Public Service Performance Report 2018: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

I remind members and delegates to turn off their mobile phones as interference caused by them affects the transmission and recording of the proceedings.

From the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform I welcome Mr. Ronnie Downes, assistant secretary; Mr. John Burke, principal officer; and Ms Caroline O'Loughlin, assistant principal. We are considering the public service performance report 2018.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I thank the delegates for their attendance and invite Mr. Downes to make his opening statement.

Mr. Ronnie Downes

It is a pleasure to appear before the committee. I thank it for the invitation to present and discuss the public service performance report 2018 which was published today and copies of which have been distributed to members. We will be happy to answer questions the committee may have about the report or performance budgeting more generally and its role within the overall public expenditure framework.

The report places in the public domain a wide range of qualitative and quantitative indicators across all areas of public expenditure, with a view to promoting an evidence-based discussion on the impact and achievements of public spending. Of course, the relevant line Departments are best placed to go into the minutiae of issues in particular Departments and specific performance indicators, but we will do our best to give a flavour of what is dealt with in the report.

In June 2016 the Government in its submission to the Select Committee on Arrangements for Budgetary Scrutiny committed to the publication of an annual performance report by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform at the end of quarter one in 2017. The public service performance report 2016 was duly published in April 2017. The 2017 report was published in April 2018, while the report for 2018 was published this morning.

The objective of the report is to build on the existing elements of the performance-based budgeting initiative and move beyond a focus on how much public money is being spent to see what is being achieved with public spending and to create a space in the budgetary process for performance dialogue and a tool for parliamentarians to engage with various departmental and ministerial counterparts. Although performance information is currently provided alongside financial information in the Revised Estimates Volume, REV, produced in December, outturn information for the current year cannot be provided owing to the timing of the REV publication. This means that committees may not have the relevant information to allow them to assess performance in the most recent year in a timely fashion.

The performance report attempts to address this shortfall by providing quantitative information on what was delivered with public funds in 2018. That is what we are trying to achieve. This will create an opportunity for meaningful dialogue between Ministers and the relevant sectoral committees on Government performance. The information provided in the report is intended to assist the relevant committees in tracking progress in respect of the outputs and outcomes of the key Government strategies.

The performance report also aims to support an enhanced focus on performance and delivery more generally by presenting relevant performance indicators in a dedicated, focused document, where all the information is brought together in one place. Ideally, this would enable committees to make best use of the time available for reviewing performance measures across the different areas.

I will now comment on equality budgeting. The performance report document integrates an update on the equality budgeting initiative. The equality budgeting pilot initiative was implemented in 2018, identifying six equality objectives and an update on the pilot was included in last year’s performance report. To build on the momentum achieved in the pilot the Minister for Finance announced in his Budget Statement last October that he would broaden the scope of equality budgeting to further develop the gender budgeting elements at its core, and to broaden its scope to other dimensions of equality and inclusiveness, such as poverty, socio-economic inequality and disability. As part of this development, an appendix on equality budgeting was included in Revised Estimate Volume, REV, 2019 in December, in which an equality budgeting framework was outlined, to form an organisational frame of reference for how this information should be presented. It identified nine themes that were selected to best align with the established Government strategies of equality. The themes identified allow for a sector by sector examination and highlight areas which need attention. In addition to the original six equality objectives identified in the pilot, which we call phase 1, a further eight equality objectives have been added for 2019, referred to as phase 2. This means that nine Departments are now actively engaged with equality budgeting and an update on the progress of each of the objectives is set out in Part 3, which is at the back of the performance report. However, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform needs to move beyond the piloting phase of this initiative and promote a mainstreaming of this approach as a policy frame of reference, a policy instrument to be employed across all spending areas of the State. That is what we propose and we will be looking for input and insights from the committee as to how best to do that. To assist the Department in moving forward on this initiative, an equality budgeting expert advisory group was established last year to assist with the roll-out of equality budgeting, drawing on a range of independent, critical and academic perspectives to shape and lend momentum to the public service-wide initiative. The expert group has met several times to date and have brought very positive momentum to the project.

Building on these developments, the Department of Justice and Equality, which is represented today, has worked closely with us and has commissioned the OECD to undertake a policy study of equality budgeting in Ireland to take stock of the actions taken by the Department to date to mainstream equality considerations as part of the budget process. The OECD study also aims to provide options and recommendations on future directions for equality budgeting in Ireland, in light of international experience, including experience in gender budgeting. A delegation from the OECD is expected in the coming weeks and its report should be finalised in advance of the October budget and could feed into our budgetary deliberations.

I will now address our next steps. We have an ambitious work plan in place for both the performance budgeting policy and the expert advisory group on equality budgeting in the coming year, which aims to maintain the momentum achieved to date and advance this work. Some of the key challenges we plan to address include levels of awareness and engagement in the initiative, data gaps that hamper getting clear indicators, and broadening the number of participating Departments. to make this a mainstream initiative.

As this is the third year of the public service performance report, it is timely to explore and get feedback on whether the format can be enhanced and refined as we move forward. This process will likely involve consultation with Departments and seek to have better linkages between, for example, the ongoing work on the spending review and the broad range of analytical papers that are produced by the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, and the evolution of better performance data and metrics at sector by sector level.

Some questions that require reflection by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform include whether we have the right range of performance indicators, whether they are helpful to the committees in the job they do and whether we have too many or too few indicators. What works for members of the committee in their role as parliamentarians?

We are mindful that in trying to capture much of the activity across the broad range of sectors, we need to be careful that we do not lose sight of the high level goals that our citizens can connect to. In light of these reflections I hope we have put into the public domain a useful snapshot of the breadth of public service activity and shining a light on to particular areas of interest.

We are anxious to receive feedback from Oireachtas Members on how to develop the report so that it best supports the scrutiny needs of committees. We will endeavour to advance this report and adapt it to best facilitate the work of the Oireachtas.

I thank the Chairman and members.

I thank Mr. Downes for his interesting opening statement and his analysis of the report. There is a great deal of information in it and we appreciate that. It will form part of our work as a committee.

I thank the witnesses for coming before us. I think they will get off early. I particularly welcome the developments in equality budgeting and the broadening of that programme. Gender budgeting is an issue that this committee had examined previously and it is a development we wanted to see. We believe we can be an European leader in this area. We welcome the commitment of the Minister in that regard, so we look forward to seeing the developments.

I thank the witnesses for the new information in their presentation.

I propose to suspend the sitting to allow the next group to take their places.

Sitting suspended at 4.39 p.m. and resumed at 4.52 p.m.