Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

National Broadband Plan Funding

Barry Cowen

Question:

56. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his Department has undertaken a value for money review of the cost of the national broadband plan; the impact it will have on the on the wider national development plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49186/18]

Is Deputy Cowen ready for action?

I will let the Minister answer first and will add up my time after that.

Under the public spending code, value for money reviews are conducted on existing programmes of expenditure and are targeted at areas of significant expenditure where there is the greatest potential for them to add value and influence policy developments. These are ex post evaluations.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is the sponsoring agency for the national broadband plan, NBP. As the Deputy will be aware, that Department is currently evaluating the final tender received under the existing procurement process. As such, this will be a new area of expenditure. It is the responsibility of the sponsoring agency for the NBP to comply with the provisions of the public spending code. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has conducted a full appraisal of the plan, including an economic appraisal in the form of a cost-benefit analysis.

In respect of the impact on the wider national development plan, NDP, it would not be appropriate to comment or speculate on the NBP at this juncture in advance of the Government having considered the matter.

I hear what the Minister is saying. An evaluation is taking place and it is difficult for him to commit on the cost this will entail, in spite of how long it has been going on and the various reports and controversies surrounding the provision of broadband. As he said during the lunchtime news, 27% or 28% of the population, or 500,000 homes, still do not have access. All they want to know is how much this will cost and when they will have it. A sum of €275 million is committed under the NDP. If it costs more, is there provision within the plan for that sum to be increased? I am also conscious that €500 million has been committed by the European Investment Bank, EIB. If this process were to collapse, for example, and it was to be undertaken by a public body, would the €500 million still be available? Is that sum the full extent of the commitment that has been made by the EIB?

To summarise my questions, is €275 million the limit of the commitment in the NDP? If it is to be increased, what provision will be made and from where? Is the €500 million committed by the EIB the entirety of the provision there? In the event of the existing process being amended, will that €500 million remain committed?

The Deputy is correct regarding how much money is currently profiled for this in the NDP. Under it, I acknowledge that depending on the decision the Government makes, the amount that might be needed for the national broadband plan could increase. We have to make a decision in that respect in the coming period.

If additional funding is put in to fund the NBP, it can come from two different areas. Assuming that we do not increase our level of taxation or borrow more to pay for existing infrastructural commitments, there are two options open to Government. The first is that we could make a decision to put additional funding into the national broadband plan and the national development plan. That would clearly have an opportunity cost and there would be other measures for which that money could not be used. Equally, a decision could be made to move capital around within the NDP to make additional commitments available for broadband.

All of this is premature at this point because, as the Deputy has acknowledged, both the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and my own Department have further work to do as part of the procurement process. On the Deputy's final question about the EIB, I believe it is fully committed to this plan but any additional funding it might need to put into this is a matter for the bank and I cannot speak on its behalf.

However, the Minister acknowledges the EIB has already committed €500 million towards the entirety of whatever process is put in place to provide the national broadband plan. The Government recently published the national development plan with various aspects of it having been launched in recent times and more to come in the coming months. Regarding next year's allocation, it would appear that if the Government put €275 million aside it would be a major error of judgment if that were grossly undervalued and it would impact on other provisions that are made in the national development plan which might not rest easily with many other Government commitments.

On the first question I do not have the exact amount of money the European Investment Bank has committed to the national broadband plan, but I will get the information and send it on to the Deputy.

On the second question, as I said if the national broadband plan needs additional funding within the national development plan, that funding could only be provided in one of two ways: either more money goes into the national development plan overall or we make a decision to reprioritise funding within the national development plan. The latter would have consequences for other commitments in the national development plan.

At this point further work needs to be done to complete the evaluation and tendering process for the national broadband plan which was understandably delayed to allow the work being led by Mr. Peter Smyth to come to a conclusion. I and the rest of the Government will now engage on the next steps for the national broadband process, to which we remain fully committed.

Public Sector Pay

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

57. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of pay negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49531/18]

The status of pay negotiations is that we are in the first year of a three year collective agreement to progressively dismantle emergency legislation, giving individual public servants benefits of between 7.4% and 6.2%, or up to 10% for new entrants hired after 2012.

Unwinding the emergency legislation has been a priority for the Government and we have ring-fenced substantial resources to deliver this. Over the period from 2018 to 2020, some €887 million has been allocated to fulfil our commitments and honour the terms of the agreement. A further €306 million in carryover costs and additional funding will be required to completely unwind the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, pay reductions bringing the total level of resources committed to €1.1 billion.

