I thank the Chairman. A Chathaoirligh agus a chomhaltaí, fáiltím roimh an deis seo teacht os comhair Choiste na gCuntas Poiblí agus cabhrú le scrúdú a dhéanamh ar chuntais Choimisiún Thithe an Oireachtais don bhliain 2018. Is é seo an chéad uair dom a bheith i láthair mar Oifigeach Cuntasaíochta Sheirbhís Thithe an Oireachtais.
I welcome the opportunity to attend before the committee to assist in the examination of the accounts of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission for 2018. This is my first appearance as Accounting Officer of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am joined by members of my management team, who are sitting alongside me, and some senior colleagues who are sitting behind. In this statement, I propose to give the committee a brief overview on the funding allocation and 2018 appropriation account, some key activities during 2018 and beyond, our corporate governance system, and our strategic goals for 2019 to 2021.
The commission is funded on a three-year statutory cycle basis, as approved by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and paid out of the Central Fund. The 2016-2018 allocation was €369 million. The total outturn for the period was €363 million, or 98.5% of the allocated budget. The unspent allocation of €6 million was not carried over to the 2019-2021 funding period.
The accounts under consideration relate to 2018, which is the third year of the current Dáil and the final year of our three-year allocation. The audited accounts of the commission show that the gross expenditure for the Houses in 2018 was €134.4 million against an Estimate provision of €135.9 million, representing a 1% underspend. Salaries, pensions and allowances accounted for €97.4 million, or 73% of total spend, which can be classified as non-discretionary spend. Interparliamentary activities, broadcasting services, committee expenses, parliamentary printing, legal costs and essential consultancy and administration costs, including office premises, facilities, basic ICT equipment and services, and postal and telecommunication services, amounted to €26 million, or 19% of total spend. This was also non-discretionary. The remaining budget of €11 million, or 8%, provided for ICT, Library and Research Service project spending, and training and development costs. This was the discretionary element.
The committee should note that the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is now a large organisation. We have a total payroll in respect of 2,027 people, catering for the salaries, allowances and pensions of Members and former Members, political staff, MEPs, former MEPs and Civil Service staff, including some former State industrial, officeholder and catering staff. On 31 December 2018, the commission employed 564 full-time equivalent, FTE, staff, comprising 511 Civil Service staff, 17 State industrial and officeholder staff and 36 catering staff, at a cost of €31 million or 23% of the budget.
I will draw the committee's attention to some of the key activities in 2018 and beyond. The expenditure for 2018 reflects the considerable changes implemented in the Dáil reform programme agreed in response to the needs of the Houses and Members. These include the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office; the development of the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers to include drafting and advisory services on Private Members' Bills; the increase in the number of parliamentary committees from 15 to 28, including eight specialist committees to date during this Dáil term; the extension of services by the Library and Research Service, Rannóg an Aistriúcháin, the Debates Office and House services; the establishment of the Business Committee, which members will know has become an important support for the running of the Houses; and some incidental and ancillary costs arising from sitting hours, security arrangements, etc.
One of the key areas that we focused on in 2018 was our ICT investment programme. The service made a significant financial investment in new technology and systems in 2018 under its digital transformation programme. This key strategic decision for the service was taken by the commission in 2016. We have invested in our key business processes, systems and in-house ICT expertise, and have mapped more than 1,000 business processes.
We are now developing a parliamentary procedural system and this is being delivered on a phased basis.
Some other notable outputs from our digital transformation programme include: the upgrading of the Wi-Fi system across Oireachtas buildings; a new website to facilitate greater public engagement; and the roll-out of Microsoft Outlook to replace Lotus Notes, which was the email system for many years in the Oireachtas. We have also upgraded the Chambers and committee rooms, adding in simultaneous translation to allow us to host meetings conducted in Irish in any of the four committee rooms. The commission will continue with its investment in digital technology in the coming years to advance the modernisation of the processes and systems.
Another major feature of the spend in 2018 was the Leinster House restoration project, which is coming to an end. This involved essential restoration and structural works to Leinster House and was managed by the Office of Public Works, OPW, on behalf of the commission. I am pleased to be able to report that the sittings of the Houses and their committees continued uninterrupted during this work. The work will be completed in time for the return of the Houses after the summer recess.