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International Benchmarking for Senior Public Servants

Senior staff in the Irish public sector, along with politicians, continue (as at February 2012) to enjoy extraordinarily generous remuneration and retirement packages notwithstanding that the country is virtually bankrupt.

Back in 2006, I made a submission to the Review Body on Higher Remuneration on the need to make international comparisons when setting salary scales for senior staff in the Irish public sector. Given that there has been some recent discussion on the need for international comparisons, I reproduce below an abstract from my submission (in the hope that it will not be ignored for a second time). Other blog entries relating to benchmarking can be viewed here.

As a taxpayer and citizen, I wish to formally submit this suggestion to the Review Body for consideration. Basically, the proposed comparative assessment should consider salaries paid for comparable public sector jobs in other countries. This should be a relatively straightforward task for the Review Board or consultants using a combination of the Internet and international contacts open to the Review Board.

In making comparisons based on the normal criteria for such an exercise (experience, knowhow etc.), particular consideration should be given to the following:

  • Economic comparisons based on Ireland's GNI and not its overstated GDP.
  • Relative sizes of population, client and/or constituency bases.
  • Budgets to be managed and discretionary elements over which real influence can be exercised.
  • Span and depth of control in terms of numbers of "report ins" and major grades within organisations' hierarchies.
  • Basic terms and conditions e.g. hours worked, sitting days, leave entitlements.
  • Ratios of highest to lowest salaries within major organisations and numbers of major intervening grades.
  • Performance-related payments and their incidence as "normal" or "truly exceptional" payments.
  • Basis for determining pension benefits e.g. service required, percentage of final pay and basis for increases (cost of living or linked to current pay).

I wish to respectfully suggest that, for the Review Body to do a professional job, such a survey is critical and its finding should be used, alongside domestic private sector comparisons, to help determine appropriate salaries for top public sector posts. Indeed, there are good grounds for suggesting that an international comparison would be far more relevant than any comparison with the private sector on account of the uniqueness of most public sector jobs and their isolation and insulation from "market" forces that apply within the private sector.

Finally, given that virtually all the data needed for the international comparison already exists in the public domain, the proposed study should be constructed so that, in the interests of accountability and transparency, the full results can be published by the Review Body. This will enable taxpayers to see for themselves that remuneration of our senior public servants is adequate, equitable and, by international standards, reasonably competitive.

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