Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 5 Mar 2019

Vol. 980 No. 4

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

National Lottery Regulator

Joan Burton


44. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has received an opinion from the regulator of the national lottery regarding the threat to the national lottery and the good cause fund posed by online, offshore bet-on-lottery operators; if he will publish this opinion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10639/19]

It appears that the national lottery, which contributes over €220 million to good causes each year, is now subject to a very serious threat from the operation of unregulated offshore betting-on-lottery operators. Has the Minister received the report that was previously indicated? If so, will he make it available?

I have not yet received a formal opinion from the national lottery regulator regarding this topic. As the Deputy may be aware, it falls outside the statutory remit of the Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery.

I am aware of the issues in question. The topic has been raised in general discussions as part of the normal engagement my officials and I have with the regulator's office on matters pertaining to governance. We receive general updates on the regulator's activities in exercising her functions, as set out in the National Lottery Act 2013. In a recent meeting, the regulator expressed concern about the potential future impact of online lottery betting in Ireland.

The context for the operation of the national lottery has changed significantly since its original establishment in 1986. The national lottery remains an important asset. The level of moneys raised for use by good causes has increased steadily in recent years. It increased by 28% between 2014 and 2018. As set out in the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2019, this year's estimated total expenditure of €333 million for good causes will be part funded by approximately €225 million from the national lottery, with the remainder being funded by the Exchequer.

While this is a dynamic and rapidly evolving market, the national lottery continues to deliver strong results. The most recent reports and financial statements of the current operator, Premier Lotteries Ireland, show that gross ticket sales rose by 6.1% in 2017.

Against this background, there does not appear to be any evidence of a significant impact on the national lottery arising from online lottery betting at present. My officials will continue to engage with the regulator and Premier Lotteries Ireland to review the impact of online lottery betting websites on the national lottery and the good causes fund.

Does the Minister expect to receive an opinion from the regulator of the national lottery regarding the threat posed by online offshore operators that allow people to bet on the outcome of lottery draws? I think he has conceded that it is a threat. It would have a negative impact on the good causes fund. As he indicated in his answer, the Minister appreciates the €225 million that goes to a wide range of community, sporting, cultural and other events throughout Ireland. Other countries have taken action to reduce the risk to their national lotteries from these unregulated offshore lotteries to ensure funds are held for good causes. Why does the Minister sound so reluctant to intervene in this case? Most people who are aware that gambling is a serious problem know that this kind of online gambling is becoming more prevalent.

I would like to put on the record of the Dáil some figures regarding the transfers that the national lottery has made to the Exchequer in recent years. I could take any year as a benchmark. In 2011, the figure was €230 million. It decreased to €178 million in 2014. That figure has now rebuilt to €227 million. The contribution the national lottery is making had increased in recent years, but it may have stabilised or plateaued, depending on one's perspective, between 2017 and 2018. The Deputy asked about the engagement of my office and my Department with the regulator on this matter. My understanding of the view of the regulator is based on an extract from the last engagement with our regulator that has been shared with me. The regulator knows that this could be a long-term issue. At the moment, the type of gambling under way here that could present a difficulty to the lottery is small in scale. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will bring a report to the Government shortly in relation to the regulation of the gambling sector. I think that will provide a valuable platform for dealing with this issue.

Unregulated offshore gambling in this area is developing with speed. I appreciate that it is also developing quickly in many other areas.

We have heard about the gambling regulator and gambling regulation legislation over a very long time. Despite all the talk, nothing has happened. The Minister may wish to see it introduced. However, the threat to the national lottery exists in the here and now. We will welcome whatever the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is going to do in due course. However, this particular problem needs to be addressed in the here and now. It would be foolish to think we can leave it to one side until we bring in the gambling regulator's office. Maybe that will happen but maybe it will not. It has been very slow to materialise. I would appreciate any advice from it but I do not know when it is going to come.

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will be providing us with the report of the interdepartmental working group on gambling very soon. It appears to me that the only way in which we can deal with this issue is to look at how we can review and maybe change the 2013 general scheme of the gambling control Bill. The facts and figures indicate that the current contribution made by the national lottery to good causes has not yet been materially affected by other developments within the lotteries here in terms of online or electronic lotteries. The contribution that the Exchequer has received from the national lottery attests to that. I acknowledge that although currently the competition is small, it can grow quickly. Were it to grow quickly, it could in turn affect the contribution the national lottery can make to good causes. We have to look at all this from a regulatory perspective. The best and most effective way this can be done is through the review that is being undertaken of the 2013 scheme.

