I wish, first, to address some issues relating to chapter 26 on energy programmes and then to highlight key features of the Vote accounts in 2009. The Comptroller and Auditor General's audit focused on three energy related programmes, the greener homes scheme, the warmer homes scheme and the house of tomorrow scheme. Cumulatively, €120 million has been expended to date on the three programmes since their introduction. While the house of tomorrow scheme has been terminated, the other two schemes continue to play a significant role in tackling energy costs through energy efficiency measures and in promoting renewable technologies.
The greener homes scheme was launched in 2006 as part of a package of measures designed to develop an initial market for renewable heating technologies and fuels in Ireland. The sector had a series of market failures at the time, including an almost complete lack of retail outlets for equipment, very few trained installers, no real heating market for biomass, and a distinct lack of information for consumers. The greener homes scheme was designed as a market development measure for the retail sector and provided capital grant aid for specific equipment types on the basis of strict conditions. These conditions included requirements that only equipment appropriately certified and included in a list maintained by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland would be supported. Furthermore, as the scheme developed, qualified installers had to be used. In fact, the SEAI was instrumental in establishing the training syllabus for these courses, and it also established and ran an inspection regime. This regime was risk-based, being consistently aimed at newer installers and new technologies with a view to continually improving the service to consumers.
The outcome of the greener homes scheme, apart from the more than 40,000 homes that have had installations supported under it, has been the creation of a viable and sustainable market for renewable heating technologies. In turn, this allowed the amendment of Part L of the building regulations in mid-2008 which made having an element of renewable heating obligatory in all new homes. At this time, the scheme was amended so as to be applicable to existing homes only. This significantly reduced demand, as reflected in the lower uptake since. The cumulative cost to date to the Exchequer of the scheme is €72 million.
The warmer homes scheme was established in 2003 and provides for thermal efficiency upgrades free of charge for low-income households throughout Ireland. Measures delivered include attic insulation, wall insulation, lagging jackets, compact fluorescent lamps - CFLs, energy advice, heating controls and, in certain instances, heating system upgrades and external insulation. The programme was designed to assist those households unable to afford the capital cost of improving the thermal efficiency of their home and is the primary efficiency measure by which low-income households are protected from energy poverty. The programme relies heavily on a countrywide network of community-based organisations, of which 28 are active and which are assisted by a panel of private contractors. In recent years the programme has expanded considerably from upgrading more than 2,102 homes in 2006 to a position where this year will see nearly 25,000 homes benefit under the programme, bringing the total number of homes assisted under the scheme to around 60,000. The cumulative cost to date to the Exchequer of the scheme is €51 million.
Paragraphs 26.16 and 26.17 of the conclusions of chapter 26 refer to the fact that no external evaluation of the warmer homes scheme has taken place and the lack of a methodology to define and target households in energy poverty. The Department, in conjunction with the SEAI, keeps the scheme under ongoing scrutiny and recognises the need for ensuring households with the greatest need should be targeted first. To date, eligibility has largely been determined by the applying household being in receipt of the Department of Social Protection funded fuel allowance, although more recently this has been relaxed where there is a sufficiently pressing need. In this regard, the SEAI is in constant contact with the Department of Social Protection, MABS, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and energy suppliers, not to mention GPs and health professionals, and will take referrals from all of these sources.
The Department and the SEAI are of the opinion that the warmer homes scheme is within available resources delivering measures where needed. Nonetheless, the forthcoming affordable energy strategy will address the issue of targeting and eligibility for the scheme. Any consequent changes will be implemented in 2011.
The house of tomorrow programme was established in 2001 as a means of testing the feasibility of extending the thermal efficiency aspects of the building regulations by 40% relative to prevailing standards. The programme was aimed at developers who were building more than ten units and successful in demonstrating that it was possible to increase the efficiency standards of the building regulations. Over 4,000 housing units were assisted under the scheme. Apart from the thermal efficiency benefits arising in these cases, the overall impact of the scheme was that the building regulations were revised in 2008 to reflect house of tomorrow standards. Full transformation in regulatory standards setting new performance norms in the new house market was the key objective of the scheme. Having achieved this objective, the scheme is now closed after a total cumulative spend by the Exchequer of some €27 million.
I will turn briefly to the account for the Vote and will point, first, to the savings made in the Department's administrative budgets in recent years. The total spend in this category was €40 million in 2007, €31.6 million in 2008 and €25.4 million in 2009, representing a reduction of 37% in a three year period. This partly reflects the transfer of some functions but mostly represents a major reduction in staffing resources in the Department from 339 at the end of 2007 to an estimated 269 at the end of this, representing a reduction of 70 or 21%. Notwithstanding this, the Department has continued to oversee and implement a wide range of new and existing programmes and provide policy advice in the areas of communications and energy, in particular.
As regards the programme spend in 2009, there was expenditure of over €47 million on communications, multimedia developments and the information society. Most of this expenditure was on broadband development, including the construction of phase 2 MANs, the Kelvin international connectivity project and the national broadband scheme. A total of almost €81 million was spent in the energy sector. Almost €80 million was provided for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland in 2009, mainly for the implementation of energy efficiency programmes and the promotion of renewable energy sources. Schemes funded included the mainstreaming of the home energy savings scheme which was piloted in 2008, the warmer homes scheme and the greener homes scheme. Support was also given towards supporting energy efficiency in industry and the public sector.
Other programme expenditure in 2009 included €269 million on broadcasting, of which over €204 million was paid in grant aid to RTE in respect of the revenue from the sale of television licences. In addition, grants of €36 million and €4.5 million were provided for TG4 and the then Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, respectively. The commission has since been replaced by the levy-funded Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. No Exchequer liability will arise in that regard in the future.
More than €31 million was paid to meet the administration and operational costs of the central and regional fisheries boards and the Loughs Agency. As part of the agency rationalisation programme, the eight central and regional fisheries boards have been merged into one entity - Inland Fisheries Ireland. Under the natural resources heading, more than €14 million was spent, of which €5 million was by way of grant-in-aid to Ordnance Survey Ireland. In addition, €3.7 million was spent on mine rehabilitation, €3.5 million on the national seabed survey and €1.1 million on various geoscience initiatives.
I confirm that my Department has an internal audit unit which operates in accordance with a written charter. Its annual audit plans are approved by me and an independent audit committee. These audits may cover any area of activity involving public funds within the remit of the Department. The audit committee's written charter has been signed by me as Secretary General and by the chairman of the committee. The committee is headed by an external chairman and has three other external members and two internal members. Internal audit reports are circulated to the Comptroller and Auditor General and representatives of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General meet the committee annually.
The audit committee considered 13 audit reports in 2009. The audits were in the following areas: corporate - three; communications, broadcasting - two; energy - two; natural resources - four. A further two reports were on cross-cutting audits. I circulated the 2009 annual output statement of the Department to the committee in advance of the meeting.