70. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost increasing to each of €3, €5 and €10 million the lifetime gains eligible for the entrepreneur relief 10% CGT rate. [25938/19]View answer
Written Answers Nos. 70-94
70. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost increasing to each of €3, €5 and €10 million the lifetime gains eligible for the entrepreneur relief 10% CGT rate. [25938/19]View answer
I am advised by Revenue that estimated costs of increases to the lifetime gains limit for Entrepreneur Relief from Capital Gains Tax are available on page 14 of the Revenue Ready Reckoner, which is available at https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/documents/statistics/ready-reckoner.pdf. While not all of the increases proposed by the Deputy are included in the Ready Reckoner, these can be estimated on a straight-line or pro-rata basis from those shown.
71. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost of abolishing the additional 3% USC rate payable by some self-employed taxpayers. [25939/19]View answer
I am advised by Revenue that the cost of abolishing the 3% USC surcharge that applies to non-PAYE income over €100,000 is estimated at €70 million in the first year and €125 million in a full year.
These estimated figures are based on projected 2019 incomes, calculated on actual data for the year 2016, and may be revised. The estimates do not account for any behavioural effects that might result from abolishing the USC surcharge.
72. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if he has considered the introduction of an industrial or commercial site conversion tax relief; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25940/19]View answer
I understand that the "conversion" the Deputy is referring to is from industrial or commercial (i.e. non-residential) use into residential use.
In Budget 2018, I increased the rate of stamp duty on the purchase of non-residential land and buildings from 2% to 6% while leaving the rate of duty on residential buildings at 2%. I also introduced a related measure intended to further incentivise the supply of housing in Section 61 of the subsequent Finance Act (Finance Act 2017). This scheme provides that land chargeable at the 6% rate on its acquisition and subsequently developed for residential purposes can qualify for a refund of the difference between the 6% and 2% rates, subject to certain conditions designed to ensure that the land is optimally utilised to deliver residential property within a reasonable timeframe.
This applies to the development of single one-off houses as well as to multi-unit developments.
I can confirm that the introduction of any other such tax reliefs is not currently being considered by my Department.
73. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost of indexing personal, PAYE and married person tax credits based on forecasts available such as the stability programme update with price inflation and wage inflation in each of the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25974/19]View answer
74. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost of indexing the threshold at which a worker enters the lower and higher rate of tax based on forecasts available such as the stability programme update to wage and price inflation. [25975/19]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 73 and 74 together.
The projected cost/yield from indexation of income tax credits and bands for Budget 2020 will not be finalised until Revenue has completed and published its Pre-Budget 2020 Ready Reckoner, which is expected to be published in early Quarter 3 2019.
The most up-to-date information available at present is the Post-Budget 2019 Revenue Ready Reckoner . This includes a table showing the estimated cost of a 1% indexation of credits, rate bands and exemption limits for Income Tax and the Universal Social Charge. As per this document the total full year cost of a 1% increase in all the tax credits and thresholds shown is estimated at €187 million.
I am advised by Revenue that the full year cost of a 1% increase in the threshold at which workers enter the 40% income tax rate is €79 million.
Revenue have advised that these figures are based on projected 2019 incomes as calculated on the basis of actual data for the year 2016, the latest year for which returns are available, adjusted as necessary for income, self-employment and employment trends in the interim. The figures are provisional and may be revised. Revenue does not provide cost estimates beyond the tax year 2019.
Increases greater than 1% can be estimated on a straight-line or pro-rata basis from the information given.
The 2019 Stability Programme Update was finalised and published in April this year. It sets outs the Government’s updated macroeconomic and fiscal forecasts for the period 2019-2023, including price developments that impact price and wage inflation. As this document sets out, there are a number of different metrics that could be used for indexation, such as “core” inflation which is forecast to be 1.1% for 2019.
Utilising a purely technical calculation, by using this figure and the most recent Revenue Ready Reckoner , the estimated full year cost of indexing in the tax credits would be €205.7 million and the cost of indexing the standard rate cut off point would be €87 million.
75. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the Central Bank signalling its intention to significantly increase the industry funding levy which applies to credit unions; his views on whether this is an unfair and disproportionate increase on credit unions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25984/19]View answer
As the Deputy is aware, credit unions are regulated and supervised by the Registrar of Credit Unions at the Central Bank who is the independent regulator for credit unions. Within his independent regulatory discretion, the Registrar acts to support the prudential soundness of individual credit unions, to maintain sector stability, and to protect the savings of credit union members.