We have received apologies from Deputy Gino Kenny, who cannot be here to take Question No. 45.

Question No. 45 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Sector Pensions Legislation

Deputy Michael McGrath will be taking the question on behalf of Deputy Cowen.

Barry Cowen


46. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the report under section 3 of the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 will be published in March 2019; if the report will deal with potential proposals to remedy the position for those who were forced to take the interim measure due to reaching 65 years of age; the associated costs for each remedy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10565/19]

This question concerns the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018, specifically the interim measure that was agreed for those public servants who reached the age of 65 before the Act came into being. They had to retire as per their contract of employment. A commitment was given, on a request from Deputy Cowen, that within three months there would be a report to see what could be done for those people. I am looking for confirmation from the Minister that the report is being completed and will be published on time.

I acknowledge the support of Deputy Cowen in the passage of the Bill. The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 provides for an increase to age 70 in the compulsory retirement age of most public servants recruited before 1 April 2004.

As Deputy Michael McGrath will be aware, public servants who reached the compulsory retirement age of 65 before the new legislation was enacted were required to retire in accordance with the statutory compulsory retirement age in effect at the time. Those who availed of the interim arrangements did so in the knowledge that the contract was for one year only, until they reached the age of 66. The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 has no effect on those public servants who availed of the interim arrangements. The terms of their fixed-term contracts continue to apply and they will cease working at age 66 as previously provided for.

Section 3A(6) of the Act provides that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform shall, within three months of the passing of the Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the public servants obliged to retire between 6 December 2017 and the commencement of the Act, due to reaching the age of 65 years, and on potential remedies to assist this cohort of worker.

Work on the report is under way in accordance with the terms of section 3A(6). Under that provision, publication of the report is required within three months of the passing of the Act on 26 December and the Minister intends to comply with that timeline.

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the content of a report which is under preparation and not completed, and which I am statutorily obliged to lay before the Oireachtas.

The Minister of State has said that those who availed of the interim measure and had to retire at the age of 65, because that is what their contract provided for, understood that they would be rehired on a temporary basis for a period of one year, and that they would then have to retire permanently and would be gone. Is the Minister of State saying that the report will not set out potential remedies, including the possibility of people in that category being retained and being able to benefit from the principal measure of the Bill, namely, that people would be able to stay on until the age of 70? Is the Minister of State saying definitively that the people who were captured by that interim measure will not under any circumstances be allowed to remain on until the age of 70? Is it the case that this potential remedy will not be on the table as part of the report?

Deputy Cowen, during the passage of the Bill, suggested a number of measures, as did Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I accepted the amendment in good faith to see if there was a remedy that could address that cohort. However, I put it on the record of the House and made it very clear that the spelling out of the legislation meant that those who entered into the interim arrangements when the Government decision was made did so in the full knowledge that it was for a year. We also have to be very cognisant of those who did not enter into the interim arrangement who were civil and public servants as well. If we were to unwind that commitment, where would we start? Would we start at the Government's decision, the publication of the Bill or the passage of the Act? To be fair to those civil and public servants who did not enter into the interim arrangements when they reached 65, they took the Government's word in good faith as well and accepted the bona fides of the Government that this was an interim arrangement for one year. I did accept the amendment providing that we would have a report that would be brought before the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, laid before the House and published. I said that if there were remedies there, they could be legislative in nature. I also said that there might not be remedies to the issue at hand, given what we were trying to achieve, namely, to introduce a new age of retirement on 1 January.

Maybe the Minister of State could clarify what the report is examining. What does he expect it to address? Obviously he does not know what the content is but what are the issues that the report is examining? When does he expect it to be made available? We all understand what the legal position was prior to the enactment of this legislation. People had contracts of employment and were required to retire. As a concession, they were rehired for a period of one year. Deputies Cowen and Darragh O'Brien would know more about the amendment than me because they were directly involved. The spirit of the amendment was to see if there would be any way that those who wished to remain on beyond a year might possibly be accommodated and if they could avail of the principal benefit of the Bill. I am not getting the sense that there is any likelihood of that.

I should not and do not want to pre-empt the content of the report. That is not my job. The provision of section 3A(6) requires that the report covers public servants who were forced to retire between the dates of 6 December 2017 and the commencement of the Act. It is also very clear that the report is to cover all public servants who reached the compulsory retirement age in that prescribed period. It will also have to take into account those who did not avail of the interim arrangements. We have to be fair to everybody.

