In addition the appendices have been simplified and a new one added to show the surpluses or deficits on the different services for the five most recent years.
To facilitate comparisons within the current Estimate the detailed provisions for last year—including the Broadcasting expenditure provided by Supplementary Estimate — have throughout been brought into line with the new format. On page 265 of the Estimate volume there is a key to the various changes involved.
I hope that Deputies will find the new look of the Estimate generally satisfactory. To me, at any rate, it seems to give a better over-all view of things.
The net Estimate amounts to £11,011,500 being a gross total of £14,348,518 less Appropriations-in-Aid of £3,337,018. The net provision represents an increase of £410,500 on the comparative total for 1960/61.
After these general observations I may now comment briefly on the various sub-heads which show a variation of £10,000 or more:—
Salaries, Wages and Allowances:
The chief factor in the increase of £196,800 is a rise of 258 in the number of staff; they are mainly needed to cope with the increased work in the telephone service.
Travelling and Incidental Expenses:
The major part of the increase of £10,000 is due to the extra provision for travelling and subsistence resulting from the increase in engineering staff.
Accommodation and Building Charges:
Of the increase of £25,845 just over £10,000 is included for the rental of extra cross-channel telephone circuits and a similar amount is needed for increased user and increased cost of electricity.
Conveyance of Mails:
The increase of £32,000 is due to higher payments for rail conveyance of letter and parcel mail partially offset by a decrease in payments for second class air mails.
Postal and General Stores:
The increase of £11,500 is due to greater purchases of uniform materials for other Government Departments.
Engineering Stores and Equipment:
The increase of £298,550 is explained principally by the growth of the telephone system which necessitates greater expenditure on direct purchases of stores and equipment and on works performed by contractors. In addition there is an increase in the provision for civil aviation equipment.
Telephone Capital Repayments:
This subhead provides for the annuities which repay to the Central Fund the capital advanced for the development of the telephone system. The increase from year to year—the present figure is £112,626 more than in 1960-61—is a natural consequence of the continuing growth of the system.
As the abnormally high incidence of known Savings Bank etc. losses which applied last year does not obtain this year the provision has been reduced by £11,200.
Superannuation and other Non-Effective Payments:
Increases under practically all heads but principally in new pensions and in additional allowances made up the increase of £35,300.
Grant equivalent to Net Receipts from Broadcasting Licence Fees (Grant-in-Aid):
As the Broadcasting Authority was set up on 1st June, 1960, last year's provision was for 10 months only and this explains the increase of £58,000.
Additional grant under Section 22 (1) (b) of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960 (Grant-in-Aid):
This subhead provides for the non-repayable grant and is £11,600 less than last year.
I should mention that, at this stage, no provision is being made for payments in respect of television licence fees nor for any change in the current sound licence fee. As I stated last year extra revenue from licence fees can be made available to the Authority only by Vote of this House. If the television service opens towards the end of the year a Supplementary Estimate will be needed to pay over the proceeds of a television licence fee.
Salaries, Wages and Allowances:
This covers the pay of civil servants who have not yet been definitively transferred to the service of the Broadcasting Authority. In order to preserve their civil service status and their superannuation benefits they must continue to be paid out of voted moneys. Many of the staff have already been transferred and arrangements for the transfer of the remainder should be concluded in the next five months. Accordingly it is necessary to provide only for the remuneration of the untransferred officers for half the year; this explains why the provision is £160,000 less than last year. The total of the amounts paid, with a superannuation contribution, are recovered from the Authority and brought to credit as Appropriations-in-Aid.
The main items making up the increase of £187,221 are increases of £324,800 in the recovery from Telephone Capital Funds, of £13,000 in the receipts from the Social Insurance Fund, £17,900 for Stores purchased for other Government Departments and £13,000 from the sale of Engineering Stores—partially offset by reductions of £164,500 in the amount recovered for staff on loan to Radio Éireann and £35,000 in the receipts from the Savings Bank Fund.