Since 2004 the amount of the Industry funding levy payable by each credit union has been capped at a rate of 0.01% of total assets.
Consultation Paper 95 ‘Joint Public Consultation Paper - Department of Finance and the Central Bank of Ireland - Funding the Cost of Financial Regulation’ (CP95) was published in 2015 and set out proposals to move from partial industry funding of financial regulation towards full industry funding, noting the proposal set out in an earlier consultation conducted by the Central Bank (CP61 ‘Consultation on Impact Based Levies and Other Levy Related Matters’) to move credit unions to fund 50% of the cost of regulating the credit union sector.
The Central Bank indicated, in its Funding Strategy and 2018 Guide to the Industry Funding Levy, that it intended to seek my approval to increase the proportion of financial regulation costs to be recovered from credit unions on a phased basis setting out an initial target of 50% to be reached by 2021.
In response to the Central Bank's request I recommended that credit union contributions should not increase beyond the 50% target until:
a. The levy trajectory has reached the planned 50% rate, at which time the impact on the viability of the sector will be better understood; and
b. A public consultation regarding increasing the levy rate for credit unions beyond 50% is undertaken, which would include a regulatory impact assessment of such a change on the sector.
In contrast to this recovery rates in 2018 for all other industry categories ranged from 65% to 100% and the Central Bank intends to increase all to 100% funding over the next number of years.
The Deputy might also wish to note, that the Department of Finance, in collaboration with the Central Bank, is currently preparing a public consultation paper on potential changes to the Credit Institutions Resolution Fund Levy, which is expected to reduce materially from 2020. This consultation, which will be published on the Department of Finance website very shortly, will be open to all persons and I would strongly encourage all stakeholders to submit feedback.
It is also important to note that as Minister for Finance I have reduced the Stabilisation Scheme Levy materially and that since 2017 no further levies have been charged by the Credit Union Restructuring Board (ReBo).
76. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Finance the status of work done to date on the reduction of motor insurance premia; the interactions he has had with the sector to date; his planned actions on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25992/19]View answer
At the outset, the Deputy should note that I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation. Neither I, nor the Central Bank of Ireland, can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products, as these matters are of a commercial nature, and are determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept. This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance which expressly prohibits Member States from adopting rules which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products. Consequently, I am not in a position to direct insurance companies as to the price or the level of cover to be provided to motorists.
As the Deputy is aware, the Cost of Insurance Working Group was established in July 2016 and undertook an examination of the factors contributing to the increasing cost of insurance in order to identify what short, medium and long-term measures could be introduced to help reduce the cost of insurance for consumers and businesses. The initial focus of the Working Group was the issue of rising motor insurance premiums and as part of that exercise, there was and has been extensive interaction with the insurance industry and its representative bodies. The Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance was published in January 201 and makes 33 recommendations with 71 associated actions to be carried out in agreed timeframes, which are set out in an Action Plan. In January 2018, the Working Group published the Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance. This Report makes a further 15 Recommendations with 29 associated actions. While this Report is focussed on addressing issues linked to business insurance, the implementation of recommendations from both reports will have a positive impact for all consumers and businesses including motorists.
There has been significant work to date in implementing the recommendations of the two aforementioned reports, including the following:
- the establishment of the Personal Injuries Commission, and its subsequent recommendations relating to addressing award levels for soft tissue injuries – this has provided the objective evidence we need to be able to address award levels;
- the establishment of the National Claims Information Database in the Central Bank to increase transparency around the future cost of private motor insurance;
- reforms to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019 ;
- amendments to Sections 8 and 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to make it easier for businesses and insurers to challenge cases where fraud or exaggeration is suspected;
- the reform of the Insurance Compensation Fund to provide certainty to policyholders and insurers; and,
- various reforms of how fraud is reported to and dealt with by An Garda Síochána, including increased co-ordination with the insurance industry, as well as the recent decision by the Garda Commissioner to develop a divisional focus on insurance fraud which will be guided by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) which will also train Gardaí all over the country on investigating insurance fraud, and the recent success under Operation Coatee , which targets insurance-related criminality.
