Planning and good leadership key to successful Croke Park reforms

Thursday 08 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 (Thursday).

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 is dealing with 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.