asked the Minister for Finance why the Government's Supply Services Accounts was underspent to the extent of £44 million during the year ended 31 December 1976; and the action he has taken to ensure that this does not recur in the present and subsequent years.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Supply Services.
The system of voted authorisation of expenditure sets upper limits to the amounts that may be spent by Departments each year and accounting procedures are naturally designed to ensure that these limits are not exceeded. However, the number and variety of services financed by voted moneys make it extremely difficult to provide exactly the amount of money which will be spent. In practice, therefore, some underspending is unavoidable.
In the period from 1960-61 to 1976 underspending has ranged from 1.2 per cent to 3.2 per cent of the total of voted services. The amount of underspending in 1976 represented 2.8 per cent of the total amount voted for supply in that year and was, therefore, at the high end of the range. Of the 51 Votes passed, there were savings on 49, for a variety of reasons which are set out in the Appropriations Accounts.
While I have said that some underspending is unavoidable, it is my intention to ensure, by striving for ever more accurate estimation of requirements in settling the Estimates, that Government policy is not frustrated by excessive savings.
Is the Minister satisfied with this process, whereby frequently there is underspending on services that need much more money? Will he consider taking any new initiative to ensure that the spending is carried out in accordance with the wishes of the House?
Certainly I am not satisfied where there is substantial underspending. It indicates in the normal way that the original Estimate was wrong or that sufficient efforts were not made to ensure that the money voted was expended. There are exceptions to that as I am sure the Deputy will appreciate. Sometimes certain unforeseen circumstances can arise and I am excluding such instances. As a general rule I think we could improve the degree of accuracy to which we can reduce the Estimates and I have taken some steps to ensure this. I will examine the question continuously to try to ensure that we get more accuracy in settling the Estimates.