I thank the Chair and I welcome the opportunity to present to the committee this request for a Supplementary Estimate for 2020. We require this Supplementary Estimate to pay for the Department’s share of the Brexit infrastructure costs undertaken by the Office of Public Works. We are also using the opportunity to provide for an early payment to the World Food Programme, which is fully offset by savings from elsewhere in the Vote. Taken together, the additional funding allocations for subheads total some €41.6 million, which we propose is to be funded by €16.8 million of additional voted funding and €24.8 million in savings across other subheads. As the proposed transfers and expenditure involve changes to the original 2020 voted allocations, I believe it is important to seek the committee's input and approval.
The areas where savings have emerged reflect the very dynamic and uncertain environment in which the sector and the Department have operated this year, most of it related directly or indirectly to Covid-19 and Brexit. It has been an extraordinary year but, despite the challenges, we have continued to carry out our business as usual. In recent weeks, we have seen payments issued to farmers under the basic payment scheme, the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, and the beef finisher scheme.
In the next fortnight, payments will issue under the areas of natural constraints scheme, ANC, the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, and the beef suckler scheme, as will balancing payments under the basic payment scheme. Payments under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, are ongoing.
I will outline where the savings which we propose to use have emerged, starting with the payroll saving of €4 million. Due to the Brexit extension to 31 December 2020, the bulk of staff for Brexit, some 73 staff in total, were recruited in the third quarter of 2020 and, therefore, incurred only approximately 50% of the budgeted payroll costs. Full year costs associated with these staff will be incurred in 2021. My Department engaged in prudent management of the payroll budget in 2020, despite extremely challenging circumstances. Although a greater degree of predictability was established regarding Brexit, precise timetables and a final outcome remained unpredictable. This created a need to balance the risk of ensuring sufficient staff were available to meet our Brexit obligations as soon as they materialised with the risk of having surplus staff in the Department, in particular at Dublin and Rosslare ports, in the event that such requirements did not materialise as anticipated. It was particularly essential to balance that in the context of the Covid-19 crisis and the implications for staff accommodation that arose as a result.
A combination of recruitment, redeployment and contracted service engagement were progressed to address potential requirements. This process included the recruitment of 114 Brexit-specific staff across multiple functions where potential requirements would have been focussed, particularly import controls for products of animal origin, animals, plants and forestry, mainly at the ports. The bulk of this recruitment related to clerical officers on portal inspection duty and veterinary inspectors. Staff who were recruited for Brexit but not required at the ports due to delays in Brexit progressing were deployed either to posts within the function relating to their recruitment or to other functions across the Department where appropriate. However, the vast majority of them have now returned to the duties for which they were originally recruited. All of these challenges took place in the context of Covid-19, where normal work patterns were not possible. In spite of this, all recruitment and deployment targets were met.
Under the subhead relating to other support scheme costs, there are total savings of €1.2 million available for redistribution as the provision for product storage was not required.
In the development and promotion of agriculture and food subhead there are savings of €2.3 million, made up of small amounts from several areas, such as food promotion measures, trade shows and reduced spend on lean reviews by food companies.
There are savings of €1.6 million available in the fisheries subhead. This is due mainly to delays to projects supported under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, caused by the challenges of 2020. These projects remain on track and will be met from 2021 funding. I assure colleagues that my Department remains on course to fully utilise the €239.3 million in public funding available under the EMFF operational programme. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority subhead has savings of €1.2 million.
Under capital expenditure, my Department continues to operate TAMS, which is a large on-farm investment scheme. It is made up of a suite of seven measures and was launched under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 with a budget of €395 million over the full period of the programme. To date, expenditure under TAMS II has exceeded €245 million. Payments under the TAMS II scheme continue to issue on an ongoing basis. To date in 2020, we have issued payments of €66.6 million. The allocation was increased in the Revised Estimates in anticipation of increased spend. However, there have been some impacts of Covid-19 on investment works, particularly building works during the first lockdown. I am, therefore, declaring a saving of €6.5 million from the revised allocation for 2020. My Department has actively encouraged all approved applicants under the scheme to submit payment claims, including through contacting approved applicants individually by text message on a number of occasions and reminding approved participants to submit their payment claim as soon as they are in a position to do so. However, TAMS II is a demand-led scheme and the timing of the completion of works and submission of payment claims within the timeframe set out in the approval letter is entirely a matter for the farmers themselves. In general, participants have 12 months from the date of approval to complete works and submit a payment claim, with a shorter timeframe of six months for equipment.
On the capital side, we are seeking to move €8 million in capital expenditure from the forestry allocation. This saving has arisen because new planting is much less than anticipated at the beginning of the year. It is expected to total less than 3,000 ha. This can largely be attributed to a fall-off in interest by farmers, which has been the trend in recent years. I am aware that the current licensing delays are a contributory factor. We are addressing the current delays in a robust way, with additional resources, a dedicated project plan and a reformed appeals system. We are also looking at ways to re-engage farmers so that they see forestry not as a displacement activity, but as complementary to their farming enterprise.
Utilising savings from TAMS and forestry this year will ultimately free up funding for 2021 as we prepay some 2021 commitments now. This will leave us better able to take on the many challenges that will face the industry next year. Taken together, this €24.8 million in savings described is to be combined with additional gross provisions of €16.8 million to provide €17.3 million for Brexit infrastructure and €24.3 million for the World Food Programme.
With regard to Brexit infrastructure, there is a need for substantial extra funding for the non-pay administration part of programme A. This funding is for border control posts that arise in the context of Brexit. It reflects the requirement to have property and infrastructure to facilitate and support the movement of legitimate trade. There is provision to carry out necessary sanitary and phytosanitary checks at ports in the event of a disorderly withdrawal from the EU by the UK. My Department is the lead tenant in most parts of Dublin Port and Rosslare Harbour and our proportion of the considerable costs involved amounts to some €14.5 million in capital and €2.8 million in current expenditure, largely undertaken on our behalf by the Office of Public Works. As was the case last year, this is being dealt with at year end to provide for actual costs rather than estimates.
The other important item is the additional allocation for the World Food Programme, WFP, which will allow for the early payment of next year’s commitment under Ireland’s strategic partnership agreement with the programme. I recently received a request from Mr. David Beasley, the executive director of the programme, to consider early disbursement of Ireland’s next annual contribution, which for 2021 is €25 million. This request does not involve any additional funding but, rather, only early payment. Paying our commitment early will allow funding in 2021 to be spent addressing the many additional challenges there is no doubt the year will bring. This advance will significantly contribute to the WFP’s capability to plan its interventions and better address the several growing humanitarian needs currently facing the world, including large-scale emergencies in Yemen and Syria, the developing emergency with Ethiopian refugees in Sudan and its ongoing efforts assisting vulnerable people affected by current coronavirus pandemic.
Ireland's partnership with the WFP is making a difference in the efforts to achieve the shared objective of sustainable development goal 2, Zero Hunger. The programme will receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 on 10 December. The Nobel committee’s citation in the announcement of the award to WFP was that it was "for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict". I am, therefore, recommending early payment of the 2021 contribution. It will signal Ireland’s ongoing commitment to the work of the programme and will be especially appropriate at this time when the work of the programme is getting such international recognition.
In conclusion, I believe this is a necessary and important Supplementary Estimates, which I recommend to the committee for support. I am happy to respond to any questions members may have.