I propose to take Questions Nos. 451 and 453 together.
Electricity costs in my Department were higher in 2020 because of the impact of Covid 19 on work practices and adherence to public health guidance. Compared with other Government Departments, the Department of Social Protection has required on site attendance of an average of 50% of staff and has provided access to all public offices, including the network of Intreo Offices across the country.
Increased energy costs during 2020 can be accounted for by:
- The cost of electricity and gas increased in the period 2019-2021.
- The use of four additional buildings to facilitate temporary staff recruited to manage the unprecedented administrative demand of processing the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Given the requirements for social distancing and attendance levels in existing buildings, this additional accommodation was necessary.
- in order to facilitate social distancing, some offices of the Department operated shift attendance and weekend attendance and buildings required to be heated, lit and ventilated for longer periods.
- The ventilation systems were operated for extended periods in all buildings in accordance with public health advice.
- Although 50% of staff have worked largely off site since the commencement of the pandemic, the utility costs of office occupation were largely fixed, with staff distributed throughout buildings to maintain social distancing.
- Despite the fact that on average 50% of staff worked on site, remote access was required to facilitate the remaining staff working offsite in the majority of cases. For security and other reasons, a remote access protocol was used which required desktop PCs to be maintained in a powered on position (remote PCs were simply used as a screen rather than having access to data and systems directly).
During 2020 almost two-thirds of staff who were working from home were remotely accessing PCs which had to remain switched on in the office; this was approximately 1,800 PCs. Since then the Department has been rolling out secure laptops to staff to eliminate this requirement and currently about 250 staff are remotely accessing office PCs.
The target of reduction in energy usage for the public sector over the period 2009-2020 was set at 33% and, notwithstanding the increase in usage last year, this Department has exceeded this target, achieving an overall 42% saving in energy usage.
In June 2021, my Department was awarded ISO Certification in energy management and is the first Government Department to achieve this standard. My Department will continue to prioritise energy management within an overall framework of our initiatives for a Greener Department and to implement the actions in this regard in the recently published Climate Action Plan.