Performance Verification and Public Service Pay

Boyle, Richard


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Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: CPMR- Committee for Public Management Research
Schriftenreihe: CPMR discussion paper
Bandnummer: 32
ISBN: 1-904541-37-2
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2006
Publikationsdatum: 28.03.2009
Originalveröffentlichung: (2006)
DDC-Sachgruppe: Öffentliche Verwaltung
BK - Basisklassifikation: 88.00 (), 88.10 (Öffentliche Verwaltung: Allgemeines)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.7 Verwaltungswissenschaften

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

Background to the study Sustaining Progress (2003), the sixth national agreement between the government and the social partners, states that public service pay increases are ‘…dependent, in the case of each sector, organisation and grade, on verification of satisfactory achievement of the provisions on cooperation with flexibility and ongoing change; satisfactory implementation of the agenda for modernisation…and the maintenance of stable industrial relations and the absence of industrial action…’ (para. 26.1). To provide the verification required above, Performance Verification Groups (PVGs) were established for the main sectors of the public service, namely the civil service, local government, health, education, and justice and equality sectors. PVGs have independent chairs and equal numbers of management, union and independent members. PVGs make recommendations on whether or not pay increases are merited based primarily on an assessment of progress reports submitted by participating organisations. This review of performance verification assesses the usefulness of the PVG mechanism as a means of achieving flexibility and change within individual organisations. The review also suggests improvements that can be made to the performance verification process. In carrying out the study, interviews were held with the sectoral PVG chairs and most of the individual members of the PVGs. Interviews also took place with the sectoral PVG secretariats and the departmental secretaries general with responsibility for the sectoral PVG reports. A short questionnaire was sent to public service organisations and bodies involved in the performance verification process in each sector (approximately 120 organisations and bodies). A response rate of 64 per cent was achieved overall. What impact has performance verification had? A full assessment of the impact of performance verification is not possible within the scope of this study, as at the time of writing, the final two pay increases under Sustaining Progress have not been verified. However, it is possible to give a broad picture of the effect to date of performance verification on pay determination and on industrial stability, flexibility, change, and public service modernisation. Performance verification and public service pay In the vast majority of cases, the judgement of the PVGs to date has been that progress has been satisfactory enough to merit payment of the increases. However, there have been a number of instances across all the sectors where the recommendation has been that payment should not be awarded at the time of the assessment or where the PVG has held off making a recommendation pending further industrial relations discussions. In several instances, the citing of an organisation or grade by the secretary general in his/her sectoral overview report has led to the issue being resolved before a recommendation of the PVG is made Performance verification and industrial relations stability According to PVG members and a significant majority of questionnaire responses, one of the most significant benefits of performance verification has been the contribution it has made to industrial peace. Linking payment of all of the Sustaining Progress agreed payments and 75 per cent of benchmarking payments to the absence of industrial action and the absence of a threat of industrial action is seen as instrumental in achieving a high level of industrial peace. A particular industrial relations benefit of the performance verification process is that it is seen as acting as an incentive to sort out problems ‘below the radar’. Where the potential for disputes arise, the strict timetable for payment in the agreement acts as an incentive for management and unions to get together, either informally or formally through the established industrial relations procedures underpinning Sustaining Progress, to sort out the situation before the sectoral PVG has to make a judgement on the issue. Performance verification and public service modernisation Clearly, it is not possible to directly attribute all change that has taken place in the public service in recent times to performance verification. The extent to which the changes and modernisation initiatives that have occurred would have happened anyway is open to question in the absence of evidence to the contrary. But the majority view of respondents is that performance verification has had an impact in terms of making things happen to a deadline, driven by the dates for the pay increases. If change would have happened anyway, the view is that it would have tended to be slower and less comprehensive. Also, the process is seen as keeping items on the agenda of organisations that might have slipped off in the face of new and emerging priorities. While the vast majority of responses are positive with regard to the impact of performance verification, not all are. The limited ambition of the modernisation agenda was cited by a number of respondents, including many who are positively disposed towards performance verification. There is a view here that the overall agenda of change is not challenging or radical in nature, but rather represents incremental, small-scale