National Broadband Plan Funding

Questions (40)

Éamon Ó Cuív


40. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the financial provision in the National Development Plan 2018-2027 for the roll-out of rural broadband; the adjustments that will have to be made to the plan over the next five years to provide for the current projected cost of the roll-out of the national broadband scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25625/19]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

I should first say that responsibility for the National Broadband Plan rests with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. However, I can say that the Government's decision to proceed with the National Broadband Plan (NBP) was taken on the basis that additional expenditure that may be required, beyond that already allocated within the National Development Plan (NDP) framework, will be funded by future revenues and will accordingly not have funding repercussions for other planned projects within the NDP.

 Based on preliminary assessments, current indications are that the NBP roll-out will require c. €1.6bn in additional funding over the period of the NDP out to 2027.  €800 million has already been allocated for this purpose in the National Development Plan and therefore the additional funding now required by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is €477 million over the period 2019-2022, and a total of €1.579 billion over the full period of the National Development Plan (2019 to 2027). 

As I have already indicated, I intend to provide the additional capital required to fund the additional cost of proceeding with the project from future revenues - this will be done in the context of updating the overall multi-annual capital ceilings set out in Project Ireland 2040.  This means that the decision to approve the appointment of the Preferred Bidder will have no repercussions for other planned projects within the National Development Plan.  No other projects will be delayed or rescheduled, and no other changes will be made to the capital allocations for other projects as set out in the National Development Plan as a consequence of the Government’s decision to proceed with the National Broadband Plan.

Public Service Pay Commission Reports

Questions (41)

Clare Daly


41. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason excerpts from the Public Service Pay Commission report on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces were leaked following the delivery of the report to him in May 2019; and the reason the report was not immediately published in full further to these leaks in view of the effect of the leaks on Defence Forces morale. [25620/19]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Public Service Pay Commission was established to advise Government on public service remuneration policy. In the current phase, the second phase of the Commission's work, it was tasked by its Terms of Reference to undertake an examination of whether, and to what extent, there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in key areas of the public service identified in its first report. The Public Service Pay Commission has adopted a modular approach to its work programme for its present exercise.

As the Deputy will be aware, the first module was published by the Commission in August 2018 and deals with issues relating to Nursing and Midwifery, Non-Consultant Hospital Doctors and Hospital Consultants.

The Commission engaged on work in relation to the Defence Forces. Written submissions were received from both the Employer and relevant staff associations and more recently, in March, oral presentations were also made to the Commission by both parties. 

The Commission has now completed its examination of recruitment and retention matters in the Defence Forces and has submitted its Report to me for consideration.

This Report, following consideration by Government, will be published and will then fall to be considered by the parties to the Public Service Stability Agreement, 2018 - 2020 (as per section 3 of that Agreement). I do not propose to comment on speculative media commentary on a Report which is yet to be brought to Government.

Public Service Reform Plan Measures

Questions (42)

Joan Burton


42. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his Department or other Departments have undertaken automation pilot projects; if so, the cost of each of these projects; if staff and employee representatives have been consulted regarding these projects; if the likely impact on staff requirements has been assessed by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25686/19]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

To stay relevant within a changing world, public service organisations, including Government departments, must continue to evolve and change. An important goal of the current framework for Public Service reform - Our Public Service 2020 - which became operational during 2018, is to encourage innovation across the public service and to promote different service delivery options. This notably includes supporting the use of Business Process Automation, as referred to in the Deputy’s question, to help public service organisations to deliver leaner, faster and cheaper back-office functions.

Automation of the rules-based and repetitive processes that are a necessary and unavoidable feature of the work of most public service bodies has the potential also to add significant value to our workforce by freeing up individuals to concentrate on more value-add as well as interesting and engaging work.

In this context, my Department funded a pilot project in 2016 to examine the potential of Business Process Automation in the delivery of public services. Government Departments and Offices were invited to propose suitable processes that would be amenable to such automation. The Revenue Commissioners, the Public Appointments Service, the Property Registration Authority and the National Shared Services Office participated in this pilot under which a total of 14 processes were automated at a total cost of approximately €110,000.

The results of this pilot suggest that the solution can work very well in the right circumstances. However, it takes time to embed the technology, to generate support from the IT function, to train staff and, crucially, to find the right processes to automate.