I believe that these reforms are having a significant impact with regard to private motor insurance (CSO figures from May 2019 show that the price of motor insurance is now 24.5% lower than the July 2016 peak).
Undoubtedly the single most essential challenge which must be overcome if there is to be a further sustainable reduction in insurance costs for motorists is to bring the levels of personal injury damages awarded in this country more in line with those awarded in other jurisdictions. In this regard, the Personal Injuries Commission has highlighted the significant differential between award levels in Ireland and other jurisdictions, and has made a number of recommendations to address this issue, in particular the establishment of a Judicial Council to compile guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury.
It should be noted that work is progressing as a matter of priority on the Judicial Council Bill, and it is due to complete Report and Final Stages in the Seanad this week, prior to being submitted to Dáil Éireann shortly thereafter. I would hope that members of both Houses of the Oireachtas can collectively work together to ensure that the Judicial Council Bill is enacted by the summer.
77. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if the potential impact on the economy if foreign capital and credit supplied to property developers here were to cease or be significantly curtailed will be assessed in the summer economic statement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26029/19]View answer
Ireland has seen a strong level of international investment in its commercial real estate sector since 2013. More recently, there has been significant investment in the residential sector. Much of this investment has been in the form of non-bank lending and equity financing.
Notwithstanding the increase in foreign investment in the construction sector, the Central Bank of Ireland’s (CBI) recent Systemic Risk Pack, published in March this year, stated that “Property-related lending accounts for 68 per cent of Irish banks loan book, highlighting a concentration risk amongst Irish resident banks. This compares to a long run average of 62 per cent and a European average of approximately 60 per cent measured at 2018 Q2”.
The domestic banks’ need to reduce their exposure to the property sector in the aftermath of the economic crisis meant that the absence of international investment would have resulted in somewhat lower levels of activity in the commercial and residential sectors. Access to foreign capital, whether through direct investment, equity, or lending played an important part in the recovery of the construction sector. Given the relatively high level of property-related exposure that remains on the domestic bank’s balance sheets, foreign capital will continue to play an important role in the Irish construction sector.
The presence of foreign investors can expose the domestic market to international financing conditions and overseas asset market corrections. The propensity for international investors to diversify across different markets, including Ireland, may see these markets becoming more synchronised with global real estate cycles. With more globally synchronised markets, the potential for spillovers is higher and the scope for loss mitigation through diversification is diminished.
The Department’s assessments of the principal economic and fiscal risks are set out twice yearly in the Stability Programme Update (SPU) in April and in the Budget Economic and Fiscal Outlook in October. The Stability Programme Update 2019, identifies a number of external risks of which two - ‘External demand shock’ and ‘Bond market conditions’ - implicitly encompass risks of this nature. The Summer Economic Statement forms a key element of the reformed budgetary process by providing a policy background for the discussions in the Dáil and, at the National Economic Dialogue which takes place later this month. It complements the SPU.
78. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if the Central Bank gathers data on the way in which the construction sector here is funded; the amount of funding to developers provided by banks in each year since 2016; the amount of funding provided by international funds in the same years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26030/19]View answer
I am advised by the Central Bank that its Statistics division collect data on the outstanding stock of Credit Advanced to Irish Resident Private-Sector Enterprises by Irish banks relating to the Construction and Real Estate Sectors.
This information can be found on the Central Bank's website in Table A.14 -Credit advanced to Irish resident- private enterprises. (Link below)
The annual outstanding stock since 2016 is summarised below in Euro millions.
Lending for the purpose of:
Real Estate, Land and Development Activities**
* Construction constitutes: Construction of buildings carried out on contract; Civil engineering activities carried out on contract; Other construction activities.
** Real Estate, Land and Development Activities constitutes: Property investment/development of residential/ commercial/mixed real estate; Investment in unzoned land; Other real estate activities.
79. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the procedures followed when credit servicing firms are seeking to be regulated by the Central Bank; if past performance or instances of past performance have a weighting on the assessment of the Central Bank of such firms; if the Central Bank considers previous issues such as the miscalculation of mortgage arrears when it is granting a licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26031/19]View answer
The Central Bank is independent in the performance of its authorisation functions. During the assessment phase of the authorisation process, I understand that the Central Bank will assess each application for authorisation to determine whether the applicant has demonstrated that it meets the requirements set out in Part V, Chapter 3 of the Central Bank Act 1997, which include a requirement that the organisation of the applicant’s business structure is such that it is capable of being supervised adequately by the Central Bank and meeting the Authorisation Requirements and Standards for Credit Servicing Firms. These were published by the Central Bank in December 2015 and subsequently amended to reflect the changes required following the enactment of the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2018.
I understand that the Central Bank will also assess whether key persons in senior positions within the applicant have demonstrated that they meet the Fitness and Probity Standards. The Central Bank has confirmed to me that it considers all relevant information available to it during the assessment phase of the authorisation process.
Once the assessment phase of the authorisation process is completed, an applicant will either be granted or refused authorisation and the public register of Credit Servicing Firms will be updated to reflect those firms who have been granted an authorisation. Fuller details of the Authorisation Process are available on the Central Bank's website.
80. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if a credit servicing firm, which is currently in a transitional authorisation status, falls under the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman; if past instances that originated before the firm began the process of being regulated is appealable to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26032/19]View answer
The 21st of January 2019 was appointed as the day on which the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2018 came into operation by Statutory Instrument 3 of 2019. Persons had three months from that date to avail of the transitional provisions in the Act. As I previously confirmed in reply to a Parliamentary Question yesterday (PQ 25649), persons who are taken to be authorised pursuant to the transitional provisions provided for in Section 34 FA(1) of the Central Bank Act 1997 are considered to be ‘regulated financial service providers’ for the purposes of financial services legislation and the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman may investigate complaints against these transitionally authorised firms.
Actions by an unregulated firm which were undertaken prior to the commencement of the 2018 Act would not be subject to investigation by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman. It is my understanding that only the conduct of those firms, from the date when the firms became taken to be authorised, will fall within the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.
However, section 34 G(1) of the Central Bank Act 1997 as amended by the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2015 provides
"A credit servicing firm shall not, on its own behalf or on behalf of, or on the instructions of, a person who holds the legal title to credit granted under a credit agreement, take or fail to take an action, if the taking of or the failure to take the action would otherwise be a prescribed contravention if a retail credit firm took or failed to take that action."
While the holding of legal title only became regulated recently, other credit servicing firms which acted on behalf of loan owners were regulated under the 2015 legislation and their actions can be subject to investigation by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman.
I should also point out that section 34 G of the Central Bank Act 1997 also provides that
"(2) A person who holds the legal title to credit granted under a credit agreement shall not instruct a credit servicing firm to take or fail to take an action, if the taking of or the failure to take the action would otherwise be a prescribed contravention if a retail credit firm took or failed to take that action.
(3) A person who contravenes subsection (2) commits an offence and is liable -
(a) on summary conviction, to a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both, or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €250,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both."
81. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of tax defaulters detected by the Revenue Commissioners in each year since 2011 in circumstances which the failure to pay income tax or corporation tax wholly or partially on rental income for residential properties; the value of the tax not paid in each year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26033/19]View answer
I am advised by Revenue that it is not possible to provide the information requested by the Deputy because the relevant data is not captured or maintained in a manner that allows segregation of rental income related tax liabilities.
Since 2015, Revenue records details of all compliance interventions on its case management system. However, the information is captured at tax head level (i.e. Income Tax, Corporation Tax etc.) and does not breakdown the recoveries or settlements into the component parts that gave rise to the additional liabilities (it is not uncommon for additional liabilities to arise from more than one area of default).
The Deputy may be interested to note that Revenue’s recently published Annual Report for 2018, which is available at link https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/press-office/annual-report/2018/ar-2018.pdf, includes details of audit and compliance activity with comparative figures for 2017. The tables included in pages 88 and 89 of the report might be of particular interest to the Deputy.
82. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Finance his views on proposals (details supplied); and the estimated full year cost of such a proposal. [26044/19]View answer
The VAT rating of goods and services is subject to EU VAT law, with which Irish VAT law must comply. In accordance with Irish VAT legislation, slurry spreading equipment is liable to VAT at the standard rate, currently 23%, and there is no discretion, under the EU VAT Directive, to exempt these goods from VAT.