In addition the public service stability agreement required two further issues to be addressed: new entrants and, where they occur, recruitment and retention difficulties. Regarding new entrants, following my report to the Oireachtas last March, we engaged with the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and negotiated a deal which will see 35,750 new entrants, 58% of the total, benefitting in year one, rising to 78% in year two. All of the current stock of new entrants will have fully benefitted by 2024. This is a fair agreement which manages the €200 million cost associated with the remaining salary scale issues in a responsible and affordable manner. In 2019 the cost of this measure is €27 million. Importantly, by intervening further up the pay scale, at points 4 and 8, this initiative will increase the ongoing attractiveness of public service employment, helping to retain staff.

The Deputy will be aware of the Public Service Pay Commission and its various reports in this area.

The Minister is aware of the threat of industrial action in a number of sectors, particularly the health sector. I note his press release this weekend outlining the consequences of that. While I do not agree with it and find it unhelpful, there is a very small window of opportunity to try to address the ballots currently taking place. I know the Minister will probably disagree with that and will claim he cannot deviate from the pay deal that is in place for budgetary reasons.

However, the Minister recently said that addressing pay for nurses and consultants could compromise the budgetary policy. My argument back to him is that his failure to address these issues is compromising our health service and something has to give. Will the Minister engage with the unions as they have asked for direct discussions under the mechanisms available to him?

On recruitment, between October 2013 and October 2018, the number of nurses and midwives has increased by 10%, or 3,300 full-time equivalents. Since 2011 alone, 10,000 new entrants have joined as nurses and midwives. Significant recruitment has taken place in both those areas in recent years. At this point having negotiated an agreement in good faith with all our public and civil servants, it is not tenable for the Government to make additional money available to one sector but not to another. The reality is that were such a development to happen, it would trigger a set of competing claims that would make it very difficult for any government to manage its public pay bill.

I reiterate my appreciation of the work our nurses and midwives do, but I emphasise that we have a wage agreement and recommendations from the Public Service Pay Commission that I am willing to implement next year.

I acknowledge the recruitment figures the Minister mentioned. However, 2,000 fewer nurses work in the system than ten years ago. While we have increased the number, we are still behind where we were in 2008 and we have a long way to go.

The INMO general secretary has called on the Minister to engage in direct discussions with INMO members on this. I do not believe - I do not think the Minister believes - that nurses want to take industrial action. They feel they are being forced down this avenue and they are trying to reach a compromise solution with the Minister. They are asking for direct discussions within the current public sector pay agreement. There is no harm in accepting that offer of negotiation and at least sitting down to see if a solution can be found. If we do not find it, we are likely to see nurses on strike, possibly as soon as January.

We have a mode and a format for engagement with the nursing unions, which is the oversight committee of the Public Service Stability Agreement. Officials from my Department are key participants within the committee. Through that we have the opportunity to engage directly, for example, with the nursing unions, on any issue that pertains to the Public Service Stability Agreement.

I again emphasise the respect I have for the work our nurses and midwives do in our hospitals throughout the country. Alongside that respect for them, I emphasise the economic consequences that would flow from the issues they are raising. A 12% pay increase alone would cost the health services €300 million. If the health service were to meet the demand for an additional two hours of continuous professional development per individual per week, it would remove approximately 3.5 million nursing hours from our public health service.

The cost of that alone would be €127 million. Those are the costs for the health service alone. From all the experience we have had of collective agreements over many years, the reality is that meeting those concessions would trigger equivalent demands across the entire public service and Civil Service, which would cause difficulty in terms of our ability to run public pay in an affordable way and be able to hire more nurses and doctors in the future.

Departmental Expenditure

Barry Cowen

Question:

58. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the controls in place to prevent Departments from breaching their expenditure ceilings in a given year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49187/18]

Managing the delivery of public services within allocations forms a key part of the responsibilities of every Minister and Department. My Department is in regular contact with all other Departments and offices to ensure that expenditure is being managed within the overall budgetary parameters. The drawdown of funds from the Exchequer is reported on each month against expenditure profiles in the Fiscal Monitor published by the Department of Finance.

As set out in the most recent Fiscal Monitor, total gross voted expenditure at the end of October was €49,931 million. This is broadly on profile. Gross voted current expenditure of €46,181 million was 0.6% above profile, with gross voted capital expenditure of €3,750 million 8.4% below profile.