Postal traffic continues to be buoyant. In comparison with the previous year, both letter and parcel postings rose, the combined increase being approximately 6 million or 2%. Christmas traffic matched that for 1959 which had set a record.
Last year saw the completion of the national scheme for the provision of a 6-day frequency of delivery on all mainland posts and a better all-round standard of service to the rural community. Under the scheme, which had started 12 years earlier, some four hundred sub-post offices have been connected to motor mail routes and more than one hundred thousand households which previously got postal deliveries only on 3, 4 or 5 days a week have been given the benefit of a 6-day delivery. The revised distribution network for mails in Co. Donegal, which I foreshadowed this time last year, is now in operation and has substantially improved the service in the greater part of the county.
The new postal address numbering scheme for Dublin city and suburbs which was introduced in January last has met with a gratifyingly favourable response considering the short time the scheme has been in operation. The cooperation shown by the business community and the general public encourages the belief that the appropriate postal number will quickly come to be accepted as a normal feature of the address of correspondence for the Dublin postal area. Use of the district number makes for quicker and more accurate sorting and reduces the risk of mail being delayed through inadvertent miscirculation to a wrong delivery office.
On the foreign postal side the most noteworthy happenings during the past year were an increase of 18 per cent. in the number of parcels despatched abroad, an acceleration of air mail over the longer routes as a result of the development of jet services, and the introduction of concessionary rates for mail to members of the Irish Contingent in the Congo. In the early stages there was considerable delay in forwarding mail on from Leopoldville to our soldiers, all the more exasperating because the transit to there from Dublin only took two days at most. These difficulties, which of course were entirely outside our control, were due to the chaotic conditions and the inadequate transport in the Congo. However they were remedied subsequently and I am glad to say that the service is continuing to work satisfactorily.
Two special postage stamps were issued last year, one on the theme of the World Refugee Year and the other to mark the founding of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations. As already announced, special stamps are being issued this year in honour of the Patrician Year and to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Aer Lingus.
The decline in public telegraph traffic continued during 1960-61. The total number of telegrams handled was approximately 1,790,000, that is, about 1 per cent. below the level of the previous year. The decrease was due to a fall of over 9 per cent. in the volume of internal telegrams, offset by an increase in external traffic.
The telex service is, however, still growing. There are now more than 140 subscribers, as compared with 116 when I spoke on the Estimate last year. In view of the rapid development of the service—it is now handling over a quarter of a million messages from subscribers a year—it is proposed to place a contract this year for converting the service to full automatic working. This will mean that telex subscribers here will be able to dial directly to any other telex subscriber in these islands and to subscribers in many countries on the Continent. As a matter of interest I should mention that international subscriber dialling of telex calls is already common on the Continent; inter-Continental dialling of telex calls by operators is also a reality; and plans for inter-Continental subscriber dialling are now under study by the International Telecommunication Union.
The loss on the telegraph service as a whole has been steadily reduced in recent years but we now appear to have reached the hard core of the loss. While we shall not relax our efforts the scope for further reduction in the loss is limited.
In 1960 approximately 132 million local telephone calls and 13 million trunk calls were made over the telephone system. The corresponding figures for 1959 were 117 million local and 15 million trunk calls. The apparent reduction in trunk traffic is accounted for by the extension of local call fee areas in August, 1959, when many calls previously charged as trunk calls became local calls. The more appropriate comparison is, therefore, between the totals of trunk and local calls for both years which shows an increase for 1960 of 13 million calls, or 10% approximately, over the figure for the previous year.
During 1960, over 11,800 miles of trunk circuits were added to the system, 8 new automatic exchanges were opened, the equipment at 171 exchanges was extended and continuous service was provided at 29 exchanges. Eighty-three extra telephone kiosks were erected bringing the total in service to 848.
The number of subscribers exchange lines installed during the year, namely, 15,300, was a record, being over 30% greater than the number provided in the previous year and 45% over the corresponding figure for 1958. The big increase in installations was the result of a special effort to clear the waiting list which would in fact have been virtually eliminated if demand for telephones had not also increased by 28% over the 1959 level. The result was that the waiting list at the end of the year at 5,330 was about 700 greater than at the beginning.