I am being as honest as I can and the Deputy can take me at face value in this. This was not a simple issue to resolve. Everybody in the House regretted the fact that it had gone on for so long. Everybody regretted that it took so long for the Bill to be brought before the Dáil and the Seanad. The Deputy knows that we do not control the business of the House. Every day that passed before the Bill was brought in here, another person entered the interim arrangements. Unfortunately for a lot of people, they entered the interim arrangements while the Bill was waiting to get a time slot in the House. That was beyond my control. I accepted a suggestion from Deputy Cowen that it be looked at. If there is a solution, it will certainly be considered but that has to be done in the context of what the Bill set out to achieve, namely, a new age of retirement on 1 January 2019 to allow people to work until they are 70.

Flood Relief Schemes Funding

Robert Troy


47. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the flood defence measures which will be reprofiled. [10611/19]

Barry Cowen


51. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the specific impact of the reprofiling of the €3 million from the flood risk management programme in the Office of Public Works, OPW, to pay for the national children’s hospital; the projects that will be affected by the reprofiling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10564/19]

As a result of the vast overruns in the cost of building the children's hospital, the Minister himself confirmed at an Oireachtas committee last month that he would be cutting €3 million from his departmental budget in respect of flood defences.

What schemes that are currently ready to go will now not proceed as a result of this cut?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47 and 51 together.

Arising from the Government decision of Tuesday, 12 February 2019, in relation to capital re-allocations related to the cost overrun on the national children’s hospital, the Office of Public Works is reviewing the most appropriate means of achieving the required capital savings of €3 million in the flood risk management area. Expenditure on any particular project or programme in any year is dependent on many variables related to the progress of the project and programme. I can assure the Deputy that all capital projects committed to will be delivered in the quickest possible timeframe.

I heard that reply earlier and it does not answer the question I have asked. I am asking specifically about schemes that are ready to proceed. The Minister of State knows this area better than I do and he will know that the flood defence mechanisms in Athlone have been divided into eight cells. Of those eight cells, seven have already been approved for planning. The last cell has not yet gone through the planning process, while two of the seven have been substantially completed and two are under construction. However, there are three cells that have planning and are ready to proceed, being Deer Park, the Strand and the lower end of Golden Island leading up to Carrickobreen. Given that those schemes have planning and are ready to proceed, can the Minister of State confirm that these schemes will go ahead this year and the €3 million cut, confirmed by the Minister of State earlier last month at an Oireachtas committee, will not result in a delay to the delivery of these schemes? What schemes will be delayed?

I assured the House earlier and also assured the Oireachtas committee the Deputy referred to that no capital schemes will be delayed. Some of them are still subject to planning approval. The Deputy questioned the situation in Athlone. He knows well that the division of Athlone into eight cells was deliberately done to speed up the planning process and to deliver the scheme for the people of Athlone. This has been questioned over the last number of weeks. I do not like it when people play politics with flood defences. I disagree with it. I have stated quite clearly that no schemes will be delayed, at Athlone or anywhere else around the country. If there are delays it will be because of the planning process. I wanted to be on the ground in Cork last summer, and it did not happen. I wanted work in south Ennis to have been commenced last year and it was not. That is out of my control. However, the delivery of schemes I have identified is continuing. We are now in the great situation where 90 schemes have commenced. We are working with local authorities up and down the country. I have visited most of the local authorities. We are providing them with the money to employ engineers. We were spending €2 million on minor works and we have now increased funding by €5.6 million compared to last year. That is a big jump in funding for flooding defences around the country.

Nobody is playing politics. I acknowledged the Minister of State's commitment to the area and his superior knowledge on this matter. I am simply giving him an opportunity to speak on the record of the House about various flood schemes. The Minister of State said at a committee meeting that he did not want to mislead anyone and that there would be €3 million in cuts. He said that his officials did not want him to go to the committee meeting because he would have to deliver bad news. He was honest with the committee. I am asking him to put on the record of the House today the flood defence mechanisms that have planning permission in place which will be delayed this year. I acknowledge again, in case the Minister of State thinks I am playing politics, his superior knowledge of the situation in Athlone, but will there be any delay in completing the final three cells that have planning permission in place, namely Deer Park, the Strand and the lower end of Golden Island? If the Minister of State cannot give me an answer now perhaps he could come back to me with a definitive answer on when those schemes will start.

