The Cayman Islands civil service employed more staff at the end of 2017 than it did in 2008-2009 at the start of public sector austerity measures enacted just after the global financial crisis, an auditor general’s office report has revealed.

In 2009, there were 3,756 workers in the central government service, according to public sector human resources records. That figure dipped to just below 3,500 people in mid-2015.

However, in December of last year – two and a half years later – that number was back to 3,778 central government employees, the audit noted.

The figures are contained in a recently released evaluation of government workforce management, which pointed out the need for better oversight of hiring and advancement within the service. The report also focused on the effect of various “pay freezes” and other cost-saving attempts taken within the public sector over the past decade.

“The size of the civil service has remained reasonably constant since 2010, while staff costs have increased from $216.6 million to $239.5 million over the five years from 2012/13 to 2016/17,” Auditor General Sue Winspear’s report read.

Personnel costs for the current 2018 budget for central government were stated at $299.6 million. By 2019, they are expected to grow to $310 million.

The audit focused only on the central civil service and did not take into account the operations of the 27 different statutory authorities and government-owned companies that operate outside of central government.

The government lifted its salary “freeze” in late 2016 and eased off a general moratorium on recruitment about a year ago.

However, government’s figures show the growth in staff began well before last year. The central civil service went from 3,484 employees in mid-2015 to 3,600 in mid-2016. By the end of the last year, the civil service staff grew to 3,778 – an 8.5 percent staff increase in 30 months.

Auditor’s concerns

The auditor’s office did not state whether the size of Cayman’s civil service was too large or too small for purpose. It did note government – including the statutory authorities and government-owned companies – employed about 14.6 percent of the total territorial workforce.

Rather, Ms. Winspear opined that government lacked an overall plan for that workforce. She noted that while government ministries and departments have submitted plans for staff costs for the next three years as part of the 2018 budget process, it is not always clear what they are trying to achieve.

“However, this process is largely driven by funding and is rarely linked to a robust analysis of the anticipated staff numbers and skills required to deliver services and outcomes for service users,” the report found.

One example given in the audit focused on the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. In 2017, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne submitted a detailed analysis of what he believed the department would need through 2020.

“The analysis identified the need for an additional 150 police officers over three years in order to change the way policing was to be delivered,” the auditor stated.

The approved budget contained half of what RCIPS requested – 75 police officers. Twenty-five officers were to be added to the department staff in each of the three years between 2018 and 2020.

“It’s not clear how this has been factored into RCIPS workforce planning,” Ms. Winspear’s office noted.

Aging

Replacing an aging workforce is another concern the government service must manage, according to auditors.

As of last year, 17 percent of the civil service workforce was over age 55, meaning they are likely to retire within the next decade.

In the Department of Children and Family Services, for example, nearly 60 percent of the staff were over age 50, auditors said.

“Together with the fact that the department has historically struggled to appoint Caymanians into social worker posts, this could create serious workforce planning problems in the future,” the report noted.

About one-quarter of all RCIPS staff are also over age 50, meaning some may need to be deployed to other duties, auditors suggested.

In all cases, auditors said, succession planning “in the widest sense” is needed across government to make sure departments can continue to function.

“This may mean recruiting non Caymanians, where necessary, to fill business-critical posts or high-demand skills,” the audit stated.