Priority Questions

State Properties

Dara Calleary

Question:

1. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of properties currently owned by the State or under a long-term lease to the State that are currently vacant; the attempts that are being made to fill them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10593/17]

I want to get a sense from the Minister of the policy around properties, particularly commercial properties, leased by the State or owned by the State and empty. What work is under way to tidy the situation up? I do not want a list of every vacant property in the State but a sense of the policy, bearing in mind the need to get value for our property portfolio.

I am sorry the Deputy does not want a full list because that is what I have provided. The Commissioners of Public Works own 92 properties that are currently vacant and these are listed below. The majority of these properties are former Garda stations that were closed as part of the policing plans of An Garda Síochána in 2012 and 2013. The future use of the former Garda stations will be determined once the review of closed Garda stations, currently being undertaken as part of A Programme for a Partnership Government, has concluded.

The OPW has a clearly defined policy relating to vacant State properties that are identified as surplus to requirements. The policy with regard to non-operational, or vacant, State properties and sites, including former Garda stations, is: to identify if the property is required or suitable for alternative State use by Departments or the wider public sector; if there is no other State use identified for a property, the OPW will then consider disposing of the property on the open market if and when conditions prevail, in order to generate revenue for the Exchequer; and if no State requirement is identified or if a decision is taken not to dispose of a particular property the OPW may consider community involvement subject to detailed written submission, which would indicate that the community or voluntary group has the means to insure, maintain and manage the property and that there are no ongoing costs for the Exchequer.

The Commissioners of Public Works have engaged with key local authority stakeholders and other State bodies to ensure that property is not disposed of when it might be deemed suitable for alternative State use. Full details of both owned and leased properties are as follows:

List of vacant State owned or leased properties currently vacant and the plans for each of them.

Tramore Rd Waterford

Former custom store

Waterford

Leased property – early surrender of lease to be explored with landlord.

Bawnboy

Former Garda station

Cavan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballyconnell

Customs Post

Cavan

Future use under consideration.

Redhills

Former Garda station

Cavan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Stradone

Former Garda station

Cavan

Being prepared for disposal. Not subject to the Policing Authority Review.

Broadford

Former Garda station

Clare

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Doonbeg

Former Garda station

Clare

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Inagh

Former Garda station

Clare

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Adrigole

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballinaspittle

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballyfeard

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballygurteen

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

13 Woodville, Blarney

Garda Residence

Cork

Being prepared for disposal.

Buttevant

Garda Residence

Cork

Being prepared for disposal.

No. 4 Crosshaven CoastGuard Cottage

CoastGuard Cottage

Cork

Auction Q2 2017.

No. 5 Crosshaven CoastGuard Cottage

CoastGuard Cottage

Cork

Auction Q2 2017.

No. 7 Crosshaven CoastGuard Cottage

CoastGuard Cottage

Cork

Auction Q2 2017.

No. 8 Crosshaven CoastGuard Cottage

CoastGuard Cottage

Cork

Auction Q2 2017.

No. 9 Crosshaven CoastGuard Cottage

CoastGuard Cottage

Cork

Auction Q2 2017.

No. 10 Crosshaven CoastGuard Cottage

CoastGuard Cottage

Cork

Auction Q2 2017.

No. 11 Crosshaven CoastGuard Cottage

CoastGuard Cottage

Cork

Auction Q2 2017.

Clonakilty

Agricultural College & Office

Cork

Alternative State use being examined.

Glenville

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Goleen

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Knocknagree

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Rathduff

Former Garda station

Cork

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

McCurtain Street

Former Garda station

Cork City

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

St Lukes Former GS, Ballyhooley Rd, Cork

Former Garda station

Cork City

Being prepared for disposal. Not subject to the Policing Authority Review.

Buncrana

Former Garda station

Donegal

Being prepared for disposal. Not subject to the Policing Authority Review.

Castlefin

Garda Residence

Donegal

Being prepared for disposal.

Malin

Former Garda station

Donegal

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Na Brocacha / Cloghan

Former Garda station

Donegal

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

91A George's Street, Dun Laoghaire

Building

Dublin

Being retained for strategic purpose.

Debtors' Prison, Halston Street.

Building

Dublin

Future use under consideration. Alternative State usage being actively considered.