I assure the Minister of State that every line Minister contributing to the €99 million required in savings or cuts is being questioned about how it is going to be done. The Minister of State is not being singled out; perhaps he thinks he is.

I have no problem with what the Deputy has said.

To be clear, at the joint committee the Minister of State said that the €3 million cut or saving will not delay any project and that the savings will be achieved because projects were being delayed anyway. The Minister of State had a capital programme planned for 2019 and projects listed. Can he tell us what projects are delayed that will contribute to the saving he requires? I am not referring to the cuts. The Minister of State should be able to tell us what are those projects. They are not being delayed because of the cut, but are being delayed anyway. That delay will provide us with the €3 million in savings. I am sure the Minister of State can tell the House what projects they are.

The reason I asked not to go to the committee was because the review had not been done yet. We were asked to find €3 million, and I did not want to mislead the committee. I wanted the correct answer. I did not cower away from the committee. I wanted to go to the committee and wanted to be accurate and correct.

The eight cells in Athlone are currently with the local authority. Permission for one of those cells is still pending. Work is starting on all of those sites. Deputy Troy, who visits Athlone on a regular basis, knows that it is well advanced. We are three quarters of the way through this. The Deputy said that I have advanced knowledge of all of this, so I am providing that knowledge to him.

This is like the Westmeath county final.

I live in Athlone and work in it. Many leaders of this House have visited it, but nothing has been done. Work is now advanced in Athlone and all cells are going according to plan. If there is an issue I have no problem with informing the House about it, but there is no issue about Athlone.

Deputy Michael McGrath asked about the schemes affected. A scheme in his own neck of the woods, in Cork, has been delayed since the middle of last year, as he knows. I had hoped to be in Cork already and to have €4 million, €5 million or €10 million spent, but I cannot overcome the objections there. I am facing serious delays, and I am not being critical in saying that. I hoped that work would begin last summer. It did not happen; it was outside my control. However, I assure the House that I am delivering, via the capital programmes investments, flood defences for this country. I do not play politics when it comes to this issue.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Jonathan O'Brien


48. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the capital projects to be delayed or deferred in 2019 to 2022 as a result of the cost overruns in the national children’s hospital; when the details of these deferrals will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10630/19]

Mattie McGrath


77. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if an assessment has been conducted with respect to the implications for capital expenditure projects in view of the cost overruns associated with the new national children’s hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7366/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 77 together.

On 12 February, I published how the €99 million necessary this year for the timely provision of the national children’s hospital will be accommodated with a minimum of disruption to the scheduled roll-out of key infrastructure projects under Project Ireland 2040. I also detailed reforms designed to ensure better project management across the whole of government.

In health, the scheduled drawdown of €24 million across both 2019 and 2020 will be amended to facilitate delivering the overall investment programme as set out in Project Ireland 2040. Even with this change, this will still leave a year-on-year increase of 25% in capital investment in the health sector in 2019.

The remaining €75 million will be met by re-scheduling decisions around the A5 motorway, which is a project to which the Government remains completely committed; the re-scheduling of payments in relation to the National Forensic Science Laboratory; advance payment of a sum from the Department of Education and Skills in respect of higher education facilities at the national children’s hospital; an updating of the scheduled drawdown of €16 million from the two Project Ireland 2040 funds; re-profiling of payments under certain programmes of investment in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and €3 million from the re-profiling of investment under the flood risk management programme of the Office of Public Works, on which my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, has just answered questions - I apologise, I meant to say the Minister of State, Deputy Moran. The spirit of candidness has dissipated and I will be in trouble for the rest of this session.

The Minister will not; me and-----

It will also be met by revision of the schedule for the drawdown of funding in the public expenditure and reform and finance group of Votes, totalling €3 million; and with €2 million through changes to the timing of payments for certain capital works undertaken by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I have also outlined how we need to change processes in the future for projects such as the national children's hospital to reflect all of the issues that developed during the project. I have outlined how we will deal with accruing the €99 million needed for the project this year.