change. The scope and range of the public service modernisation agenda is a wider issue than performance verification, as it is established in the context of the social partnership negotiations with verification following on. But it is an important issue for consideration in the context of future developments. Many respondents and interviewees are in favour of a modernisation agenda that allows priority to be given at organisational level to a few key issues being addressed. Linked to the issue of the modernisation agenda, several respondents, particularly on the management side, note that the change agenda outlined in Sustaining Progress is fixed at a point in time and that significant change may subsequently arise that cannot be addressed in the verification process as it is not covered in Sustaining Progress. There is a view that the performance verification process should be flexible enough to respond to major change initiatives not envisaged at the time of the agreement. Performance verification and the public demonstration of change There is some concern among public servants that critical media comments of the public service, and in particular of the pay increases awarded under the benchmarking process, are seen as receiving attention while positive developments are passed over. There are also issues around public accountability and transparency of the performance verification process. In this context, there are a number of aspects to the public demonstration of performance verification. Many of the respondents and interviewees comment positively on the opportunity performance verification gives to present information in a structured way to the political process. Similarly, members of the general public directly affected by service delivery changes such as extended opening hours or reduced time in processing claims can see a difference as a result of actions taken. But in terms of the media and general public forming a view on the impact of performance verification, this is where there is little engagement with the process. A number of reasons are put forward for this limited public engagement with performance verification. One is that much of the public service modernisation agenda focuses on internal efficiency-oriented changes to public service organisations, and while these may ultimately impact on citizens, their direct impact is difficult to discern. Also, the sheer volume of paper produced is seen as daunting and off-putting to anyone from outside the system wanting to see what is happening. In this context, the main public source of information on performance verification is the websites of the sectoral PVGs. These websites can be difficult to find, and once there, making sense of the volume of material can be challenging. Improving the performance verification process The evidence from the interviews, questionnaires and documentation studied is that the performance verification process has had a positive impact on industrial relations stability, co-operation with flexibility and change, and implementation of the public service modernisation agenda. When compared with arrangements outlined in previous national agreements, performance verification has led to more rigorous implementation and scrutiny of public service change programmes. But the performance verification process is not without its limitations. Criticism has been made of the limited scope of the modernisation agenda. The actual performance verification process itself has generated a vast amount of paper work, the value of much of which has been questioned by many participants. Virtually all interviewees and questionnaire respondents highlight the large amount of paper that the process generates. The amount of information produced in action plans and progress reports is voluminous. Comments on these plans and reports see a need to reduce the paper burden as a key concern. While there is widespread support for the continuation of performance verification in any future national agreement covering pay increases in the public service, there is also a need to change and simplify the process. A number of recommendations are made in the report aimed at improving the performance verification process in the future. Details about the reasoning behind the recommendations are contained in the main body of the report. The recommendations are grouped under three main headings: (a) contextual issues that need to be addressed within the framework of any future national agreements, (b) issues around the structures and processes of performance verification, and (c) issues concerning the outputs of performance verification. Changing the context for performance verification in national agreements A number of recommendations outlined in the various chapters of this report are aimed at changing the context for performance verification in that they concern the parameters for performance verification as set out in the national agreement. The main recommendations in this regard are: · More focus on a limited number of priority modernisation agenda items is needed. The specification of these items in the modernisation agenda is important in that the degree to which expectations are set out determines the extent to which they can subsequently be assessed. · The extent to which the performance verification process can deal with significant change initiatives arising during the course of the agreement but not covered by the agreement needs to be determined. · The backdating of pay awards in all cases of deferred pay increases has caused some discontent with the process in some cases. The extent to which backdating should apply automatically should be an issue for discussion. · If possible in the context of the agreement on pay increases, the frequency of progress reporting should be restricted to every six months. · The