10/11 Castle Street

Building

Dublin

Being retained for strategic purpose.

Ballymoe

Former Garda station

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Corrandulla

Former Garda station

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Kilchreest

Former Garda station

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Kilcolgan

Former Garda station

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Kilconly

Former Garda station

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Kiltullagh

Former Garda station

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Leenane

Former Garda station

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Maam

Former Garda station

Galway

Being prepared for disposal. Not subject to the Policing Authority Review.

Tynagh

Former Garda station & Garda Res

Galway

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Abbeydorney

Former Garda station

Kerry

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballylongford

Former Garda station

Kerry

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Brosna

Former Garda station

Kerry

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Camp

Former Garda station

Kerry

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Castleisland

Former Garda station

Kerry

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Douglas

Former National School

Kerry

Being prepared for disposal.

Moyvane

Former Garda station

Kerry

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Rathangan

Former Garda station

Kildare

Being prepared for disposal. Not subject to the Policing Authority Review.

Castlecomer

Former Garda station

Kilkenny

Being prepared for disposal. Not subject to the Policing Authority Review.

Drumkeerin

Former Garda station & Garda Res

Leitrim

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Glenfarne

Former Garda station

Leitrim

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Keshcarrigan

Former Garda station

Leitrim

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Castletown Conyers

Former Garda station

Limerick

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Edward Street

Former Garda station

Limerick

Property swop with Limerick City and County Council under consideration.

Galbally

Former Garda station

Limerick

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Kilfinane

Former Garda station

Limerick

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Mary Street

Former Garda station

Limerick

Property swop with Limerick City and County Council under consideration.

Mayorstone Park

Former Garda station

Limerick

Property swop with Limerick City and County Council under consideration.

Shanagolden

Former Garda station

Limerick

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballinalee

Former Garda station

Longford

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballina

Former Garda station

Mayo

Being prepared for disposal. Not subject to the Policing Authority Review.

Ballyglass

Former Garda station

Mayo

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Bellacorrick

Former Garda station

Mayo

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Blacksod

Former Garda station

Mayo

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Lahardane

Former Garda station

Mayo

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Hollymount

Former Garda station

Mayo

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Navan

Government Buildings

Meath

Future use under consideration.

Enfield

Former ESB building

Meath

Future use under consideration.

Clones

Customs Building

Monaghan

Future use under consideration.

Clontibret

Former Garda station

Monaghan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Corrinshigagh

Former Garda station

Monaghan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Innisshannon

Customs Hut

Monaghan

Future use under consideration.

Newbliss

Former Garda station

Monaghan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Smithborough

Former Garda station

Monaghan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Shantonagh

Former Garda station

Monaghan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Tynagh

Former Garda station

Monaghan

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballintubber

Former Garda station

Roscommon

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ballyforan

Former Garda station

Roscommon

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Knockcroghery

Former Garda station

Roscommon

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Tarmonbarry

Former Garda station

Roscommon

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

New Inn (Tipperary)

Former Garda station

Tipperary

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

No. 3 The Mall, Templemore

Garda Residence

Tipperary

Future use under consideration.

No. 4 The Mall, Templemore

Garda Residence

Tipperary

Future use under consideration.

No. 5 The Mall, Templemore

Garda Residence

Tipperary

Future use under consideration.

No. 9 Church Ave, Templemore

Garda Residence

Tipperary

Future use under consideration.

No. 10 Church Ave, Templemore

Garda Residence

Tipperary

Future use under consideration.

Ballyduff

Former Garda station

Waterford

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

Ardmore

Building

Waterford

Future use under consideration.

Hollywood

Former Garda station

Wicklow

Future use to be considered on conclusion of the review of closed Garda stations being overseen by the Policing Authority.

The Minister of State might be getting a bit confused. Only one Member of this House has a specific interest in Garda stations at the moment, and that is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. The State has been paying rent since January on the Miesian Plaza on Lower Baggot Street. A 25-year lease was agreed but staff are not due to move in until the middle of the year after it has been fitted out. I want to know how much the State is paying in rent, for office buildings in particular. It is hard to understand why we do not have enough office space in Dublin owned by Government and which, with a bit of reorganisation, could be reused.

The Minister said previously that €44 million in annual rent was saved and that a national asset database was being put together to allow Departments to use any spare space. At what stage is the database and when will it be made public?

