Plan to fail


Ruairi Quinn at a Labour Party Press Conferenc...
Ruairi Quinn at a Labour Party Press Conference during the 2011 General Election. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has announced an audit of schools to find out how many sports halls, labs and other facilities exist in various areas. In short, to find out what schools own.

The news comes shortly after the disastrous introduction of the new household charge, a precursor to a full-blown property tax which is being introduced on a voluntary basis largely so the government can find out who is eligible to pay it.

A 2011 census enumerator of my acquaintance tells of being sent to houses that no longer exist, and of having to fit into the paperwork homes that technically don’t exist in any record.

Both these initiatives follow the “loss” of €3.6 billion out of the accounts last year, when the Department of Finance miscalculated the Government Debt by that amount, showing our debt to be two per cent higher than it was.

As the blog NAMAwinelake puts it, this isn’t like losing a few quid down the back of the sofa.

Taken together, these three things beg one big question: What on earth has the State been doing all this time?

It takes around €50 billion a year to run it. Obviously a large part of that is spent on the wages of nurses, doctors, teachers, Gardai and the army, and other services that deal with the public directly (such as the people at the Passport Office, whom I recently found pleasant and very efficient despite a lot of bad press for them in the past).

But it’s probably time for management in large swathes of the civil service to take a long, hard look at themselves.

Every organisation – a charity, a business, even a family – has a dual challenge at all times.

For example, at the Cork Independent, we must produce a weekly product on time every time, but we must also take a long term view and plan strategically for the future, given changing technologies and the state of the economy.

Small businesses have a lot on their plate at the moment just surviving, but they are all required to think long-term as well as short-term – what’s the point in surviving until next week if it’s got all the same problems you’re having today?

Families, the same. Your children need feeding today but some day they will need to go to college. You don’t have the money now, but you’re definitely thinking about how you’re going to get it.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case, at all, in how the country is run. If all those people working in various departments haven’t been spending their time collating data on what the departments actually do, what have they been doing?

Why is there a Department of Environment, Community and Local Government – with a Junior Minister in charge of Housing – if it can’t tell us how many houses there are?

Why is there a Department of Education when, officially, it doesn’t have responsibility for most of the schools anyway, and it can’t tell us what they own?

It’s not like it’s a very big country.

There’s no business on earth that would get a loan – even from the owner’s mother – without a stock inventory. So for the Troika to loan money to a country that can’t count how much it owes or how much it owns, is a bit of a gamble – I can see why they’re nervous about the return.

Published in the Cork Independent, 12.04.12

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