I acknowledge that even with the cut, there is an increase in the Government's capital spend. The Minister has listed the items, some of which include the rescheduling of payments. I think only two are related to the subject we have just discussed - the flood relief scheme and the re-profiling of payments in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Everything else involves a rescheduling of payments to achieve the sum of €99 million. I am seeking clarity, as is everyone else. No capital projects are being delayed or pushed out as a result of the need to find the €99 million. I am sure the Minister has heard in recent weeks that capital projects in Waterford or Limerick are being delayed as a result. Is he now saying none of them is being delayed as a result of the need to find the €99 million and that any delay is due to external variables related to the planning process, etc?

I have always said we will manage the issue primarily through rescheduling and changing payments for projects. I have shared a list with the House and have previously outlined it publicly. The vast majority are related to how we manage payments that we will make for projects. I have said there will be no delays on any major project as a result. I will work with Government colleagues throughout the rest of the year to ensure we end up with a rescheduling of payments without delays on projects, particularly major projects. I am confident that will happen. As is always the case, it is possible as we move through the year that savings will accrue owing to things happening such as those outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Moran. We normally look at where we stand by the summer. We are simply doing that work far earlier than we have done it before.

Will the same process need to be undertaken next year to find savings within the Department to meet the ongoing overrun or is this a once-off €99 million in 2019 and that is it? As the Minister knows the overrun on the paediatric hospital is €450 million, leaving another €351 million. Is he saying this process will continue for a number of years or is this the only year? I seek clarity on that.

I will be able to provide clarity for the Deputy a little later in the year. As things stand, budget 2020 is a long way away. Decisions on the allocation of capital funding are many months away from being made. The focus of my efforts now is on ensuring the decision we have made on how we will manage the cost of the national children's hospital this year will not affect plans for 2019. I am working to do that and believe we will do it. The Deputy has been very considered and accurate in the issues he has raised with me in recent months. If I had come into the House and said we would increase our capital spending plans for this year by €100 million, the House would have been united in saying I had torn up the plans for budget 2019 a few weeks into it. I will not do that and will deal with decisions on what will happen in 2020 and beyond later in the year.

External Service Delivery

Bríd Smith


49. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the proposed changes to the external workplace investigation service framework; the firms providing services; and the cost of such services since 2012. [10625/19]

I ask the Minister about the proposed changes to the external workplace investigation service framework, the firms providing services and the cost of such services since 2012.

The Office of Government Procurement, OGP, carried out a competitive tender process for the establishment of a framework agreement for the provision of external workplace investigation services available to Departments and other public bodies. The framework has been in operation since March this year and will expire at the end of March. The framework suppliers for the delivery of services under the framework are as follows: Acrux Consulting Limited; Collier Broderick Management Consultants and Raise A Concern Limited.

The OGP is facilitating competitions under the framework for both central government and non-central government public bodies. In that respect it acts in an advisory role, but the individual public bodies using it are accountable and responsible for the competitions under the framework and any subsequent contract.

The number of investigations undertaken by each company and the cost of each investigation are matters for the relevant contracting authority.

The Office of Government Procurement is conducting a competitive tender for the establishment of a new framework agreement for the provision of external workplace investigation services to replace the existing framework when it expires. The competition is being evaluated and the outcome of the tender process is awaited.

According to the Office of Government Procurement, it outsources the service because it offers benefits, including: "Competitive rates; Flexibility in draw-down process to enable end-users to tailor to their own particular requirements; User-friendly draw-down procedures with OGP support; [and] Standardised and improved workplace investigation quality". In common with much of the rhetoric on public procurement, the logic behind it is that it delivers better value, is more efficient and will achieve an external workplace investigation service in a cheaper and fairer way. However, we know from experience with the national broadband plan, the national children's hospital project and CervicalCheck that the rhetoric of private sector efficiency is collapsing and that the neoliberal ideology that underpins it is expensive nonsense. This is another example of the Minister's rhetoric not matching reality. It is highly wasteful and I will give examples to show why I believe that is the case when I have a further minute to respond.

The Deputy referred to neoliberal ideology. I am not a neoliberal, but I believe there is a role in looking at how we can achieve value for money and ensure a variety of organisations will bid for particular projects. The Deputy referred to the national children's hospital. It is a State-funded project that will deliver services that will be available to citizens, young boys and girls. I would have thought that was the essence of the type of public service she would like to see improved, despite, I acknowledge, the great difficulties we have had in the latter part of that process. If she has particular concerns about the tendering process, I am sure she will share them with me now. There are many examples of public services - public transport, roads, primary care centres and schools - that have been really well delivered via the private sector through a tendering process. The Deputy may be suggesting the Government and the public sector should automatically proceed to build every project without a tendering process. I do not believe that is any more likely to lead to value for money than the processes that, by and large, work for us.

