During the recession after the banking collapse of 2008, a number of measures were taken to save money. Piggy-backed on to these were a number of ideological measures that didn’t save much money but that pleased the voters of the bigger government party. Some of these were at the cost of public servants, including the pension levy, the extra “Haddington Road” hours, and the way that the “One Person, One Salary” rule was implemented.

People who sit on state boards are compensated for their time and effort in line with guidelines, and can earn a generous amount. (See: https://govacc.per.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/Remuneration-and-Superannuation.pdf). This is, unless they happen to be employed in the public service. A memo issued in 2011: https://circulars.gov.ie/pdf/letter/per/2011/01.pdf means that such people cannot be paid, and attend only at the expense of their own workplaces.

While the principle of “One Person, One Salary” is fair and appropriate, asking public and civil servants to attend based on their salaries elsewhere introduces a number of disincentives and inequalities.

First of all, the cost of the time spent by the public servant on any boards ends up being applied to the department where they work, which, if analysis of workload is being carried out may make that workplace appear less efficient than it should. This is particularly applicable in health where principles such as activity based costing, or “Money Follows the Patient” are in vogue.

A very real risk exists that the line manager of a public servant will assert pressure on the independence of the public servant, given that state board work is taking place on what might be considered her or his time.

The lack of any financial incentive to drive improvement an innovation, from a class of person who is experienced with how the state and state institutions work is also lost, and may mean that membership of these boards can be limited to former employees, who might not have the same motivation to drive change. They might also lack the insight available from being at the front line

It is also in the states interest that people be drawn from as diverse a range of citizens as possible. Putting barriers and disincentives in the way of 300,000 adults does not support that.

Many employees of the civil and public service have a desire to contribute to society, and that is indeed a motivating factor in where they work. These are exactly the kind of people that are needed to drive change on state boards.

Take for example, someone on a Senior Pharmacist Grade in a HSE or Hospital role, earning €63-74K. If they were taking their own time, they would receive €8,000 a year if they were elected to the board of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, where they would be expected to contribute 18-20 days work. However, as public service employees, they would receive between €5,500 and €6,500 for this same work. In addition, they would have to convince their employers that they should be relieved of 18-20 days at their main workplace, which would be accounted for in the estimates and budgets for that hospital or workplace, rather than for the society. This could means that expertise on the board of that regulator might be skewed towards owners of retail pharmacy chains, and away from people who might have expertise at the thin end of the wedge, dealing with medication safety first hand with patients admitted to hospital, an inevitable consequence of adverse drug reactions from pharmaceuticals.

An even more pointed example might be a porter in a hospital, (€27-33K) being appointed as a staff representative to a board of a hospital, and representing some very hard working rank and file members. They would receive about half what the pharmacist was getting, but might still be sitting on a board with people being paid 3 times that amount for the same work.

A more equitable solution would be to allow public service staff to take an appropriate amount of unpaid leave to attend any board appointments, and then allow them to be paid the appropriately while on those boards. Pensions and allowances could be applied as appropriate, and the principle of one person, on salary is maintained.