Those questions were not in the original question and they involve much detail. I made a presentation to the finance committee last week but the Deputy is looking for a considerable amount of information. We will get that information for him as I do not have it to hand at the moment.

I am looking for a sense of what the plan is. Are there areas in the State where empty properties are leased to the State, including to State agencies? Is there a need for property on the part of State agencies in those areas? What work is being done in the Department to root out a waste of money such as this and what is being done to regularise the situation?

The Office of Public Works continually reviews its options regarding State properties and a review is ongoing of the properties we own and lease. Over the past number of years leases on properties have been given up to save money for the Exchequer and I will get the exact details of that for the Deputy. The overall aim is not to have vacant properties but there will be gaps when people relocate. We will endeavour to minimise those gaps. A fit-out is being done of the Miesian Plaza to make it ready for the staff who will be going there.

Public Procurement Regulations

David Cullinane

Question:

2. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to outline the details of the review of public procurement oversight his Department has undertaken in view of the significant disclosures of material non-compliance with procurement rules involving contracts worth €500,000 or more that have been reported by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his annual report 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10495/17]

I am inquiring as to whether the Department has carried out any review of public procurement rules. I have done some research into this issue and as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I can tell the Minister that non-compliance with public procurement rules comes up repeatedly. The Comptroller and Auditor General has reported on this consistently as a difficulty, particularly in the health area. Is the Minister aware of the levels of non-compliance?

Public procurement is governed by EU and national rules.  The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money.  It is a basic principle of public procurement that competitive tendering should be used other than in justifiably exceptional circumstances.

Under Department of Finance Circular 40/02, Accounting Officers of Government Departments and offices are required to complete and submit an annual report, signed off by the Accounting Officer, to the Comptroller and Auditor General in regard to contracts in excess of €25,000, exclusive of VAT, that were awarded without a competitive process.

The circular states that contracts awarded or purchases made without a competitive process should be subject to an internal review by an internal audit unit, or by a senior officer independent of the procurement process. The Accounting Officer, in his or her annual report to the Comptroller and Auditor General, sets out the reason for not using a competitive process for each contract. Current procurement rules recognise that there can be legitimate reasons for awarding contracts without the use of a competitive process, for example, in extreme emergencies or unforeseeable circumstances. Therefore, such procurements may not constitute breaches of the public procurement rules.

The Corporate Governance Standard for the Civil Service and the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies also identify procurement as one of a number of activities requiring special attention in promoting good corporate governance. It is the responsibility of Departments and State bodies to satisfy themselves that they adhere to the requirements for public procurement.

The Office of Government Procurement provides guidance notes, documentation and a customer service function to support public bodies undertaking procurement directly themselves. In addition, template, tender and contract documents have been developed in conjunction with the Chief State Solicitor's office and the Office of the Attorney General to assist contracting authorities involved in carrying out routine, non-bespoke and low to medium risk procurements. These are available on the national public procurement website www.etenders.gov.ie.

Public bodies are subject to examination by the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding their adherence to EU and national rules on public procurement. The Comptroller and Auditor General works with the Committee of Public Accounts in reviewing those accounts on an annual basis.

There are extraordinary circumstances in which Departments may not comply with rules and the circumstances are set out. We have many reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General which flag up a lack of compliance with the rules. These are flagrant breaches of the rules. All those documents from the Comptroller and Auditor General should be examined. It seems that all a Department has to do is flag non-compliance. There are no sanctions or penalties and, as a consequence, there is no change. Unless they are forced to change, we will continue to be told there is nothing they can do. The Comptroller and Auditor General also found that the levels of non-compliance in the HSE were so high that the problem was systemic, after carrying out an audit in 2015 where 30% of the samples were found to be non-compliant with procurement rules. It was systemic not just in the HSE, but right across the system. There is a real problem here and we will see more of this unless we have rules in place that involve some level of sanction.