On foot of this, my Department worked with the Office of Government Procurement during 2018 to publish a procurement framework for Business Process Automation. This framework will allow public service bodies to rapidly deploy automation within their organisations and train their own staff to automate suitable processes. It clearly provides that a key aspect of the service to be offered to public service bodies is staff development and training in Business Process Automation, in order to help establish a centre of excellence within the Civil and Public Services so that we are not reliant on external consultancy in this area.

Employee representative bodies have been kept informed of these developments through the established industrial relations channels and I am aware, in particular, that the Fórsa Union’s Civil Service Division has detailed its position on automation in the Civil and Public Service in general principles submitted to my Department earlier this year.  While the impact on staff requirements is a matter to be assessed by individual Departments and bodies on a case-by-case basis, the Revenue for example, foresees no impact on overall staffing levels on foot of its participation in the automation pilot study as the staff involved are reassigned to higher value work elsewhere within the organization.

Fiscal Policy

Questions (43)

Thomas P. Broughan


43. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the proposals by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council in the fiscal assessment report June 2019 that a prudent medium-term fiscal strategy should include three-year expenditure ceilings and a speed limit, that is, a statement of sustainable growth rate limits for net policy spending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25628/19]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The Estimates process and the determination of expenditure ceilings now takes place as part of a whole-of-year budgetary cycle.  The Summer Economic Statement sets out the broad fiscal position and the National Economic Dialogue facilitates engagement between the Government and stakeholders. The pre-Estimates Departmental expenditure position is provided in the Mid-Year Expenditure Report (MYER).  This sets the baseline for examination of budgetary priorities by the Government and the Oireachtas. Following detailed consideration, Ministerial Expenditure Ceilings are published in the Budget day Expenditure Report.

Expenditure Report 2019 sets out the revised baseline for current expenditure out to 2021 after taking account of pre-commitments in relation to demographic pressures in Health, Social Protection and Education, public service pay agreements, and the estimated carryover impact of certain budget measures. Planned capital investment levels out to 2027 have been set out under the National Development Plan. The allocation of these resources at a departmental ceiling level are set out in the Revised Estimates Volume 2019, out to 2022.

The Ceilings also include an amount of unallocated resources in 2020 and 2021, based on the fiscal projections at Budget time last year.  These can be utilised to meet the carryover impact of Budget 2019 measures or for new expenditure measures. Indeed, the flexibility provided within the ceilings allow Government to direct available additional resources towards key services at a time of increased demand and to new priorities. In addition, at Budget time each year Government can decide to allocate additional resources for spending increases by either introducing revenue raising measures and/or redistributing resources allocated for taxation measures.

While this approach has been the subject of comment, it has been informed by the experience in the years leading to the fiscal crisis and is targeted at ensuring that the overall increase in expenditure each year is set at a level that is affordable both now and in the future. This necessitates an approach to expenditure management in which a systematic programme of expenditure reviews and efficiency-generating reforms is underway in each sector to ensure that priority initiatives can be supported and developed in a sustainable manner. The Summer Economic Statement, which will be published in the near future, will set out the Government's updated medium-term economic and fiscal strategy, and in this context I will be giving careful consideration to the inputs and advices of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council.

Summer Economic Statement

Questions (44)

Jonathan O'Brien


44. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the revisions which will be made to the expenditure projections in the summer economic statement in view of the recent fiscal assessment report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25833/19]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

In setting out expenditure projections and associated expenditure ceilings, it needs to be recognised that such projections and ceilings can play a significant role in creating expectations for future increases in expenditure. Consequently, the approach currently adopted has been informed by the experience in the period leading up to the fiscal and economic crisis.

In the years preceding the crisis, large increases in expenditure were implemented on an annual basis, which ultimately proved to be unsustainable. Reflecting on this, there are clear risks to the expenditure position associated with restating expenditure ceilings and for example applying inflationary increases as a revised baseline for any new expenditure. This can lead to the expenditure ‘ceiling’ becoming a ‘floor’ from which further expenditure increases are negotiated, which in turn can lead to unsustainable trends that are not affordable on a long-term basis.

To mitigate against this, the Summer Economic Statement (SES) 2016 set out an expenditure strategy for 2016 to 2021 in which current expenditure would grow by an annual average of 2 ½ per cent, while capital expenditure would grow at 12 ½ per cent on average. There have been variations from these expenditure growth rates, largely driven by policy decisions, such as additional funding for our Health Service and increased investment in public capital infrastructure.

Work is underway on the Summer Economic Statement (SES) 2019. In setting out the Government’s overall fiscal strategy in the SES, I will take into account recent developments, in particular in the external environment, and will consider the points raised by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council in its recent fiscal assessment report.