I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that farmers may elect to register for VAT or be treated as flat-rate farmers for VAT purposes. Farmers that are registered for VAT have an entitlement to reclaim VAT charged on costs incurred in relation to the farm business, including VAT borne on the purchase of agricultural equipment. Farmers that are not registered for VAT are compensated for the VAT incurred on goods and services used in the course of their farming business, including purchases of agricultural machinery, through the flat rate addition they receive on payments for their supplies of agricultural produce and services.
With regard to increased funding for low emissions slurry spreading equipment that is a matter for my colleague, Michael Creed TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
83. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his Department maintains a comprehensive inventory of wildlife and biodiversity in the Phoenix Park; if so, if it has provided this information to the relevant stakeholders to ensure the draft Phoenix Park visitor experience strategic review does not include plans that infringe on protected species and habitats; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24277/19]View answer
As part of the Phoenix Park Conservation Management Plan, published in 2011, a habitat survey was undertaken on behalf of the Office Public Works. This Conservation Management Plan, along with various surveys are available on the Phoenix Park website http://phoenixpark.ie/research/
A variety of surveys have been undertaken in the Phoenix Park on behalf of the OPW over the years generating detailed inventories of wildlife and biodiversity in the Park. These include surveys of birds, bats, bees, deer, mammals, flora, habitats, trees and aquatic species. The OPW maintains these records and shares this information with the relevant stakeholders including the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC).
OPW staff in the Phoenix Park work with many organisations including Birdwatch Ireland, the School of Biology & Environmental Science at University College Dublin and the National Parks & Wildlife Service in relation to the protection of species and their habitats within the Park.
I can confirm that the Phoenix Park Conservation Management Plan and associated surveys were provided to the consultants who produced the Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review. I can also confirm that all draft recommendations and proposals contained therein are fully cognisant of the protected species and habitats in the Park and do not infringe on same.
It should be noted that any developments or conservation projects which might arise out of this draft review would be subject to the full statutory planning processes and must comply with the relevant environmental and habitats directives.
84. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which the recent issued advice of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council reflects a need for change in capital or current spending with particular reference to the need to ensure that Ireland stays within international norms in regard to economic performance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25573/19]View answer
It is important to note that the approach currently adopted in relation to setting out multi-annual expenditure ceilings is informed by lessons learned in the lead 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 to negotiate, which in turn can lead to unsustainable increases that are not affordable on a long-term basis.
To mitigate against this, the Summer Economic Statement 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. This approach has been adopted in each annual Summer Economic Statement produced since. While there have been variations from the expenditure targets set out in the publications, these have been largely driven by policy decisions to support key Government programmes. For example, additional funding has been provided for our Health Service and increased investment in public capital infrastructure reflecting the allocation of additional resources set out in the National Development Plan.
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 I will consider carefully the points raised by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council in its recent fiscal assessment report.
85. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the progress of work at the Hill of Tara, County Meath. [25862/19]View answer
It is assumed that the Question relates to the planned works on the graveyard perimeter wall.
Works at the north- west section at the entrance to the graveyard are now complete as is most of the west wall section. Conservation works on the south wall are due to commence shortly.
86. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his engagement with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána on new Garda premises and facilities in County Meath. [25863/19]View answer
The Office of Public Works, together with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána are working closely in delivering the Government approved Garda Capital Plan 2016-2021.
While no new premises are listed for Co. Meath, significant works are in the development stage for Navan Garda Station to include a new cell block, custody facilities and additional accommodation.
Works at Ashbourne Garda Station have been completed under the cell upgrade programme and there are similar cell upgrade works planned for Kells Garda Station.
The Office of Public Works also provides a full maintenance service at all seventeen Garda Stations in County Meath to the highest standards possible bearing in mind the availability of funding and priorities agreed with An Garda Síochána.
87. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of submissions received by the Office of Public Works regarding its strategic review of the Phoenix Park; the expected timeline to publish a report on the consultations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25885/19]View answer
During the observation period, which ran from 19th March 2019 until 31st May 2019, one thousand, five hundred and twelve (1,512) comments were submitted to the Office of Public Works in respect of the Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review. OPW is now engaged in a detailed process of reviewing all of these comments and observations. It is not possible at this stage to say when this will be completed.