It is important to understand that the reason we know about these instances of non-competitive processes taking place is because they are completed by the Accounting Officers themselves under this Circular 40/02. That is how we come to see exactly what has happened in this space. We need to recognise that while we should always hope to see competitive processes, EU directives allow for non-competitive processes in circumstances where special equipment has to be procured, and one could understand how that might happen for defence. There might be an extreme emergency and that has come up with regard to emergency fit-out for special accommodation centres, where a change of supplier might oblige a contracting authority to acquire supplies with different technical characteristics. That can come out as well. There might be an opportunity where there could be a bargain purchase available. It is worth noting, despite the cases listed by Deputy Cullinane now and in previous debates, that we have the lowest level of non-competitive procurement in the EU at less than 1% of the €12 billion of procurement undertaken by the State.

Reading from the Comptroller and Auditor General's most recent reports, he states that it should be noted that the level of non-compliant procurement may be higher due to under-reporting. He went on to state that the HSE, for example, does not have adequate systems to capture instances of non-complaint procurement and accepts that it is unreported at this level. He also found that all testing of HSE procurement in 2015 involved testing of procurement in five locations. Some 30% of the samples were found to be non-compliant and in 2014, 47% were found to be non-compliant. He went on to conclude that non-compliance with procurement requirements in the HSE is systemic. Not only that, there were many organisations for which he cited similar problems. The Minister of State correctly says that we are only aware of this because of the Accounting Officers informing us of non-compliance. The problem is that nothing changes because there is no sanction. There are a number of issues here. There is no sanction and there are potentially levels of under-reporting as well. All I ask for is a review. Can we review what is happening here and see if we can get changes? In the health service alone, it amounts to €1.6 billion of the €14 billion spent on health in terms of the purchase of goods and services.

This is constantly being reviewed by the Office of Government Procurement, which is a new office. Its role in this area is to bring about the standards for compliance and the standards to be set for a competitive or non-competitive tender, and to liaise with the contracting authority, which might be a State agency or might be a local authority, about best practice. I spoke earlier about the work that has been done there with the Comptroller and Auditor General's office and the Chief State Solicitor's Office to try to achieve that. As the Deputy will know from his role in the Committee of Public Accounts, it is the responsibility of the Accounting Officer under section 19 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993 to answer for those financial management aspects. There is an internal audit function within the Department that will look at where a non-competitive process has taken place. It is then declared by the Accounting Officer under Circular 40/02. The Minister and the Accounting Officer are then responsible to the Committee of Public Accounts insofar as the Comptroller and Auditor General's external audit of that Department has taken place. That is the mechanism whereby this is reviewed and where accountability is held. The role of the Office of Government Procurement in all this is to bring about these reforms and better standards so that we can see what has been happening to date and we can drive further reform and improvement into the future.

National Planning Framework

Dara Calleary

Question:

3. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the national planning framework and the mid-term capital review will be integrated in terms of approach, objectives and goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10849/17]

The Minister is currently conducting a mid-term capital review and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, when he is not causing trouble elsewhere, is conducting the national planning framework. He is engaged in a relatively wide regional consultation that is provoking all sorts of interesting proposals. Meanwhile, the Minister is pursuing the capital review. What plans are there to integrate the two? The capital review should presumably reflect the finality of the national planning framework in some shape or form in order for the national planning framework to be effective on this occasion, which is a hope we all share.

There is a very close alignment between the new national planning framework and the current review of the capital plan which will be strongly reflected in the Government's capital investment plans arising from the review and decision-making on spatial planning.  Indeed, the Taoiseach, in his recent address to the Institute of European Affairs entitled, Ireland at the Heart of a Changing European Union, reaffirmed that the new national planning framework will be complemented with a long-term, ten year capital plan.

As the Deputy is aware, the review of the capital plan will be undertaken in two separate phases.  The first phase will comprise a focused review of priorities aimed primarily at advising Government, in the context of Estimates for 2018, on how the additional funding of €5 billion committed by Government for capital investment will be allocated for the period to 2021.  This will examine priority areas for investment, consistent with the objectives of the existing capital plan.  

Separately, responding to the direction that the Taoiseach has articulated this area, the review will assess and report on the framework required to underpin a far longer term approach to capital investment and investment in infrastructure.  This is intended to comprise a fundamental review of public capital infrastructure into the future, taking full account of the finalised national planning framework.  It is understood that the first draft of this new approach should be available in April, in time to inform the outcome of the first phase of the review of the capital plan. 