In Dublin, most applications for telephones are being met without undue delay but there are a number of difficult areas including the Walkinstown-Terenure area, where a new exchange is due to be opened later in the year, and the Finglas area where there are both exchange and cabling difficulties.
In provincial areas, there has been a marked increase in applications for residence telephones and the principal difficulty in giving service quickly arises from heavy demands for long rural lines requiring abnormal construction work in each case. There are a large number of such cases which cannot be attended to for some time.
Last year I referred to proposals for the extension of subscriber trunk dialling facilities. Deliveries of the necessary equipment are due to be completed shortly and it is expected that the facility will be made available within the next year at Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick, Mullingar, Naas, Sligo and Waterford automatic exchanges.
I also referred last year to proposals for the extension of the automatic system to a number of exchange groups. Equipment for this purpose is expected in the Autumn and conversion of the groups to automatic working will be spread over about 18 months. The groups concerned comprise exchanges in the Balbriggan, Ballyshannon, Croom, Curragh Camp, Kildare, Kinsale, Midleton, New Ross, Roscommon and Tuam areas adding up to some 60 exchanges in all. Planning for the introduction of automatic service elsewhere is proceeding and a number of areas have been selected for attention to follow those I have mentioned.
An extensive programme for the expansion of the trunk network is in hand. Special attention is being given to the heavily-used main routes and to shorter routes which are in urgent need of relief. Ducts are being laid to take underground cable. Carrier systems and aerial cable are being used to provide additional circuits on other routes.
Our first microwave radio trunk route—that between Galway and Athlone—was brought into service recently, and another connecting Sligo, Bundoran and Donegal should be in service in some months' time. Contracts have been placed for similar microwave installations to link Dublin, Wicklow and Arklow and also Waterford, Wexford and Enniscorthy; they are due to be completed within the next year. A similar link between Limerick and Tralee is planned as part of a major trunk scheme to service County Kerry and West Limerick. Special microwave circuits will be provided by the Department for the Broadcasting Authority to carry television programmes from the studios in Dublin to the various television transmitters.
The capacity of the existing submarine cables across the Irish Sea has now been exhausted and pending the provision of additional direct circuits —either by another submarine cable or a high capacity microwave link— we have arranged to secure temporarily a substantial number of additional Cross Channel circuits through Belfast. It is hoped to have these circuits in service later this year.
Last year the House passed a Telephone Capital Act authorising expenditure of £10 million for telephone development. It was hoped that this sum plus a balance already in hand would meet the bulk of anticipated requirements for approximately five years but demand for new telephones on the one hand and traffic requirements, particularly during peak periods, on the other, have been so heavy that I have persuaded the Minister for Finance to let me have £2½ million instead of a pro rata £2 million for telephone development in 1961/62. Even that increased provision will not be nearly sufficient to meet our requirements in full but the amount of capital available is not, of course, unlimited and we would need a very great increase indeed in our allocation to cater fully for the demand we have been experiencing recently. During the first three months of this year applications for telephones have been coming in at a rate which is as much at 68% above the level for the corresponding period two years ago. Moreover, the high connection rate in recent years makes it urgently necessary to devote a higher proportion of available capital to trunk and exchange development without which the addition of substantial numbers of new subscribers to the system would eventually result in congestion and delays to the detriment of subscribers generally. For this reason and also because there are heavy arrears of long rural lines to be cleared we do not expect to reach in the current year the record of installations provided last year so that some further increase in the waiting list can hardly be avoided.
Before leaving the subject of the telephones I should correct an error which occurs in Appendix C on page 264 of the Estimates. In the second column the figure of £3,100,000 shown for Telephone Services Construction should read £2,500,000, making the total £3,731,430 and the grand total £4,007,400.
