Appropriation Bill 2018: Second and Subsequent Stages

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the warm welcome afforded to my son and my wife, Eileen. I hope we are all on the nice list for Santa and not his naughty list. I am sure he will come to all of us.

The Appropriation Bill 2018 is an essential element of financial housekeeping that, as Members are aware, must be concluded by the Dáil by the end of the year. There are two primary purposes of the Appropriation Bill. First, it provides authorisation in law for all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2018 on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil during the year. Section 1 and Schedule 1 set out the amounts to be appropriated for supply services. These relate to the amounts included in the Revised Estimates for 2018 voted by the Dáil earlier in the year and the Supplementary Estimates voted by the Dáil on 12 December. In aggregate, these Estimates amount to €50.9 billion. The comparable amount in the Appropriation Act 2017 was €46.7 billion. The amount to be appropriated this year, therefore, represents an increase of €4.2 billion on last year's net voted expenditure.

In allocating these additional resources, priority has been given to the areas of housing, health and education. This year's Appropriation Bill also provides for an amount of €1,000 to be drawn down from the Central Fund in order to make good any excess on the Army Pensions Vote for the year 2016. This is a technical issue that arose during the audit of the 2016 appropriation accounts. In total, including appropriations-in-aid, the amount allocated to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government was €3.4 billion in 2018. This level of resourcing reflects our commitment to making housing a key priority of the Government.

In line with the commitment to delivering improvements in the health service, gross voted expenditure on the health services increased to €15.9 billion in 2018. Given the scale of the investment, a key challenge for the health authorities is to ensure value for money to maximise the impact of the net voted expenditure.

An effective education system is vital to keeping our economy competitive and attractive to investment. In light of this, the sums appropriated for education in the 2018 Bill represent an increase of approximately 6% on the comparable amounts for 2017. Including expenditure in the National Training Fund, this brings gross expenditure on education to more than €10 billion in 2018.

In aggregate, taking into account expenditure of the Social Insurance Fund and the National Training Fund, total gross voted expenditure is forecast to total roughly €63 billion in 2018. This represents a significant investment to support the delivery of essential public services and to provide for the necessary infrastructure to support social and economic progress.

The second key purpose of the Appropriation Bill is to provide a legal basis for spending to continue into 2019 in the period before the Dáil votes on the 2019 Estimates. If the Bill were not enacted before the end of December, there would be no authority to spend any voted moneys in 2019 from the start of January until approval of the 2019 Estimates, as this authority for 2019 as contained in the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act 1965 is based on the amounts provided for in the 2018 Appropriation Act itself. Under the rolling multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in budget 2004, Departments may carry over from the current year to the following year unspent capital up to a maximum of 10% of voted capital. This reflects the difficulty in planning for major capital projects and provides some flexibility for Departments. The Appropriation Act determines definitively the capital amounts which may be carried over to the following year. The aggregate amount of proposed capital carryover from 2018 into 2019 is €93 million, which represents just 1.6% of the total Exchequer capital programme of nearly €6 billion for 2018. The amount carried over from 2017 into 2018 was €70.3 million.

The proposed amounts in unspent capital to be carried over by Vote are set out in Schedule 2 of the Bill. The 2019 Revised Estimates Volume sets out detailed financial and key performance information for Departments and offices. In Part II of the Estimates, for each Vote availing of the capital carryover facility, a table is included listing the amounts to be deferred by subhead.

In line with last year's Appropriation Act, section 3 of the Bill includes a specific provision to allow for an advance not exceeding €250 million from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account, with this advance then being repaid to the Central Fund in January 2019. The need for this provision arises as certain Exchequer liabilities and social welfare payments, particularly child benefit, which will form part of the supply services for 2019, are due for payment by electronic funds transfer on 1 or 2 January 2019. With the banking system closed on 1 January 2019, funding will need to be in place in departmental bank accounts before the end of this year to meet those liabilities on a timely basis. Additionally, An Post must be prefunded before the end of 2018 in respect of certain payments due between the first and fourth day of January 2019 to transfer payments from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to its network of post offices throughout the country.

I remarked at the outset that the Appropriation Bill is an essential element of housekeeping which those of us in the Dáil are required to undertake.

The passing of the Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2018 on the basis of the Estimates voted on by the Dáil during the year. The passage of the Bill will also ensure that payments funded from voted expenditure in 2018 such as housing assistance payment, jobseeker's allowance, disability allowance, non-contributory State pension, nurses' pay, teachers' pay and all other pay and pensions funded from voted money can continue to be funded in 2019 in the period before the Dáil approves the 2019 Estimates.

We will not object to the passing of this Bill. As the Minister of State has outlined, it is a necessary piece of housekeeping that must be undertaken before the end of the year. It is the second last day of the Dáil term. I know some people will be critical of the Bill being presented so late but I understand completely why we have had to wait until all the Supplementary Estimates have gone before and been voted on by the relevant committees and sent back to the House for approval, which I believe only finished last week, so we will not be delaying the passage of this Bill. We may disagree about how some of the money is spent and there are differences between my party and the Government regarding some areas of priority, but as the Minister of State pointed out, it is a piece of housekeeping that must be done and we will facilitate its passage as quickly as possible.

Does the Minister of State wish to comment?

No, I have nothing further to add.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.