In making their submissions to my Department, Departments have been specifically asked to take into account the emerging position with regard to the draft new national planning framework and to seek to identify any crucial long-term needs that can be anticipated at this stage, in advance of the publication of the framework.  It is envisaged that any suggested new spending contained within submissions will be assessed at programme level against a number of criteria, including specifically alignment with the emerging national planning framework.

I thank the Minister for his response. He spoke about the €5 billion additionally allocated from 2018 to 2021. How much of that is already allocated, for example, for housing? Will that particular allocation reflect the priorities in the 2016 to 2021 capital plan announced in 2015? It is already very outdated in some of its ambitions. For example, it has a broadband speed plan which is already slow compared to current technology.

Second, those areas will be excluded from the growth areas that will be identified as part of the planning framework. What future is there for those in terms of capital expenditure? Are we going to focus all our efforts on connecting the growth centres, excluding all other areas? Will we then allow a situation where we have such an imbalance of population and service and all of the pressure that comes with that not just in this city, but in Cork, Galway and some of the cities that have already been chosen? How are we going to ensure that imbalance does not happen? How are we going to ensure that we get some sort of permanent, sustainable development around the entire island as opposed to just in these growth centres?

In respect of the first of the Deputy's two questions, out of the €5 billion of additional resources, approximately €2.2 billion to €2.3 billion was allocated to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for the public housing programme he announced before Christmas. Approximately €2.4 billion to €2.5 billion is currently unallocated and that will be dealt with in advance of 2021.

On the Deputy's second question, the process I have outlined will allow a review of existing commitments. If there is any situation in which existing commitments have been overtaken by the development of technologies, I am certain that will be dealt with in the review process I have outlined.

On the Deputy's third question, which was on growth areas, the whole purpose of having a national planning framework is to ensure that we have an effective allocation of investment across the entire country. We are talking about the allocation of additional funding. The reason we will be using the national planning framework is to make sure that it is not primarily growing areas such as Dublin that receive all the funding. The very reason this work is being done is to try to avoid the very imbalance the Deputy is raising with me.

I fear that we are just falling into this capital review and that we are ignoring potential sources of funding outside the traditional sources. The policy on public private partnerships is very conservative and not reflective of modern market trends. I am still at a loss to understand the Government's response to European Investment Bank, EIB, funds. I do not want to know that it has opened an office in Dublin. That is grand. It is very well for a bank to open but it needs people to come to it looking for money. We have heard consistently from the EIB that it has funds available at record low interest rates but it is not getting the projects. What is the Minister doing to try to promote projects and to promote EIB funding being used for the capital plan review? What will he do, in terms of the review of the capital plan, to encourage new forms of spending, including PPPs and other off-balance sheet measures?

President Juncker announced in September that he would be willing to discuss capital. We have discussed reviewing capital rules around expenditure. I know Deputy Eamon Ryan has raised the issue with the Select Committee on Budgetary Oversight. What is the Minister doing to try to take that opportunity?

Let us be clear about the scale of the investment of the EIB in Ireland. My understanding is that it has now made funding available to every university in our country and it has made funding available to develop projects like Luas cross-city and the Grangegorman campus of the Dublin Institute of Technology. It has put investment in place to support needed projects in our county.

It has put nothing into energy.

On the Deputy's question on the role of public private partnerships, I am very willing to engage in a discussion on the role of PPPs but let us be clear that a public private partnership builds up a liability that is then contingent on the State balance sheet. It is funding and a loan that at some point will need to be repaid. If the Deputy needs evidence of the challenge that can pose, he should look at the accumulated bill of payments that we already have in respect of PPPs that we have delivered. It is between €4 billion and €5 billion. These are repayments on PPPs that the State now has to deliver.

Part of the capital review I am undertaking includes the need to look again at the role of PPPs and, indeed, deal with Deputies' issues such as the one Deputy Ryan has raised. I am pleased to hear that Fianna Fáil has an open mind on this issue. I would hope, therefore, that this open mind would continue to support, for example, tolling to ensure that income streams are delivered to allow the PPP opportunities that Deputy Calleary has raised to be realised. I am well aware of the benefits and the challenges in respect of PPPs.

