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UK expert assists ahead of Civil Service review

Premier Paula Cox's plan to save millions of dollars with a Civil Service shake-up is underway after an expert came to the Island ahead of a review.

The visit of Chris Cooper, of the UK's National School of Government, set the ball rolling for an assessment to set out the reshaping of the Civil Service, according to the Cabinet Office.

Bermuda Democratic Alliance finance spokesman Michael Fahy last night called for Ms Cox to reveal how she is going to fulfil her promise to save $150 million a year and whether Civil Service positions are at risk.

Meanwhile United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan welcomed the review, saying his party had long been concerned about the operation of the Civil Service.

Mr Swan claimed the Civil Service had been abused by Government Ministers and that the review should cover their relationship.

It's understood Mr Cooper held introductory meetings with key Civil Service representatives and union officials during his trip last week.

Ms Cox has repeatedly stated she will streamline services as part of her savings pledge; in the Throne Speech she promised to make the Civil Service more merit-based and maximise the potential output of the public sector.

The service was last reviewed in 1999, but since then it has had to cope with the introduction of major policies such as FutureCare and child day care.

A Cabinet statement said: “In keeping with its commitment to review Civil Service policies and procedures to ensure best practices and an even more efficient public service organisation, Government has revealed that this planning is underway.”

It said Mr Cooper made a “scoping visit” to meet with Government officials and partners to “discuss the parameters of a further review”.

The statement continued: “Initial discussions centred around a 'Review of the Review', benchmarking progress against the 1999 report and planning a future development strategy for the Civil Service”.

The NSG and Bermuda Government will now discuss a possible follow-up meeting, it said.

Cabinet Secretary Donald Scott said: “It is important to stress that now, and going forward, the Government has every intention of making public statements as issues such as efficiencies, productivity and accountability within the public service are considered, particularly in this current economic climate.”

Mr Fahy told The Royal Gazette: “We are grateful that the Government is being transparent about the process in reviewing the Civil Service.

“It does appear however that the language employed in the statement is a way of suggesting Civil Service cuts in the future, likely in terms of hours worked and lay-offs. We can only assume that part of the anticipated savings of $150 million as undertaken by the Premier will include such steps.

“We believe that the Country can no longer guess where these savings will come from. We again call on the Premier to identify where the savings will come from and announce whether civil service positions are at risk. The people have a right to know.”

Mr Swan said: “The Civil Service review is prudent and the timing good given the recent change in Government. Any steps taken to improve its performance are welcome.

“We have been concerned with the leadership and operation of the Civil Service for quite some time. It is a fact that the Civil Service has been abused by Government Ministers and its integrity brought into question by their conduct.”

Pointing to the Auditor General's 2007/08 report, made public this year, Mr Swan continued: “The source of our concerns lie primarily with multiple Ministers who have exercised authoritarian control, often without regard to rules and regulations that Civil Servants are sworn to uphold.

“It has been, in many instances, an abusive relationship, characterised by intimidation, interference, callousness and disregard for the public purse.”

In his last annual report before retiring, former Auditor General Larry Dennis said Ministers and managers continued to do business with companies that haven't paid their payroll and pension taxes despite Financial Instructions that prohibit them from doing so.

He also said Ministers and managers were awarding contracts without public tendering despite Financial Instructions banning the practice; and that Civil Servants felt it was useless and dangerous to report misdeeds and wrongdoings.

“The Auditor was so alarmed by the level and breadth of Ministerial interference in the operations of Government that he recommended Cabinet Ministers take a seminar in how our Westminster system of government works and a course on good governance in general,” said Mr Swan.

“So while we believe the Civil Service review is in order, particularly in terms of improving efficiencies and productivity, the real focus must be on the Government providing better leadership.

“If the Premier is serious about this, she should make Cabinet relations with the Civil Service part of the review.”

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Published December 20, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 20, 2010 at 7:16 am)

UK expert assists ahead of Civil Service review

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