Reports published in the name of transparency only serve to obfuscate

By February 21, 2017 No Comments

Much of what they contain is just a lot of “old guff”

I constantly wonder about the objective of much – if not most – of the constant stream of strategies and reports issued by government departments and their agencies.

I am all for openness and transparency but I just get the feeling that this is not the aim of all those glossy publications, produced at great cost and frequently complete with innumerable graphs, complicated diagrams and clever graphics.

I also wonder at the audience at which these shiny publications are aimed.  Presumably, they are destined for the organisations’ political masters and the general public – on whom they depend, at some remove, for their ongoing funding.

Now from my slight knowledge of politicians, I just don’t think they have the time or the inclination to plough through endless pages of verbiage accompanied by complicated graphs and diagrams and even less to appreciate endless mission statements, organisational values and internal strategies.

I think politicians would like to get a few pages stating what has been accomplished in the previous year with the money voted by the state, the organisation’s plans for the coming year and the cost of these plans.

Since I am a great believer in having a vision and strategic and action plans for the future, I think that perhaps one page might also be devoted to those three important areas.

As for the other audience for these type of reports, the great public, the vast majority will have neither the time nor the interest to read endless tomes, too often couched in some kind of strange management speak and many devoting pages to explaining how wonderful and caring the particular organisations are, how important the readers are to them, the organisations’ deep commitment to the public and how they are strategising, planning, working and monitoring to make sure the public receive the very best  services.

As far as I can see many of these reports make no contribution to the enlightenment of the nation.  In short, much of what they contain is just a lot of “old guff,” as they would say down in the Golden Vale and a monumental waste of the time of the personnel engaged in it. I realise that most organisations are required to produce an annual report to give account of their stewardship but using this platform to boggle the minds of the nation is a futile exercise for everybody.

And now of course there is the truly ridiculous regulation that compels all state agencies to translate all their documents in Irish (at enormous cost) – and I say this, as a strong believer in the Irish language.

And while I’m on the subject of government agencies, isn’t it going on six years now that in the run up to the general election Fine Gael promised to abolish 145 quangos?  Life’s too short to detail the circus of abolition/merger/new formations which followed this excellent idea, but I would reckon that, despite all the shenanigans since, there has been virtually no reduction in the overall numbers.

The HSE is certainly not immune to these criticisms. Its National Service Plan runs to 72 pages and I reckon I am not the only one to believe that many of these are wasted in unnecessary descriptions of how it will work in line with existing strategies and high level aspirations for the delivery of services (which I would expect to be a given).

On the other hand, it’s not so easy to find out some of the financial details of the HSE spending from the same National Service Plan.

For example, I couldn’t quite work out myself if the HSE is actually getting an increase or a decrease in funding this year.

The Plan says that it is getting €13,948.5 million from the Department of Health to finance health and social care this year.  It says this is an increase of €458.6 million or 3.4 per cent in funding year on year.

The important words here of course are year on year, which I presume means that the January 2017 budget is being contrasted with the January 2016 budget.

However, during the year the Oireachtas provided an additional €500 million for health and social care services as part of the revised 2016 estimate.  This presumably brought the total HSE budget for last year to €13,989.9 million.

Doing the sums myself I figured out that far from getting an increase of €422.1 million for 2017, the HSE actually appeared to be suffering a decrease of over €41 million on the total of €13,989.9 million it received last year.

I am sure there are rational explanations available for all this – and maths isn’t my best subject.

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