Budget Consultation Process

Eamon Ryan

Question:

4. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the role his Department has in the establishment of an Oireachtas budget office to support the Committee on Budgetary Oversight; the appropriate public service grade that should be head of such an office; and the reason for the delay in the hiring of necessary staff. [10846/17]

It is vital that this Dáil is involved at every stage of the budget process, reviewing capital plans. We agreed this less than a year ago. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, at the time said that we should look at what the OECD is saying and bring in the best analysis. The OECD said clearly that we need a budget oversight capability, budget office and economics office within the Parliament to assist in this review process. We agreed to that eight or nine months ago, but nothing has happened since. What is the Minister's Department doing? What is its role? What grade does the Minister think should be head of this office? When will it happen? Why has it taken nine months not to do something that is critical, in my mind, for analysis in the whole economic area?

Of course it is not true to say that nothing has happened. That is actually wrong.

The Minister does not have the staff.

The Government is very supportive of the Oireachtas having an enhanced input into discussions on budgetary priorities.

It is for this reason that the programme for Government contains a commitment to establish a parliamentary budget office following on from the recommendations of very report to which Deputy Ryan referred. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission met with officials from my Department in December last year to discuss the matter of staffing generally. I know that at this meeting the commission agreed to furnish a staffing review to my Department to allow informed consideration of all future staffing requests, including that of the head of the parliamentary budget office.

The Oireachtas submitted this review to my Department on 17 February 2017 and sanction for the head of the parliamentary budget office has now been issued.

What is the grade for the head of that office? My understanding of those talks was that there was a difference between the Oireachtas and the Minister's Department. His Department was insisting the post be at principal officer, PO, level and the Oireachtas wished it to be at assistant secretary level. That was the reason there was not agreement. My understanding from talking to people here is that argument has been going on since last November before the meeting in December, which may have been called to resolve the differences.

Is it true that the Minister's Department felt that the post should be at principal officer level? Does the Minister think that is appropriate? Will that be the level advertised or will the post be advertised at assistant secretary level? I believe it should be at assistant secretary level because we need someone with real experience, clout and stature to lead that important role.

My Department generally has differences with every Government Department it deals with; that is what it is there for. It is there to make sure that there is consistency in respect of staffing and spending decisions. The view of my Department was that the appropriate level for this role was principal officer. The very reason for that was that the equivalent position within the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council is also at principal officer level. That was the rationale behind the decision we made. We have met with the Oireachtas commission in respect of this on a number of occasions and we have recognised the potential role of this office.

My Department has now issued sanction for this post to be at assistant secretary general level because this is an organisation that I want to see set up and done well. This is not a code for me or my Department's saying that every additional staffing request or grading request made will be agreed to. I have a responsibility to make sure that we handle pay and staffing matters in a consistent manner across all Departments. Upon consideration of the issue, I have agreed that the post be at that level and that is the level at which it will be advertised.

I fully agree with the Minister that it should not be code for a free-for-all in terms of every Department getting whatever level it wants, but this is a "Yes, Minister" code to stymie a process that now, for a second year running, has stopped the reform that we all sought to bring in.

We all know the budget process starts now. It will take us several months to carry out an interview process. We will not have the office in place until at least early summer, perhaps the end of June. It effectively means that for a second year running we are not able to do what we set out to do, which was to really get stuck into the budget process. How is it, and I hate to say it, that nothing has been done? I do not know whether the blame lies here with the Oireachtas or with the Minister's Department, but it was agreed that it was critical that this be in the programme for Government. It was written very well in the programme for Government. There was no disagreement on it.

There was widespread support and the Committee on Budgetary Oversight held plenty of hearings. We went into detail on this and brought in English authorities from a similar office. We did all the work and the process stalled. Nothing happened for six months.

The Minister said things are happening. We are only now advertising the post, following a delay of six months which means we will not be involved in the 2018 budget, be properly set up in time for the review of the capital plan and not involved, as we should be, in pay talks and the complex budgetary issues we are facing. Would the Minister not agree that, no matter whether it is the fault of the Department or Oireachtas, the delay of six months is disgraceful?

I am sure buried somewhere in Deputy Ryan's statement is an acknowledgement of the fact that I have agreed to this post being at the level that was requested. It was appropriate that the matter went through scrutiny and debate. The reason for that was that when the organisation is established, I will then be asked by the House why it is costing a certain amount and has a particular grade of office within it. I have made the decision because of the support I have for the establishment of the institution. The post will be advertised very soon, I am sure, at the level that will allow the organisation to do its work.