It ought to be appreciated that the draft review is not a formal development plan or strategy for the Phoenix Park. It is not a formal statutory document of any kind or part of a statutory public consultation process. OPW remains open to, and indeed welcomes, any further observations and comments from any party.
88. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason his Department has not responded to a request (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25965/19]View answer
This query relates to the National Shared Services Office (NSSO), which is an independent Civil Service Office under the aegis of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
I have asked the NSSO to respond to the Deputy directly. The matter concerns personal information and I understand that the NSSO has been in contact with the requester on a number of occasions about the response.
I am advised by the NSSO that this matter is being dealt with and that the requester will get the full response within the next ten days.
89. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the position on an application by Cork County Council to the OPW for funding for a project (details supplied) in County Cork; the timeline for adjudication on the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25986/19]View answer
I have been advised by the Office of Public Works (OPW) that an application has been submitted by Cork County Council under the Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme for a project at the location mentioned in the deputy’s question.
This application is currently being assessed and the Council will be advised of the outcome when complete.
90. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he remains satisfied regarding the degree to which controls exercised by his Department continue to contribute in a meaningful way to national guidelines in respect of pay and conditions throughout the public sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26018/19]View answer
Important measures are in place to ensure that our expenditure and budgetary targets are being achieved on an ongoing basis. Managing the delivery of public services within budgetary allocations is a key responsibility of each Government Minister and Department. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is in regular contact with all other Departments and Offices to ensure that expenditure is being managed within the overall fiscal parameters.
There is regular reporting to Government on expenditure levels and expenditure profiles are published for each month. The drawdown of funds from the Exchequer is monitored throughout the year and reported on against profile on a monthly basis in the Exchequer Statement.
Public service pay expenditure is a function of two key drivers:
1. the numbers of public servants employed, and
2. the rate at which they are paid.
As of 2019 there are over 330,000 full time equivalent public servants with an exchequer pay bill of €18.7 billion, or approximately 1/3 of current expenditure. In this context, the objective of public service pay policy is to manage pay expenditure at a sustainable level, which allows for the recruitment and retention of appropriately skilled staff.
As the Deputy is aware, pay and conditions of public servants are managed through collective agreements, of which the current agreement is The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 -2020. This Agreement, the terms of which have been implemented through the provisions of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act, 2017, provides for the dismantling of the financial emergency legislation through fair and sustainable increases in public service pay.
91. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which reform remains an integral part of the policies administered by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26019/19]View answer
As mandated by Government, my Department’s statutory functions include responsibility to formulate, develop, and coordinate the implementation of policies to further modernise and develop the public service and enable the efficient and effective provision of services by public service bodies. I can therefore assure the Deputy that this reform agenda will continue to be an integral part of the policies administered by the Department.
The Deputy will be aware that a new phase of public service reform is already underway, as set out in the framework document Our Public Service 2020, which I launched at end 2017. Our Public Service 2020 seeks better outcomes for the public, to support innovation and collaboration and to build public service organisations that are resilient and agile. It contains an added focus in particular on evaluation and on the importance of building a reform evaluation culture. A newly established Reform Evaluation Unit within my Department will work closely with units focused on performance budgeting and spending reviews to strengthen the links between expenditure and reform. A Public Service Leadership Board comprising Secretary General and CEO level participants from across the civil and public service has been established to drive this reform agenda and lead on its implementation and it has already met on six occasions since it was established in March of last year.
In the case of the Civil Service, the Deputy may also be aware of the ambitious programme of reform under the Civil Service Renewal Plan aimed at creating a more unified, professional, responsive, open and accountable Civil Service providing a world-class service to the State and to the people of Ireland. The fourth Progress Report on the Plan, which I published recently, shows the important steps that have been taken since 2014 and the range of reforms that have been put in place to improve the service for those who work in the Civil Service and those who depend on it. Work is now underway on developing a refreshed plan for the next phase of Civil Service Renewal which will align with Our Public Service 2020 .
The Department’s People Strategy for the Civil Service 2017-2020 sets the strategic direction for Human Resource Management across the Civil Service (while recognising that each organisation is unique and has its own challenges) while the Department’s Office of the Government Chief Information Officer leads the implementation of the Public Service ICT Strategy in cooperation with departments and agencies across the Public Service.
