Why don’t we outsource the politicians too?

BILL O’Herlihy’s Beal na mBláth call on FG and FF to bury the hatchet and come together for the good of the country, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. But really, who cares? Does it matter a whit who joins forces when the country is no longer being run by politicians?

By the way, it’s not being run by ‘faceless bureaucrats’ either, as some of you may have imagined, or even by the Troika. The bald truth is that we’re now being governed by faceless businessmen. And we can’t even vote them out of office.

Everything we thought we had control over is being outsourced in the name of ‘efficiencies’ in the public service. We were all for efficiencies back in the day, but what we really wanted was less red tape, prompt service and less lip from clerical workers implementing the rules. The last thing in the world we wanted was to hand it all over to what IBEC describes as “external service delivery”. This, incidentally, is not to be confused with privatisation.

Even the most sacred public services are being outsourced to private companies now, and the scary thing is that we don’t even know who we’re dealing with most of the time. For me, it all came to a head the other day when someone I know was randomly selected for a review of his medical card – supposedly by the HSE. He’s over 70 and well within the income limits for a medical card. In any case the expiry date on his current medical card is 2018. Nevertheless, he now has to fill in a form with all his details and return it to a ‘Box Number’ in Dublin, if he wants his medical card renewed.

The trouble is that he doesn’t know what lies at the end of the box number. For all his knows it could be a gang of scam agents trying to get at his savings. I told him not to be letting his imagination get the better of him, and in the meantime I’d try to find out who resided at the box number mentioned. The real problem, of course, is that he can’t argue with a box number.

He’s one of those people who are forever ranting about the inefficiencies of the civil service. He liked nothing better than to have a fight with a public servant over the phone and brag afterwards about how he had put him in his place. Well, he should have been more careful about what he wished for, because a bout of shadow boxing is really all he can indulge in from now on.

The long and the short of it, however, is that I failed miserably in my efforts to find out who, or what, was assessing his right to a medical card. The HSE, at the best of times, is the epitome of official secrecy, but it would have been easier for a woman to infiltrate the stonemasons than to crack this one. The neighbour told me not to worry: he was going to Michael Lowry to get it sorted out.

I have to assume myself that the job has been outsourced. The HSE is becoming notorious for outsourcing, which strikes me as strange, seeing that the HSE itself was abolished over a year ago. The whole health service could be outsourced for all I know.

Outsourcing, in case you haven’t guessed by now, is all about cost cutting. Private industry can get people to do the job for much less than the cost of a public servant. But SIPTU has done its own sums and reckons that outsourcing is costing the HSE much more. It seems that while the person doing the job may be doing it for less, the company employing him, or her, may not be quite so accommodating.

IBEC, on the other hand, regards outsourcing as the answer to all our prayers. Earlier this year, the business concern suggested adding some elements of crime investigation as well as passport control to the growing list of outsourced public services. In the opinion of IBEC “any areas of function for which outcomes or outputs can be specified, should be considered for external delivery, whether they are seen as core or non core, front office or back office.” Before we know it, we’ll be outsourcing the Budget to a firm of accountants, and some company specialising in the compilation of electoral lists will be disenfranchising me on the grounds of suspected anarchic tendencies.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t like being ruled by market forces. Some of them, I fear, are already displaying anti cultural traits. One public job centre I saw recently, offered advice on compiling CV’s (sic)). The service must have been outsourced because surely no self respecting civil servant would have sacrificed literacy with such abandon.

Also, although civil servants themselves have been retreating behind grilled windows and letting the phone ring out more frequently in recent times, public service for the most part is about human contact and communication, something that outsourcing isn’t even equipped to provide. I know the country is broke, and I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m starting a campaign here and now, for the preservation of civil servants, including their tea breaks and their increments. Compared to the alternative, they’re worth their weight in gold.


Back to the top of the page