The Costs of Reorganising Government

In yesterday’s speech the Taoiseach said:

Restructuring of Departments and agencies inevitably entails disruption and costs but I am satisfied that with the changes I am making, the benefits will outweigh the cost…

Costs, of course, include changes to name-plates, stationery, web-sites and so on, as well as the HR dimension of moving staff around. Benefits are more problematic. The UK National Audit Office has recently reported on Reorganising Central Government and concluded that the UK government has averaged £200M a year over the last few years on reorganisations of government departments and other units, but with scant evidence that such expenditures are justified. They state:

Central government bodies are weak at identifying and securing the benefits they hope to gain from reorganisation.

The NAO makes a number of proposals for more systematic evaluation before reorganisations take place, the establishment of a central team ‘with oversight and advance warning of all government reorganisations’ and better parliamentary scrutiny. There is, of course, a problem with such analysis in that reorganisations of the kind announced by the Irish Government yesterday are chiefly driven by political concerns. They are significant as much for what they symbolise as for what they may achieve by way of enhancing governmental capacity for action.

Author: Colin Scott

Colin Scott is Principal, UCD College of Social Sciences and Law and Professor of EU Regulation and Governance at UCD. He is a Co-Editor of Legal Studies (Wiley-Blackwell).

20 thoughts on “The Costs of Reorganising Government”

  1. No doubt this reorganisation will help IDA boss Barry O’Leary and I guess there is no great cost associated with it as none have been flagged and it will no doubt ‘enhance governmental capacity for action’ in this area.

    Looking at what was reported when he addressed the joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment yesterday, his task of creating (via attracting new multinational investment) the promised 105,000 new jobs by 2014 has been made a little harder though.

    Responding to committee member Deirdre Clune TD, he said that ‘circumstances’ (I presume he means the recession) will continue to see multinational employers shed jobs.

    So I guess that means in order to get to an additional 105,000 he’s going to have to make up some lost ground first if we’re going to lose a good few thousand jobs before we even start? So are they in fact going to create many more than 105,000 jobs? I think we should be told.

    I wonder how he’s going to do that then? Perhaps there will be some additional costs after all.

  2. Ah c’mon now. Moving Mary Coughlan to Education and Batt O’Keefe to Enterprise, Trade and Employment was clearly a genius move and well worth any costs incurred.

  3. Re-organising businesses and indeed moving to different buildings can ofter re-invigorate staff, not least because they know they could come under a new chain of command. It is hard to know how one could quantify an obious benefit. I expect the same goes for a lot of management techniques, such as calling on on staff to discuss their work. Can the benefits of any of this be measured? Does that mean it is not worthwhile?

  4. Colin: the National Audit Office is a good outfit & something like that here, even on a smaller scale, would be a welcome addition. Sadly, the prospects for having independent evaluations of public expenditure are not good.

  5. Well thank God they’ll get the printing done in Northern Ireland.

    That ought to save a few bob.

  6. The UK’s National Audit Office fits into roughly the same place in public administration as the Irish Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Indeed, it is headed up by the UK’s Comptroller and Auditor General.

  7. @Colin Scott

    Off_thread – A Question:

    Are you, or any of your research group, doing any work on the ‘meta_regulation’ of, or structure of recent regulation, of the Irish Banking and Financial Sector? Relational distance, or lack therof; epistemic dependence, and how high; regulatory capture, and how much; and what shape or form of ‘regulatory regime’ existed or might, in future, could be ‘designed’ to do a better job.

  8. @Con
    I don’t trust the CAG. They were the auditors of a state whose spending was wasteful and out of control. They brought out reports after the money was poured away uselessly and then kept their heads down. I am unaware of them at any stage explicitly linking the gigantic waste to the politicians who directed it. I am unaware of them campaigning vocally and continuously for a radical improvement in their own powers and in the transparency, accountability and efficiency of government spending.

  9. @Colin Scott
    I’d like to propose a change to the government and I think they’ll go for it.
    After Noel Dempsey phoned in his performance from Malta and Mary Harney from New Zealand it’s time the government took the radical step that confirmed what we already know: they should all move to Versailles. This brazen aristocracy would see no contradiction in telling us (by phone) that we all had to tighten our belts and that they were only unpopular because they were taking the tough decisions – like cutting the blind and the disabled. Also, with NAMA designed to put a floor under the property market and with no legislation on existing upward only leases renting French palaces will probably be cheaper. Finally, for Tanaiste Marie Antoinette it will be like going home.

  10. The costs are all internal, except for printing in NI, and there is often a benefit in shaking the sand box, lots of toys re-emerge, in my experience.