At the same time, the Department is progressing a far-reaching programme of reforms aimed at delivering open, accountable and ethical government. Key initiatives completed or underway under this programme include the second Review of the 2015 Lobbying Act, progression of the Public Sector Standards Bill and transposition of the EU’s Open Data and Whistleblowing Directives.
As Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, I must ensure that our fiscal and public expenditure policy is prudent and sustainable. There are a number of budgetary reforms introduced in recent years to guide my decisions on overall fiscal policy in this regard, including fiscal rules, expenditure ceilings and spending reviews. The actions in Our Public Service 2020 will ensure that the focus of the public service is very much on delivery of quality public services, while operating within these prudent limits.
I am confident that the implementation of the actions contained in Our Public Service 2020 , as well as the other elements of my Department’s broader reform agenda that I have outlined, will have an ongoing positive impact on economic performance and improved service delivery to the public in the future.
92. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he remains satisfied that policies of his Department continue to reflect well on economic performance with particular reference to competitiveness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26020/19]View answer
93. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the steps he views necessary to correct imbalances emerging in the economy in the context the responsibility of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26021/19]View answer
94. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reforms he views as most preferred or appropriate with particular reference to the degree to which his Department makes a positive contribution to the well-being and economic performance of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26023/19]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 to 94, inclusive, together.
Overall our economy is in good shape and is expected to grow this year and next. Indeed modified domestic demand, an underlying measure of growth in the economy, grew by 4.5 per cent for 2018 as a whole.
One of the best barometers of the heath in the economy is the labour market. The strong growth in employment over the last number of years has continued into this year, with total employment increasing by 81,200 (+3.7 per cent) in the year to Q1 2019. As a result, there are now more people working in Ireland than ever before.
At the cornerstone of our recovery, has been the improvement in our competitiveness. Since 2008, the Central Bank’s real harmonised competitiveness indicator has improved by approximately 22 per cent. The improvement in our competitiveness reflects the hard-won productivity gains made over the last number of years, alongside wage and price moderation.
Importantly, the robust economic growth in recent years has not yet given rise to significant inflationary pressures. In the first four months of 2019, average annual inflation of just 1.1 per cent was recorded.
On wage developments, while average annual earnings grew by over 3 per cent in 2018, this came on the back of a near decade of low or negative growth in earnings. The rise in household incomes is a welcome development, however it needs to be monitored closely to avoid a significant acceleration in wages, which may undermine Ireland’s relative competitiveness to other European countries.
Over the medium term, the domestic economy is expected to act as the primary driver of growth. In this context, we must remain cognisant of the potential upward pressure this will place on both prices and wages, that could give rise to a loss of competitiveness.
Indeed, as we approach full employment, the economy is in an unusual position, with possible domestic overheating and capacity constraints on one hand and a slowdown in key export markets on the other. Brexit also represents a significant risk and is part of a wider environment of global uncertainty. In order to mitigate against these risks, it is important that the economy is in a strong position to retain competitiveness and resistant to external shocks. Taking this into account, the National Development Plan (NDP) includes a more than doubling of capital investment from €4.2 to €8.6 billion between 2016 and 2021. This increase reflects the Government’s commitment to addressing bottlenecks which could hinder the economy going forward.
These risks mentioned above highlight the need for a cautious approach to expenditure policy, which is sustainable now and into the future. In contrast to the increases in expenditure seen in the years leading up to the crisis, recent expenditure increases have been based on sustainable growth underpinned by predictable revenue sources. It is crucial that this approach is maintained in the medium term in order to mitigate against emerging risks in the domestic and global economy. As such, the expenditure ceilings set out in the forthcoming SES will be based on the expenditure strategy set out in the SPU, published by the Department of Finance.
Ireland still has a significant level of public debt following the global financial crisis. While debt-to-GDP ratio has been declining over recent years, this is primarily due to the increase in GDP, rather than a reduction in the debt itself, which remains at over €200 million. At the end of 2018, our debt ratio as a percentage of GDP was 64.8 per cent. Maintaining sustainable expenditure policy is an important element of ensuring that our economy is performing well and that our debt-to-GDP and debt-to-GNI* ratios continue to decline. This includes ensuring that we are delivering public services in the most efficient and effective way possible. To this end, a number of reforms have been put in place in recent years, including the Performance Budgeting Initiative, the Equality Budgeting Initiative, the National Economic Dialogue and the Spending Review.