5 Dec 2018, 17.52

This is the Public Accounts Committee’s Fourth Periodic Report and it focuses on matters arising from our meetings with Government Departments and Public Bodies between May and July 2018.

On behalf of the Committee, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who participated in the hearings and to those who provided detailed briefing to assist the Committee in its deliberations. I would also like to express my appreciation to the members of the Committee and the Secretariat for their work in relation to the Committee’s consideration of the issues and preparation of this report.

The timely submission of financial accounts by public bodies is an essential element of good governance, public oversight, and accountability. In late 2017 and early 2018, the Committee wrote to all public bodies to remind them of the importance of the timely presentation of their annual financial statements, and of their statutory obligations in this regard.

In 2014, about one third of public bodies produced their financial statements for audit within three months of the end of the accounting period. This rose to 40% in 2015, 50% in 2016 and to 87% in 2017.

There is a lack of transparency in relation to companies which have an association with the Higher Education Institutes. The Committee recommends that all Higher Education Institutes:

a) list in the their annual report all companies in which they have a shareholding or to which they provide significant grant assistance;
b) provide the C&AG with a copy of the companies’ accounts, and access to all relevant documentation at the time of audit or on request.

The Committee recommends that the C&AG informs the Committee in the event that cooperation from Higher Education Institutes in relation to these companies is not forthcoming.

Where a public body enters into an arrangement to prepay for goods or services, there is a potential loss of public funds if the goods or services are not delivered. While the financial stability of companies is assessed at the point of contract, there does not appear to be any ongoing monitoring of a company’s financial status and its ability to deliver on its commitments. The Committee recommends that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform considers how this risk can be managed over long-term contracts with recurring prepayments.

It is not clear that the cost of care in public nursing homes is providing value for money to the taxpayer. Of a budget in the region of €1 billion for the Nursing Home Support Scheme, approximately two thirds is expended on public nursing homes that provide one fifth of capacity. The Department of Health commenced a Value for Money review of the cost of care in public nursing homes in 2017, and hopes to complete the review by the end of March 2019. Given the significant sum of public funds involved, the Committee recommends that the Department ensures the report is delivered and published within this timeframe.

With the advent of online Irish passport renewals, Passport Express is no longer the fastest way to renew an Irish passport. The Committee recommends that the Department publicises the fact that online passport renewal application is the fastest method for renewing Irish passports, particularly in Post Offices, and Garda stations, where the Passport Express forms are available.

The Committee recommends that the Department reviews its balance between temporary and permanent staff, and takes steps to ensure it has the necessary staff numbers in place to meet forecast demand for passport services in 2019.

Prior to the establishment of the Tax Appeals Commission in March 2016 there was a failure by the Department of Finance to fully establish the nature and level of resources it would require to carry out its statutory functions. The Committee recommends that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform ensures that adequate planning takes place in advance of the establishment of any new public body.

The gross amount of tax under appeal at any one time is significant; it was estimated at €1.8 billion in July 2018 with an estimated net liability of €1.3 billion. The timely receipt by the Exchequer of amounts due is dependent on how efficiently TAC processes and finalises appeal cases. The Committee recommends that measurable targets be set for the progressing and finalising of tax appeals on an annual basis.

The Committee recommends that Revenue reviews its approach to the collection of outstanding taxes with a view to identifying initiatives such as increasing the number of taxpayers in phased payments arrangements in order to accelerate the receipt of collectable taxes.

The Committee recommends that in addition to publishing the tax settlement amounts, Revenue considers publishing details of the amounts subsequently paid and outstanding balances at year end.

There is not enough clarity in relation to the €730m that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) is investing in the residential housing sector. The Committee recommends that ISIF publishes a list of housing completions, on at least a quarterly basis.

The State Claims Agency (SCA) manages claims against 146 State bodies under its remit. The Committee recommends that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, together with the SCA, carries out a review of public bodies whose claims are not managed by the SCA, with a view to extending the remit of the SCA to such bodies.

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