However, given the scale of Government expenditure and the cash basis of Government accounting, the need for Supplementary Estimates can arise for a number of reasons, including policy decisions, timing issues and overspends. They are a budgetary tool that can allow for the proper alignment of funding allocations with planned expenditure. They can only be allowed where they can be accommodated within the overall budgetary parameters. The Expenditure Report 2019 outlined the requirement for Supplementary Estimates in 2018, including for the provision of a 100% Christmas bonus for weekly social welfare recipients and additional investment in key areas including housing and health.

Taking the additional expenditure set out in our 2019 report into account, it is now projected that the general Government deficit target of 0.2% outlined in the summer economic statement will be over-achieved, with the expectation now of a general Government deficit of 0.1%.

This question is primarily related to the overspend and the excess in respect of the Department of Health that we have seen in recent years. Is it definitive that the Department of Health will be over budget this year by approximately €700 million? They are not necessarily budget expenditure ceilings. They appear to be negotiated ceilings. In respect of the Department of Health, it is inevitable that it will exceed its expenditure ceiling, not through any fault of its own but that the budgeted ceiling was meaningless to begin with. In acknowledgment of that fact, there appears to be no enforcement procedures, which can make a mockery of the initial expenditure ceiling we talk about. What assurances can the Minister give that this is not the case and that the expenditure ceilings are an important control over expenditure?

The reality is that the expenditure ceilings the Deputy is referring to are both negotiated ceilings and budgetary ceilings. Budgetary ceilings, and the figures we set for 2019 and beyond, are a consequence of Government making decisions regarding where resources need to be allocated, overlaid with the inevitable political negotiation that happens, particularly in late September and early October.

In terms of our adherence to those ceilings, most of the Departments deliver them most of the time. The key issue we have had is in respect of the Department of Health, which has exceeded its expenditure ceiling, in particular this year, by a far larger amount than we experienced last year.

In terms of what we are looking to do differently to manage that issue, I expect we will enter next year with a board, a chief executive and a chairperson for the HSE. That will enable a better degree of budgetary control than we have had this year and, hopefully, a renewed focus on where we are with budgetary targets, given the great difficulties the HSE had to deal with earlier this year.

I would like to think that would be the case, and I sincerely hope it is, but it has not been in recent years. We get the kickback from the public when they hear about an excess expenditure over either negotiated or budgeted ceilings in various Departments. They do not see that on the ground, and they do not see it in respect of health. Perhaps the HSE was right and it has cost €700 million to stand still. There is a big hoo-ha about the finance sought by the HSE being made available to it but, at the end of the day, we do not see the improvements that are necessary for delivery in the Department of Health. People then become frustrated to hear about that. It is the same in the Department of Education and Skills, which is €69 million over the ceiling to date this year. The figure for last year was €60 million. The figure for the Department of Health this year to date is €340 million, and possibly €700 overall; that is the estimate. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government was €385 million over the ceiling in 2017. Again, people do not see that reflected on the ground. They do not see the amount of social and affordable housing that is necessary being provided. They see the delays associated with it and so forth. Apart from what the Minister said relating to the Department of Health and the expectations of those in senior offices, what controls can he put in place to ensure that either negotiated or budgeted ceilings, or a combination of both, might be adhered to in the future?

The controls we have work for nearly all Departments most of the time. The key issue we have had has been in respect of the Department of Health. I have outlined the way I am looking to handle the matter differently in 2019. I make the point, however, that myself and the Minister, Deputy Harris, were successful last year in significantly reducing the need for a Supplementary Estimate. We now need to examine what worked last year and how we can put in place a different approach for next year, and I have outlined that.

Regarding the other two Departments the Deputy mentioned, where I differ from the Deputy is that we can see a significant shift in the number of new homes being delivered. By the end of this year, we will see up to 20,000 new homes being delivered. Next year, we will see that figure increase to 23,000 to 25,000, with between one in four to one in five of those being social homes built directly by the State. There is a clear output from the capital investment in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

In terms of the Department of Education and Skills, the environment that anybody experiences, particularly in primary schools in the morning, shows that this is money that is making a difference to the day-to-day lives of our younger citizens.

National Development Plan

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

59. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the allocations provided for in the National Development Plan have now been abandoned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48990/18]

Public capital investment has a critical role to play in ensuring a whole of Government implementation of the new national planning framework. This is why the new national development plan was fully aligned with the national planning framework, all of which combined to deliver Project Ireland 2040.

