St. Vincent’s Hospital: We are spending €215,000 on…. Paperweights?

In most careers, the “long service award” is a recognised and well-worn trope to the extent that “getting a gold watch” has entered the lexicon as a slang term for being pensioned off the job. It should not therefore be surprising that most Irish public bodies offer such awards to their staff.

What might surprise, though, is the cost. In that respect, a tender document issued this week by the St. Vincent’s University Hospital group is interesting.

The document tenders for the provision of long service awards to staff at St. Vincents, and its sister hospital St. Michaels. It envisions three categories of award: For service of 20 years, 30 years, and 40 years.

For 20 years of service, an employee will receive “a Glass paperweight approximately 5cm in diameter and a height of approximately 3.5cm”. Ten years later, the same employee will receive a second paperweight, this time 6.5cm in diameter and a little taller. Finally, if they make the 40 years, an employee will receive a “round Sterling Silver salver approximately 15cm in diameter, complete with stand with engraving.”

So far, so boring. But two things caught my eye.

First, the cost: The cost of providing paperweights (mostly) and silver salvers (rarely, but we’ll come to that) is set to be €214,999, per the tender document.

Second, the volume: The hospital group envisages handing out 120 twenty year service awards annually, 17 thirty year awards annually, and 5 forty year awards annually.

The contract is to run for an initial term of three years. Using the hospital’s annual indicative figures for how many awards will be handed out, that works out at an average cost per paperweight or silver salver of €493. Paperweights – even engraved paperweights – usually cost much, much, much less than that. Look them up if you don’t believe me.

Nobody would begrudge somebody an award for long service in an institution – indeed nobody would even begrudge them the €493 if it was handed to them directly as a thank you. But the cost, since this is public money, does not seem to match up with what the contract requires the provider to hand over. Paperweights and silver salvers in this volume simply shouldn’t cost that much money.

We’re doing a series of these stories about public tenders here on Gript not because they are individually awful, but because they are indicative of the various ways in which public money gets frittered away on things other than frontline services: Last month, I revealed that the Arts Council is set to spend €240,000 on a climate change consultant. Maria reported that Louth County Council is to spend €184,000 on largely unspecified “refugee integration”. Fatima reported that the Department of Agriculture is to spend €50,000 on an “inclusivity tracker”.

Add all those up, along with the €215,000 in this story, and that’s nearly €700,000 of public money being spent on things that are of dubious benefit to the public. And we have barely scratched the surface.

At election time, politicians often talk about “cutting wasteful spending” – especially when times are tough. But the fact is that for a great many public bodies, wasteful spending is now a way of life.

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