Post Office Savings Bank deposits for 1960 amounted, in round figures, to £18.16 millions, an increase of £1.42 millions on 1959; withdrawals at £16.03 millions showed an increase of £1.15 millions. Of the withdrawals it is estimated that £1.30 millions were re-invested in Exchequer Stock, Savings Certificates and Prize Bonds. Estimating interest for the year at £2.06 millions the total balance due to depositors at 31st December, 1960, was over eighty-six and a half million pounds as compared with eighty-two and a half million at 31st December, 1959.
Deposits by Trustee Savings Banks during the year amounted to £1.37 millions a decrease of £.11 million and withdrawals to £.68 million, an increase of £.04 million. At the end of the year the balance to credit of the Banks, including interest, was £14.87 millions being £1.12 millions over the figure at the end of 1959.
In 1960 sales of Savings Certificates at £3.31 millions were up by .27 million on the previous year figure and the repayments, including interest, totalled £2.41 millions, being up by £.16 million.
In recording the thanks which the community owes to the Savings Committee for their continuing drive to promote the savings habit I would mention particularly their success in promoting the development of Savings groups in places of employment.
The total number of Money Orders and Postal Orders issued in 1960 was 10.48 millions as compared with 10.82 millions in 1959. On the other hand the total value increased to £22.10 millions as compared with £21.69 millions. This is, at least partly, a consequence of the changes made in March of last year when the limit for Money Orders issued and payable within the State was raised from £50 to £100 and Postal Orders in £3, £4 and £5 values were introduced. In practice the average value of a Money Order rose from £11 12s. to £12 11s. and the average value of a Postal Order rose from 8s. 7d. to 10s. 4d. While the changes are not in any way sensational they indicate a satisfactory trend towards greater use of the remittance services by the public combined with a slight reduction in the Department's handling costs.
Social Assistance payments showed little change in number—they run at the rate of about 16 millions a year— but were up about 14 per cent. in total value.
During 1960 new Post Offices were completed and brought into service at Droichead Nua and Galway and the public offices at Bray and at Ballsbridge in Dublin, were improved. A new District Sorting Office was provided at Churchtown, Dublin, three new automatic telephone exchange buildings were completed and work was under way on eight other automatic exchange buildings.
During the current year it is expected that work will start on new Post Office buildings at Ballinasloe, Wicklow and Youghal, on a District Sorting Office in Finglas, Dublin, and on major improvement schemes at Carrick-on-Shannon, Ennis, Killarney, Limerick and Sligo. It is expected too that work will commence on the erection of about six automatic exchange buildings. Improvements which are being made to Mallow Post Office should be completed this year. As regards the proposed new Central Sorting Office for Dublin I am glad to say that very good progress has been made on the contract drawings. It is expected that tenders for the erection of the steel framework will be invited within the next few months.
The number of staff provided for in the Estimate—excluding those who are treated as on loan to Broadcasting Authority—is 16,579. This is an increase of 258 over last year and is to meet the needs of the Telephone Service, mainly in respect of Engineering personnel and operating staff and to a smaller extent in Stores Branch staff.
The scheme under which officers— such as Auxiliary Postmen—who do not qualify for a pension under the Superannuation Acts because they are part-time, are paid gratuities on retirement has been amended with benefit to the staff. As a result of an agreed recommendation of the General Conciliation Council, the scheme has been extended, on certain conditions, to all part-time civil servants who are directly and personally employed; the means test and the over-riding maximum of £75 have been abolished and the qualifying period of service has been reduced from 15 years to seven years. The net result is that, for instance, any part-time postman retiring on or after 5th May, 1960, who has given at least seven years' service is eligible for a gratuity calculated on the basis of threequarters of his weekly pay for each year of service.
The staff of my Department executes a variety of essential services for the people. Indeed just recently many Deputies may have seen postmen filling an unaccustomed role as official enumerators in the Census, a task which they carried out with zeal and efficiency. As Minister I am glad to express in the House my appreciation of the work of all grades during the past year.
In considering the financial position, Deputies will find useful the new Appendix E on page 264 of the Volume of Estimates which shows the financial results, on a Commercial Account basis, for the five years 1955-56 to 1959-60. I should say that the figures for 1959-60 are not finally audited figures but any correction which may be necessary will be purely marginal.