    To pretend that it is a policy in the absence of a national plan, fitted into a strategy that must now take a depression into account, and in the absence of a method of measuring performance, based objectively in achievements and output, is a sham. Just the way we like it apparently, as we do it so often. There is also the cost that always ensues, that of re training, and disruption of workflow.

    As a conservative, and borrowing the work of Newton on momentum, there must be a presumption against change for changes sake. But if it is undertaken with a view to cementing ministers and their semi-royal offspring into power, then it is a misuse of public funds?

    As a libertarian, I vote for mass redundancy, at a price, to enable private organizations to take on the essential tasks, which should be redefined and enable some to disappear altogether. The statute book should be reduced considerbly, freeing up valuable middle class resources to actually produce something that people want to consume or experience. Kings promulgated laws to protect their own interests and secondly their subjects’ interests. As we do not have a king, we merely need articulate citizens to agree what they want. Laws are for the power hungry.

  11. Anyone who thinks there is any benefits from this “reorganisation” is kidding themselves. What we have is a few name changes and switching of deck chairs from port to starboard. Then there will be lots of pointless meetings to discuss the new structures. Finally we’ll have perfect deniability and lack of comparability. That was the old Fas etc. Seriously what happened to Colm McCarthy’s recommendations, where is the major restructuring and the savings?

    @Zhou
    “I expect the same goes for a lot of management techniques, such as calling on on staff to discuss their work. Can the benefits of any of this be measured? Does that mean it is not worthwhile?”

    I worked for 16 years in the PLC world. All these “techniques” were the biggest load of nonsense and a major distraction. Most staff hate them as they’re afraid they’re going to be used against them usually in performance appraisals.

  12. Enterprise has been in control of a lecturer, social worker, teacher, teacher and lecturer since 1995.

    As regards restructuring and costs, Cowen created a taskforce soon after taking office, on the implementation of the proposals by the OECD in its April 2008 report on the public service.

    It’s time to send a mayday call to Limbo!

  13. @Kevin Denny & Con
    The powers and duties of the UK National Audit Office and the office of Comptroller and Auditor General are not that dissimilar. The NAO has a different scale of resources and consequently a somewhat greater capacity for oversight. Critically both organisations have limited formal authority. The NAO has worked hard to enance its informal authority and standing. There are some good studies of how they have achieved this. Anyone familiar with studies of the C&AG in Ireland?
    @David O’Donnell
    A new UCD project, involving UCD’s Schools of Law and Politics and International Relations, and co-funded by IRCHSS and the IPA, is examining Regulatory Capacity and Networked Governance in Ireland. We are investigating many of the issues you mention, but do not currently have the resources to examine the financial sector.

  14. @Colin Scott

    Pity you do not have the resources – in policy terms, this is surely The Issue of the times in this era – and from reading your inaugural lecture – you have some very powerful conceptual tools at your disposal …… which, if applied, could be very enlightening …

    if ever a case for emergency resource allocation to policy_relevant_research in a so_called ‘smart economy/society’ this is one of them …….. and if you are not on it – I assume that no other research group on the island is doing so either – so we simply end of with a patch_work of individual academics/researchers going for poorly resourced quick hits in various journal for career purposes – with zero to minimalist impact on real policy formation.

  15. @ David O’Donnell
    You are very kind about the inaugural lecture, and perhaps a little pessimistic on two counts.
    On the issue of allocating resources to research (and training) on regulation government policy is expressed in last year’s statement on economic regulation:
    2.12 Relevant Departments will also provide, from existing resources,
    financial support for the development of dedicated research and
    training capacity in conjunction with suitable third level institutions.
    This research will be tailored to the Irish regulatory landscape and
    provide for specialised education and training for officials within
    Departments and regulators. Work to identify and put in place
    appropriate training and research arrangements will begin
    immediately.
    So, we may yet see some support for researching and disseminating the research on the questions that interest you (and me) and, according to us, the interests of the country.
    Even in the absence of such initiatives, though we cannot claim to be well resourced, we are nevertheless building capacity for high quality research, doctoral and masters level training, and outreach to governmental and business constituencies in a way that already extends well beyond ‘quick hits in various journals for career purposes’. Watch this space.

  16. @Colin Scott

    ‘Space allocated’ – (-; Governance is an area I’m becoming ever more into – purely contextual reasons of course!

    2.12 … if acted on, positive.

  17. Changing government departmental names achieves nothing constructive. recently, to keep coalition govrnments happy we have had too many changes of names and a confusion of functions, as we will have with FAS. The seperation of the Courts Service, the Prison Service etc. from Justice created extra agencies that had to report to the minister of Justice. Theye were quantos. Ditto the HSE, now talk is of ridding it of all the red tap. In Ireland we are too wasteful and do not work at making departments efficient, its not as sexy as changing names.

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