Project Ireland 2040 moves beyond the approach of the past, which saw public capital investment spread very thinly and investment decisions which did not align with a spatial strategy. These practices contributed to some of the major issues that we face today as a country, particularly the predominance of Dublin alongside the challenges that face rural towns and communities.

The national development plan is therefore strictly aligned to the vision set out in the national planning framework and its ten national strategic outcomes, which were developed following extensive consultation over the course of 2017.

In adopting this approach, Project Ireland 2040 seeks to develop Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford as viable cities of scale which can act as alternatives and a counterbalance to the continued growth of Dublin and its surrounding region.

In doing so, these cities will act as drivers of growth for the wider region, including rural areas. The NDP, which was published in February, demonstrates the Government's commitment to meeting Ireland's infrastructure and investment requirements over the next ten years, through a total investment allocation of €116 billion over the period to 2027.

The NDP sets out gross voted capital expenditure allocations on a ministerial level for the period 2018 to 2022. In 2019, capital expenditure under the plan is set to increase by €1.5 billion, or 25% more than the 2018 allocation, which is a significant increase.

I recognise it is a significant increase, but I am asking a different question. As part of the NDP, a document was published which addressed each portfolio and what would be allocated over a number of years in order that we could track exactly where the money was spent. I am asking whether the plan has been abandoned or changed because the allocation for two of those portfolios was reduced from what was initially published. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has seen a decrease of €28 million, while the allocation for the Department of Justice and Equality has been reduced by €21 million, although I am well aware there was an increase in the allocation for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The figures which were published at the time were fluid, but is the overall figure static or can it change between Departments? Is it possible that the overall projected figure year on year could increase or decrease in any one year?

There was a change of €33 million in the total capital allocation for 2019. The overall capital allocation for Project Ireland 2040 rose by that amount, which is a change of 0.5%. Over the period 2019 to 2022, the period for which we have the clearest budgetary ceilings, there was an overall change of €290 million, which is a 0.3% change in an upward direction.

On the specific Departments and questions the Deputy raised, which were related to changes made in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Justice and Equality, a minor switch occurred where some capital funding was moved into current funding to meet current needs the Department had. On the overall figures, at this time I anticipate only a marginal change in the overall capital figures for 2019 to 2021, inclusive. At departmental level, changes are likely only if the Government commits to a significant new project that is not yet profiled or if there is a moderate switch between capital and current funding in any given year.

The Minister is saying there will be no significant change to the Votes or the outlying figures from Department to Department, although there may be switches from capital into current in any given year, and that it will be consistent with what was published.

Over the next three years, there will be an increase of €290 million, or 0.3%. Will the Minister indicate where that €290 million will be allocated? Which Departments will see an increase? Is the figure of €290 million a net increase, that is, does some of it comprise savings or decreases which are likely in other portfolios?

The main reason for those changes is what is happening in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Of the total amount of increased allocation in that period, that Department accounts for well over €200 million and, therefore, it is the main reason for the increase in the figure over the next three year period. No other adjustments will be made in other Departments to fund it.

Gender Equality

Joan Burton

Question:

60. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his policy on gender and pay issues; the number of civil and public servants; the number of men and women, respectively; the average pay of men and women, respectively; his plans for achieving gender pay parity; and the timeframe for same [49204/18]

I wish to ask the Minister about his policy on gender and pay issues. What is the number of male and female civil and public servants, respectively? What is the average pay of a man and a woman working in the service? What plans does he have for achieving gender pay parity, and what is the timeframe for doing it? Will he accept the Labour Party Bill which will come before the Dáil tomorrow and which provides for at least gender pay information in order that we can see what the differences are and address those differences?

We have made significant progress on gender equality in the Civil Service, which is my area of direct responsibility. The overall number of civil servants at the end of the third quarter of 2018 was 38,736, of whom 21,954 were female and 16,782 were male.

I have provided a breakdown by grade within the Civil Service for the Deputy. The proportion of females at the levels of Secretary General, assistant secretary, principal officer, assistant principal, higher executive officer and clerical officer is 21%, 35%, 43%, 50%, 57% and 72%, respectively. In my written answer to the Deputy's question, I have laid out the figures in tabular format over the past six years in order that she can compare them.