role of sectoral partnership committees should be clarified with regard to their part in signing off on action plans and assessing organisational progress reports. · The additional burden imposed on reporting by the parallel benchmarking process should be addressed. Performance verification structures and processes There is wide support for the broad structures and processes that have been put in place to manage performance verification. Recommendations outlined in this report are aimed at enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of these structures and processes. The main recommendations in this regard are: Performance verification groups · The current structure and composition of the PVGs be broadly maintained, with an independent chair and a small number of management, union and independent representatives. · With regard to independent members, to the extent possible there should be some continuity of membership between one agreement and the next, and some turnover to ensure ‘new blood’ is brought to the process. · Independent members should be selected on the basis that they can take a broad perspective on the sector and the process, rather than chosen for a detailed knowledge of any particular issue. · Existing decision-making procedures and practices should be maintained. · Site visits/presentations should continue to receive a high priority by the PVGs as an aid to informing the process beyond the formal exchange of reports. To get the most from site visits/presentations, clear agendas for the meetings are required, along with the opportunity for informal feedback from the PVGs. · With regard to feedback from PVGs to organisations generally, to the extent possible feedback should combine sector-wide comments with individualised comments targeted at individual organisations. · PVGs should consider the identification and highlighting of good practice exemplars in their decision letters, to promote the spread of good practice across the sector. · The Health Service PVG approach of clearly specifying decisions available to them has merit and should be considered by all PVGs. The ‘payment warranted but with qualification’ option allows a further level of sanction to be applied in the process. PVG secretariat · The PVG secretariats should continue to develop their research and communications roles (acting as a conduit between the PVG and organisations), alongside their administrative role. · Secretariats should ensure that websites containing information on the performance verification process are up-to-date and comprehensive in the scope of information contained on the site. Sectoral secretary general · The overview report of the secretary general to the PVG should continue to be developed to highlight key issues of industrial relations and modernisation changes. Education PVG · The operation of the performance verification process in the education sector should be assessed to determine if alternative procedures might lead to improvements in reporting procedures. Alternatives to consider may include the provision of separate PVGs for different education levels and/or sectors. Performance verification outputs There is general support for the principle of action plans and progress reports continuing to form the basis for decisions on performance verification and to be the main outputs of the process. The recommendations in this report are aimed at simplifying the planning and reporting process so as to meet the needs of a modernisation and change agenda without imposing undue burdens on all participants. The main recommendations in this regard are: Templates · A template should be retained as a means of ensuring consistency and encouraging comparison across action plans and progress reports. The recommendation that the modernisation agenda allow organisations to prioritise a limited number of key modernisation agenda items will facilitate less onerous reporting requirements. · The template should place an emphasis on reporting progress since the last report was received rather than whether or not a commitment has been achieved. Action plans · Action plans should focus on a limited number of priority modernisation agenda items. · The action plan should contain both a small number of sectoral modernisation initiatives and a small number of organisation specific initiatives. · The PVG should devote particular attention to the scrutiny of action plans, as the basis for subsequent reporting. In particular, the specificity and clarity of objectives and targets set out in the action plans should be assessed, as the clearer and more specific the objectives and targets, the easier progress in their achievement can be determined. · The primary focus of action plans should remain on the outputs produced as a result of the modernisation agenda (though subsequent reporting should reflect progress on reporting on outcomes). · Action plans should clearly reflect the relevant objectives of the organisation as set out in the business plan. The modernisation agenda should not be seen as a separate exercise from the day-to-day running of the organisation. Progress reports · Context statements should continue to be produced by all organisations, highlighting priority issues and enabling flexibility of response of organisations. Consideration should be given to the possibility of using context statements as the reporting mechanism in all phases, with annual reporting against the template. · More focus should be given to reporting on a smaller number of well-specified modernisation items in any individual progress report. · Progress reports should contain information on both outputs achieved against expectations, and progress in relation to reporting on outcomes. The main focus should be on progress made since the last period.

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