I propose to take Questions Nos. 201 and 208 together.
The Government decided on 8th July last that no further expenditure on the acquisition of accommodation for decentralisation should be sanctioned pending detailed consideration by the Government of two reports: one from the Decentralisation Implementation Group's report on the feasibility of phased moves by the State Agencies; and one from the Implementation Group of Secretaries General on the governmental and cross-Departmental issues arising from the need to provide facilities for Minister, Ministers of State and officials while in Dublin on business. As part of the Decentralisation Programme announced in December 2003, it was decided that 250 staff of my Department would decentralise to Carlow. At that time, it was also decided that four of my Department's Agencies — FÁS, National Standards Authority of Ireland, Health and Safety Authority and Enterprise Ireland — were to decentralise to Birr, Arklow, Thomastown and Shannon respectively.
The following is a summary of the progress, to date, with regard to the decentralization programme for my Department and Agencies. Obviously further progress in regard to these moves is subject to decisions of the Government which will be announced following consideration of the reports referred to above.
My Department has been making good progress in the relocation of the required 250 posts to Carlow under the Government's Decentralisation Programme. The following business units/Offices of my Department are earmarked for decentralisation:
Companies Registration Office/Registry of Friendly Societies;
National Employment Rights Authority (NERA);
Redundancy Payments Section;
Insolvency Payments Section.
No staff from my Department were decentralised by the original deadline for the completion of the plan of December 2006, as announced by the Minister for Finance in December 2003. However, officials of my Department, in consultation with the Department of Finance and the OPW, as well as decentralising staff and Business Units, opened an advance office in Carlow on July 30th 2007. The number of staff in this decentralised advance office is 100. The number of staff relocated from Dublin is 61, which is 61% of the total. As well as staff already decentralised, there are 48 staff within my Department due to decentralise when the substantive move takes place, with a further 47 Carlow-bound applicants yet to be assigned from other Departments.
With regard to the property side of the Department's move, the OPW completed the purchase of a site in Carlow town centre for the construction of my Department's permanent office in Carlow. My colleague Minister of State Noel Ahern TD, announced on 13th December 2007 that the OPW has invited The Macquarie Partnership as the consortium to become the ‘Successful Tenderer' in respect of this decentralisation project. This forms part of a major PPP project, which also involves the provision of office accommodation for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Portlaoise and the Department of Education and Science in Mullingar.
The formal application for planning permission was lodged with Carlow Town Council on 18th April 2008 and planning permission, with conditions, was granted on 12th June 2008 subject to appeal. The Office of Public Works has since advised that two objection lodged against the planning permission have been referred to An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála website indicates that the appeal cases are due to be decided by 10 November 2008. In light of this, it is difficult to provide a target date for completion of construction of the permanent office which appears is unlikely to happen before last quarter 2010.
Since the Government Decentralisation Programme was announced in December 2003, six Agencies under the aegis of my Department are due to decentralise or have already been decentralised, as follows:
Health and Safety Authority
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is to move 110 posts to Thomastown, Co Kilkenny as part of the decentralisation programme. In anticipation of the move to Thomastown, the Authority established an interim office in Kilkenny city in August 2006. As at 31 December 2006, a total of 15 staff had relocated to this office and 7 of these staff relocated from the Authority's Dublin office. To date a total of 27 staff have decentralised to the Authority's interim office in Kilkenny city. Of the 27 staff in that office, 6 staff have relocated from the Dublin office and the remaining 21 staff have been assigned to Kilkenny on recruitment to the Authority. With regard to the Thomastown site, the Office of Public Works has identified a site in Thomastown and the contracts for the sale of the site have been exchanged. The sale is at an advanced stage but has not yet been completed. No premises occupation date has yet been agreed with the OPW.
Under the Government's decentralisation programme the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) is due to relocate to Arklow, Co. Wicklow. The number required to decentralise from the NSAI is 132. No staff from the NSAI has transferred to Arklow to date. The current NSAI implementation plan anticipates a target date of April 2009 as the completion date. The accommodation requirements for the NSAI in Arklow will be addressed by the OPW. To date no progress has been made in identifying or securing suitable office accommodation in the Arklow area.
Under the Government's decentralisation programme, FÁS is due to transfer its Head Office including some 383 posts to Birr, Co Offaly. The original proposal was for 250 staff to transfer. FÁS has completed the purchase of a site of approximately 5.59 acres in Birr, Co Offaly with a view to the construction of a permanent decentralised location. A planning application to allow development of the site is currently being progressed. In the meantime, FÁS has leased a floor of a building within the Birr Technology Centre to accommodate staff in the decentralised location pending the completion of a permanent Headquarters. There are currently 23 Head Office staff based in the temporary premises, which has a capacity for approximately 40 staff; of these, 9 were recruited directly to the location, 7 moved from Dublin and 7 moved from locations other than Dublin. Two staff had decentralised from Dublin to Birr by December 2006. FÁS' target date for completing the move to Birr is 2009.
Enterprise Ireland (EI) is to move 300 posts to Shannon under the decentralisation programme announced in 2003. To date, no persons have been relocated to or from Enterprise Ireland under this programme. Progress on the full transfer of EI's HQ to Shannon, within the Government decentralisation programme, will be influenced by factors (many exogenous to EI) such as the level of interest in the Shannon location expressed by CAF applicants and by progress made in discussions at a central level on various issues central to Agency decentralisation. In terms of acquiring a building, Enterprise Ireland, working closely with the Office of Public Works (OPW) has identified, but not yet acquired, a preferred site for the construction of a suitably sized new HQ building in Shannon. The preferred site comprises 13-acres owned by Shannon Development. In co-operation with Shannon Development and the OPW, the site was valued and a feasibility study carried out. The site occupies a prime position in Shannon and is considered suitable for a major landmark building or civic structure.
National Consumer Agency (NCA)
The National Consumer Agency (NCA) was formally established on 1st May 2007 and inherited the functions of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs (ODCA). The Government agreed that the Agency should have a headquarters in Cork City. The Department of Finance has granted sanction for an overall complement of 80 members of staff. The NCA expects that there will be a significant turnover of staff as many of the existing staff, who formerly worked in ODCA and are on secondment from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, return to the Department. Decentralisation plans are being progressed with a view to the Agency relocating to Cork in the course of 2009. The Agency has forwarded details of its accommodation requirements to the OPW. Five staff have been recruited on the basis of relocation to Cork. However no relocations have occurred to date.
Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA)
In the case of the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA), a decision was made prior to its establishment that it would be located in Naas, Co Kildare. Having been established in December, 2005 it moved to new offices at Naas, in January 2006. All IAASA staff have been based in its offices in Naas since its establishment, and as such the Authority is fully decentralised.