knowledge sharing on a collegial basis, within, between and across those public service bodies significantly affected by the decentralisation programme. Allied to this is the need to map more clearly, and understand better, current formal and informal networks within the service. These will need to be significantly recast. Resort to ICT and large amounts of travel appear to only offer partial solutions. · Implementing a coherent, service-wide change management programme, which recognises and empowers leadership within and across the civil and wider public services. Again models appear to exist, based upon international best practice, which could inform this process, as could the more systematic indepth analysis of private sector experiences. It would appear also that the timing could be opportune for a revisiting and reassertion of core public service values that could help to maintain consistency in the considerably more geographically complex and younger service of the future. Allied and supportive of this approach could be the further examination of the implications for Ireland of the explicit development of a senior civil and public service. In summary, there is little doubt that the current leaders of the Irish public service have had decentralisation thrust upon them, even though it may be up to their successors to fully operationalise the resultant changes from new and diverse localities. While issues of staffing and infrastructure are understandably pre-occupying minds presently concerned with implementation, action will need to be commenced soon to rearticulate, and sustain, the values of the Irish public service and to cultivate the leadership skills necessary for the next generation of secretaries general and chief executives so that the modernisation programme set in motion a decade ago is sustained and re-invigorated. In a decade from now, a new generation of leaders should be leading an entirely recast, modernised civil and public service, in diverse places but with shared values.

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