We have made progress. At principal officer level, for example, we have moved from 34% of all principal officers being female in 2012 to a figure of 43%. At assistant principal level, the figure is 50%, while at assistant secretary level we have moved from 23% in 2012 to 35%. I am committed to building on this, however, and the Civil Service board, which comprises Secretaries General in all Departments, has instructed all Departments to take a number of actions, including training for management boards, better development supports particularly in the area of mentoring, gender balance as a stated business priority, leadership training courses to encompass gender focused knowledge and support, and assigning responsibility for gender and diversity to a specific member of the management board of every Department. While we have made progress, we need to make more.

TABLE

Grade (Female)

End August 2018

End August 2015

End August 2012

Sec Gen

6 (21%)

6 (20%)

7 (23%)

Second Sec

1 (25%)

1 (25%)

2 (40%)

Dep Sec

4 (24%)

4 (22%)

5 (36%)

A/Sec

82 (35%)

67 (31%)

49 (23%)

Principal

632 (43%)

469 (37%)

394 (34%)

Assistant Principal

2,182 (50%)

1,666 (46%)

1,432 (42%)

HEO

2,953 (57%)

2,589 (57%)

2,522 (55%)

AO

1,161 (47%)

996 (47%)

852 (45%)

EO

5,120 (62%)

3,764 (61%)

3,760 (61%)

CO

8,210 (72%)

8,464 (76%)

8,617 (76%)

Figures from HR Databank on 19 November, 2018

The critical statistics say it all. At the top echelon of the Civil Service, that is, the Secretary General level or equivalent in a Department, only 21% of the positions are held by women. The Minister probably knows off the top of his head what a Secretary General earns, but it is as low as approximately €150,000 for small Departments, rising to more than €200,000 in the case of large Departments, which have greater responsibilities. The Minister has previously agreed with me that it is notable that there are relatively few women at the top levels of the Department of Finance compared with the lower levels such as clerical officers. The figure which the Minister provided for female clerical officers was 72%, while 57% of higher executive officers are women.

This is what the gender pay gap means. There are not many women at the upper echelons and yet there are so many women at the lower pay levels that the gender pay gap in the public service is wide and probably at least 14%, which is the general figure given for Ireland, or even higher.

A reform programme that will value the work of women and men equally needs to be implemented quickly.

I take the Deputy's point. We can point to progress but I am equally clear that we must make more progress. I am encouraged that, whether it is the Department of Finance or of Public Expenditure and Reform, I can see the changes to which I referred happening at assistant principal or principal officer level. At budget time in the Revenue Commissioners, for example, I could see how young and diverse they have become at middle to upper management levels. My aim is that this balance will be reflected in the leadership teams of our key institutions in future months and years. That is why it is important that the management board of each of these institutions has specific action steps in this area. As the Deputy continues to raise this matter with me over time, I hope I will be able to point to the steady progress we are making at that level.

I hope the Minister and the Government will support the gender pay Bill, which will be before the House tomorrow. It was introduced in the Seanad by my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik. That would begin to force institutions and private sector businesses to publish data on the pay gap in order that people can become aware of it and begin to address it.

The top management board the country is the Cabinet. A few years ago, there were two female Tánaistí in succession. There were more women at the Cabinet table, including a female Attorney General; we had a female Chief Justice and Garda Commissioner and there were several women in other high-level posts. This Administration has fewer women. There is also cult of exceptionalism. There are women who get to the top for a period but are then replaced by men so that women’s participation is variable and apparent gains can fall away. I want the Government to commit to an equality-based Cabinet. Any of the women who sit in Leinster House, regardless of party, are just as capable as any of the men.

I accept the Deputy's point about the need for diversity at political and senior business levels in Ireland. However, I wish that the appreciation for the role played by then-Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, had been more evident during the period when many people were calling for her to go. It would have been nice to hear the kind of appreciation for diversity offered by the Deputy during that period when many people demanded that the former Tánaiste step down, which ultimately she did to keep the Government in place at a time of great national challenge.

The Taoiseach should not have accepted it.

Deputy Burton may be aware that gender equality and the gender pay gap in Ireland have been examined by the European Commission, particularly in 2014 when it compared our figures with those of the EU 27. We then stood at a 13.9% pay gap compared with the EU 27 average of 16.7%. It is no comfort that we were lower than the EU average. It is a pay gap that should be got rid of and the contribution I hope to make through my role is for diversity at lower, middle and upper-management level in Departments to flow all the way up. I am particularly pleased that earlier I could notify Cabinet of the appointment of Ms Maeve Carton of the new chair of the National Treasury Management Agency.