I will introduce the Vote and the other chapter.
The appropriation account for Vote 29 - Communications, Climate Action and Environment had total gross expenditure of just over €500 million in 2017. This was distributed across six expenditure programmes of varying size. Figure 1, which will appear on screen, indicates how the expenditure under the Vote was divided between the programmes. Members may wish to note that, in addition, the Department is responsible for management of the environment fund, which is funded from levies on the landfill of waste and on plastic bag usage and accounted for separately from the Vote.
The largest expenditure programme was in relation to broadcasting, accounting for €254 million or more than half of the total spent in 2017. That programme was substantially funded by television licence fee receipts, which totalled just over €215 million in 2017. Most of the expenditure under the programme was in the form of grants of almost €185 million to RTÉ and €34 million to Teilifís na Gaeilge. A total of €14 million was paid into the broadcasting fund and just under €12 million was paid to An Post in respect of its costs for collecting television licence fees on behalf of the Department.
The Department spent €111 million on the energy programme in 2017, of which €90 million was expended on energy efficiency programmes promoted by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. This was a substantial increase from €66 million spent in 2016.
The Department spent over €50 million on the environment and waste management programme in 2017, more than half of which went to support the operations of the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the Department spent over €33 million on environmental projects and initiatives from the environment fund in 2017.
Expenditure on the communications programme in 2017 was €31.5 million. This included expenditure on the procurement process for the national broadband plan.
The Department spent just over €30 million under the inland fisheries programme, mainly in grant support for Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Finally, almost €25 million was spent on a range of services covered by the natural resources programme. Nearly 60% of that expenditure related to the specialist functions and services of the Geological Survey of Ireland. The net expenditure on the Vote was around €32 million less than was provided for in the 2017 Estimate. The Department got the agreement of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to carry over €6 million in unspent capital funding to 2018. The balance of €26 million was due for surrender.
This brief outline of its 2017 expenditure illustrates that the Department funds and oversees a broad range of functions, public sector bodies or both, including major commercial State bodies which do not receive ongoing grant funding such as An Post, EirGrid, the ESB and Bord na Móna. Given the scope of the Department’s remit, I have included for the committee’s information a diagram which aims to summarise the public bodies within the Department’s aegis, indicating those which I audit and those which are outside my remit.
A key feature of the Department’s remit is the long-term nature of many of the issues for which it takes lead responsibility. The chapters for consideration today deal with aspects of two such issues, namely, cybersecurity and sustainable energy.
The energy efficiency national fund was established in 2014, using funds of €35 million from the carbon revenue levy, which had been discontinued. The fund is not accounted for separately but the Department presents a summary of the results for the fund in note 7.2 of the appropriation accounts. The objectives of the fund are to provide financing to support energy efficiency improvement programmes and measures, as well as to promote the development of a market for energy efficiency improvement measures.
Rather than investing directly in energy efficiency projects, the Department decided to establish a qualifying investor fund, QIF, managed by fund advisers. The QIF pooled this funding with private sector funds. The Department committed to investing up to the full fund amount of €35 million in the QIF. As of March 2018, private investors had committed up to €38.8 million. At the time of the finalisation of the chapter, the anticipated investment in energy efficiency projects had not been achieved.
It was originally envisaged the QIF would invest in projects from its establishment in May 2014 up to May 2017. The shareholder agreement made provision for this investment period to be extended to May 2018, of which this was availed. When the agreed investment period closed, the Department had transferred a total of €14 million to the QIF, including €10.8 million contributed only in May 2018, in anticipation of delivery of projects in planning.
The funds transferred are used to finance energy efficiency projects and to fund the fees and expenses of the QIF. Based on the State’s percentage shareholding in the QIF, the examination estimated that around €2 million of the State’s contribution was used to pay fees and expenses. The value of the State’s investment into the future is not known.
The Department has stated there would be no further transfers from the fund to the QIF and that the balance of €21 million remaining in the fund will be transferred to the climate action fund.