Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Watchdog ready for allowances probe

Brendan Howlin failed in his attempts to scrap many public sector allowances
Brendan Howlin failed in his attempts to scrap many public sector allowances

The Government's spending watchdog is to scrutinise public sector allowances in the wake of a review which only succeeded in abolishing one.

With Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin admitting defeat in a planned expenses clean-up, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has offered to do the job.

PAC chairman John McGuinness said it already intends to call for a special hospital consultant pre-retirement bonus to be binned.

"The Committee of Public Accounts can do a very good job for the taxpayer by putting all allowance payments under public scrutiny, and that is what we intend to do on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Mr McGuinness said he will allow the committee to question the heads of public bodies on the payment of allowances. It is seeking information from accounting officers on the extent of allowances paid to staff, the rate, their value and the date they commenced. The move follows Mr Howlin's report on the contentious allowance and expenses system.

He had planned to cut the bill by 75 million euro this year but admitted failure, claiming only one of 1,100 allowances for existing staff could be scrapped - a 218 euro representational allowance for staff attending European Union meetings. That saved 3.5 million euro.

Instead, he targeted the scrapping of a third of all allowances for new entrants. Unions have been angered over the manner of the review, with some representatives suggesting that ministers have been unable to agree on scrapping allowances. Impact, the largest public sector union, said no union was consulted or asked for input.

"Early this year, Impact told the department that it would trigger the Croke Park third-party adjudication process if it believed there was a case to be made against any management decision to discontinue any allowance that applied to Impact members," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: "The outcome of the review will provide management and unions on a sectoral basis the opportunity to identify and agree approaches to be taken in relation to the review/modification/abolition of allowances."

The teaching unions ASTI and the INTO insist their allowances are core pay, while the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said their allowances are for specific additional duties for additional specialist qualification.

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