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Civil Service posts to rise by 266

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The Civil Service is expected to increase by 266 full-time positions within the next fiscal year.

Budget figures show the Bermuda Government will have an estimated 5,053 full-time equivalent staff by March 2019, up from 4,787 in March 2018.

It reverses an eight-year trend during which numbers were cut from 6,006 in 2009 to 4,707 in 2017, amid fears the bloated Civil Service was adding to Bermuda's crippling debt problems.

Under the One Bermuda Alliance government, a hire freeze was imposed as the Civil Service was shrunk by attrition.

Between March 2012 and March 2017, a period comprising most of the OBA's 4½-year tenure, the number of public sector workers fell by 18 per cent, from 5,767 to 4,707.

During that time, the Government's annual salaries and wages decreased by 6 per cent, from $391.9 million to $366.5 million. Overtime more than doubled from $9.9 million to $20.9 million, but the combined total of salaries, wages and overtime was down 3.5 per cent, from $401.8 million to $387.4 million.

Jeanne Atherden, the Leader of the Opposition, said the Sage Commission had warned that the Government was too large and recommended abolishing any budgeted but unfilled posts.

She said: “This resulted in what became known as ‘the hiring freeze'.

“The Minister of Finance also introduced a voluntary retirement programme, but what was missed by many was the fact that the post that the person filled was to be one that the department could manage to do without for two years as the post would join the list of those posts deemed frozen.”

She added: “As the Government has indicated that it supports the Sage Commission recommendations, it is essential that the recommendation to right size the Government and ensure programmes are delivered more effectively and efficiently is still heeded.”

Jason Hayward, president of the Bermuda Public Services Union and a senator for the Progressive Labour Party, said the cuts under the OBA had caused staffing levels to drop to a 15-year low, poor morale and poor delivery of public services.

Mr Hayward said a voluntary early retirement plan, agreed by Government and the Bermuda Trade Union Congress in 2013, had meant to be for one year but ended up continuing for five.

Under that plan, when a public officer retired, their position would remain unfilled for two years, with assessments then carried out to determine whether a replacement was needed.

Mr Hayward said: “At the time, the unions were looking for creative ways to assist the Government with its cost-savings measures.

“The OBA government had a desire to reduce the public service staffing levels through attrition and the unions felt that the one-time early retirement plan was a creative way of assisting the Government to achieving its targets.

“What was supposed to be a one-time offer spiralled into a systematic multiyear offer that continued until 2018.

“The critical assessments to determine if a post was needed were overlooked by the need to reduce the level of expenditure by the Government on wages and salaries.

“That, coupled with a government-wide hiring freeze, led to departments being understaffed and staff being overworked, resulting in a deterioration in staff morale and the delivery of public services.

“It now comes as no surprise that staffing levels are at a 15-year low.

“The unions have stated on numerous occasions that if a government wants to determine its appropriate overall staffing levels, departments must be assessed one by one to determine the optimal staff level required for the expected service output.

“To date that exercise has not taken place; the Sage Commission failed to do it in their study. As a result, the unions rejected claims that the public service was overstaffed.”

Budget figures dating back to 2000 show the Civil Service reached a peak under the watch of PLP premier Ewart Brown. It climbed from 5,095 in 2007 to 6,006 in 2009, a rise of 18 per cent.

The number was reduced after Paula Cox replaced Dr Brown, with the decline continuing under the OBA.

Bermuda College economist Craig Simmons said the OBA's approach had successfully brought spending under control, but its method of imposing cuts across the board was inefficient.

Mr Simmons said: “The previous government did little to reform the Civil Service, despite having a spending and efficiency commission.

“I think the OBA government correctly entered power in emergency mode, but was not able to transition into reform mode.

“Emergency mode led to across-the-board cuts, which are generally not efficient, because some departments needed more funding, while others deserved deep cuts. But the OBA stopped the bleeding of out of control spending.

“Civil Service reform is an arduous and methodical task, based on a sound analysis of each department's ability to serve Bermuda residents' needs.

“Reform demands that we ask some difficult questions: Is the programme or department serving the public interest? Is the programme affordable? Are there alternatives? Can the programme be provided by another department or the private sector?”

Jeanne Atherden, Leader of the Opposition (File photograph)
Jason Hayward, president of the BPSU (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published February 26, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated February 26, 2018 at 8:03 am)

Civil Service posts to rise by 266

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