Planning and good leadership key to successful Croke Park reforms in Teagasc

Thursday 8th March 2012

Early planning, good leadership and staff involvement have helped
Teagasc achieve Croke Park reforms, with annual savings of over €680,000
and a 25% reduction in staffing, while meeting an 80% increase in
demand for training places, according to a paper presented at a major conference today.

The expansion of Teagasc training services has been achieved through
internal staff redeployments, a 15% increase in teacher hours, use of
external providers, a higher student-teacher ratio, and limited
recruitment of trainers within reduced overall staff numbers.

Meanwhile, its advisory service continues to serve 45,000 farmer
clients despite a 36% drop in the number of frontline advisors. This is
being made possible by administrative staff taking on new roles, a move
from 1:1 advisory work to discussion groups, internal staff
redeployments, increased use of remote working, and the outsourcing of
some non-core work.

Speaking at New Frontiers in Industrial Relations, the annual
conference of specialist journal Industrial Relations News, IMPACT
national secretary Matt Staunton said other public service organisations
could learn from the agriculture and food development authority’s
approach to public service reform, which will see further reductions of
almost 200 staff between now and 2014.

“It’s a living example how Croke Park can facilitate organisations to
meet severe downsizing, with equally demanding reform and
reorganisation aimed at protecting core services as staff numbers
fall,” he said. Mr Staunton said Teagasc reforms had been characterised
by:

  • Good and early planning

  • A clear service rationale for change, which resonates with staff

  • Good leadership, with the number of directors halved from six to three

  • The development of agreed protocols for the implementation of specific changes like office closures

  • Consultation and agreement with unions

  • Targeted, voluntary early retirement and redundancy schemes

  • Using Croke Park tools of flexibility and redeployment while respecting the staff protections in the agreement.

“The organisation also gained credibility by acknowledging that
downsizing on this scale has consequences for service users. Students
experience bigger classes; farmers must travel further for
consultations, which are less likely to be on a 1:1 basis; and so on.
Rather than pretending this isn’t happening, the organisation is
focussed on achieving quality outcomes for service users and meeting
increased demand through reconfiguration,” he said.

Mr Staunton said Teagasc unions and management had not “hidden”
behind Croke Park. “Instead we have actively used the agreement as a
tool to solve problems and deliver savings and reform on a scale, at a
speed, and with a level of cooperation that would have been unthinkable
without the agreement.

“Croke Park is often criticised for being too slow in the delivery of
change. But this case demonstrates that time invested in getting
service configuration right, clearly communicating what you’re doing and
why to staff and service users, and bringing staff and their
representatives along in the change process, is time invested well,” he
said.

Teagasc staff reductions are being achieved through a mixture of
natural wastage, redeployment of over 100 staff to other organisations
under Croke Park arrangements, and targeted voluntary early retirement
and redundancy schemes that have seen 84 staff (55 “full-time
equivalents”) leave the organisation. Fifty staff have also been
redeployed within the organisation.

Teagasc currently employs some 1,180 staff. This will be further
reduced to 993 by the end of 2014 and a 37% reduction from the 2008
staffing level of 1,574. Teagasc staff numbers were stable during the
boom years when training services were downsized to reflect falling
demand.

Government plans will see an 18% staff reduction in semi-state sector
organisations, compared to around 11% in the mainstream public service.