On such information as is available we estimate that the result for 1960-61 will be a profit of more or less the same amount as for 1959-60. If with all due reserve, I hazard a forecast for the current year it is that there should be little change one way or the other provided traffic continues to show the same trend and that we do not run into any unforeseen increases in our costs. We are, therefore, adhering to the accepted policy that, taking one year with another, the Post Office must pay its way.
Recently some references were made here to the increases made a year ago in postal charges. They were estimated to bring us in an extra £185,000 a year and experience of the year's working gives no grounds for modifying that forecast. But they must be considered in conjunction with the fact that telephone charges were reduced some seven months before at a cost of £125,000 a year. The net increase in charges over the whole range of our services was £60,000 a year which is small in relation to our total revenue of about £10 millions. I do not like increasing charges, any more than anyone else. But the Post Office services are not insulated from the effects of higher staff costs or of increases in the prices of material and equipment and I must stand for the principle that our rates should, wherever possible, be fixed at an economic level.
The House will not, I am sure, expect me to report in any detail on the activities of Radio Éireann since its establishment. My functions and therefore my responsibility for the services provided by the Authority are now limited to certain matters specified in the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960.
On the sound broadcasting side, I authorised an extension in the regular hours of broadcasting on weekday mornings from 9.15 a.m. to 10.5 a.m. The Authority plans to fill in the gap between the morning and lunchtime broadcasts as soon as it can conveniently do so.
As regards the poor reception of Athlone programmes in certain parts of the country, I indicated last year that I proposed to urge the new Authority to give special attention to this problem. I have done so and there have been discussions between technical officers of the Authority and of my Department on possible ways of improving the position. No solution has, however, yet been reached. It may be that the erection of the proposed television transmitter stations, which incidentally will be located on or near sites originally selected for V.H.F. sound broadcasting stations, will help. In any event I hope it will be possible to find some means of improving reception in the areas in question.
Coming now to television, it is hardly necessary for me to do more at this stage than outline the progress made by the Authority towards establishing a service. The transmitting station at Kippure and the studios at Montrose will it is hoped be ready in the autumn. The Authority plans to commence regular broadcasts of about 5 hours a day towards the end of the year. Arrangements for making available in good time the necessary sites, services and buildings for the four main transmitters outside Dublin are already well in hand and tenders have recently been invited for the necessary equipment. The nucleus of the television operating staff—technical and programme—have been or are being recruited. I am sure the House will agree that the task entrusted to the new Authority of providing a nationwide television service and of building up a new organisation for the purpose is an onerous and difficult one and that they have acquitted themselves very well to date.
The standard of line-definition for our television system is a problem of no little difficulty. I should like to emphasise that the only decision which has so far been taken is that the Dublin transmitter station will start transmissions on the 405-line system. That decision was necessary no matter what general decisions might be taken. The question whether we should adopt the 405-line system, or a mixed 405 line/ 625 line and eventually a 625-line system only, has been the subject of special technical examination by my Department and Radio Éireann in recent months.
While of course we favour the best technical solution in principle, there are considerable difficulties technical and practical in the way of our adopting a 625-line standard at this stage. Moreover, it is now not at all certain, even if the difficulties mentioned did not exist, that the present Western European 625-line 7 Megacycle system would be the best system to adopt. The question of a new 625-line standard for use in Europe in the still unused Bands IV and V, which, if agreed, might eventually become a common standard for all the television bands, is due to be considered at an international conference at Stockholm on High Frequency planning in May-June. The present position is, in brief, that there are very serious difficulties in the short term in adopting any standard other than 405. It is unlikely, however, that any final decision will be taken until after the Stockholm Conference to which I have referred.
I will conclude my remarks on broadcasting by reference to a matter which is of common concern to both listeners and viewers, that is, electrical interference. I am inviting certain persons to become members of the Interference Advisory Committee provided for in the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, and with their advice and assistance, I hope it will be possible to issue this year regulations covering the most common sources of interference.