There are existing human resources capabilities within each Department and it is a role of the public service to provide human resources in each Department.

We have the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, which provides a human resources, HR, facility. The reason I am concerned is that I am aware of the firms involved, which the Minister has named. I am aware that one of them tells its customers, that is, the Department or the Government, that it guarantees satisfaction for employers. What does it say to workers that satisfaction is guaranteed for employers, but not for them, by a firm that is meant to be providing human resources services? I am aware of one case in which the investigation has been conducted for the past three years. The suspension of the staff involved has cost millions of euro and other staff are feeling highly aggrieved that the process is being dragged out. Moreover, for the individuals concerned, it is like "Run your claw along my gut", because it is not being brought to a conclusion by these very efficient, competitive, outsourced HR companies the Minister is about to re-engage. This is not very encouraging for workers in the public sector. Anybody undergoing an investigation or a possible dismissal is in dismay about this. Does the Minister intend to continue with this sort of an arrangement? What oversight on the costing is he doing to ascertain it is in any way efficient or the best way forward for the public sector and human resources?

Yes, I intend to continue with this process. It is worth emphasising that if these bodies and organisations win the tendering process, they must be in compliance with Government policy. The policy they operate will be Government policy on how employees or citizens are treated, not their own. What we want as an employer is for our employees, the employees of the State, to be treated fairly and impartially-----

It is not impartial to guarantee satisfaction for the employer.

-----and that this be done in a way that is in accordance with Government policy. That is the objective that we as an employer want to meet.

Every time I hear the Deputy talk about employers, I get a sense that she thinks that employers are always pitched in battle with their employees and trying to get-----

We are going to move on.

-----maximum advantage from them. We, as an employer, want to treat people-----

There are Members waiting.

-----who work for us well and the companies that are employed in doing this will have to implement Government policy.

National Children's Hospital Expenditure

Richard Boyd Barrett


50. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on whether public procurement processes are fit for purpose in view of the cost overruns at the national children’s hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10581/19]

I also want to discuss public procurement and the lessons that we may learn from the debacle of the national children's hospital. Has the debacle of going from an initial estimate of €400 million to an initial bid agreed for just over €600 million, all the way up to €1.7 billion or is it €1.4 billion or €2 billion, given the Minister pause for thought about the procurement process and whether we know how to scrutinise bids and how to do public procurement? Has it given him pause for thought, God forbid, that we might consider setting up something like a State construction company that might do this in a better, cheaper and more efficient way?

The latest review of the public sector spending code is currently under way in my Department. The technical economic parameters for use and appraisal have already been updated. Work is ongoing in updating the requirements as to the different stages involved in the process of selection, appraisal, approval and delivery of capital investment projects. This work will be done with the end of this quarter.

I already have outlined to the House and to the Deputy the different changes that I want to see happen with regard to procurement policy for very large projects. It is the case that the majority of projects we deliver within the State, all the way up to large projects, are delivered on budget and on time.

The Deputy made the point to me about a State construction agency. We already have in different parts of our economy or by policy area, bodies that are charged with the delivery of infrastructure projects. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the National Transport Authority, NTA and Irish Water are semi-State bodies. There is a whole variety of different Government bodies, all of which deliver the majority of projects well inside their particular policy areas. That is why I am so frustrated with where we ended up on the national children's hospital.

Can I ask a simple question? Is profit included in the bid process? I presume BAM or anybody else would require a profit margin. Are these things examined? Does the Minister look at how its bid might compare with what the Government would do if the State did this work directly and did not require the taking of a profit and whether that would work out cheaper and better?

When bids come in and, as in this case, the lowest bid is €170 million less than the next bid, does anyone say that perhaps we should probably take a look at this? If it was a difference of €10 million, €15 million or €20 million, one might think there was not too much to look at but when the difference between the lowest and the next highest bid is €170 million, somebody might suggest scrutinising in detail all the line items to see whether this bid was credible.

One point on which I am absolutely certain is that if we had found ourselves in a position where we had accepted a more expensive bid for the national children's hospital, we would now be facing many different charges regarding why that happened. Had the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, the body that made the decision, decided to go ahead with a bid that was not the cheapest, I would now be facing questions about that as well. I am well aware of the public anger and disappointment with what went wrong with this hospital and we will do better on projects of that scale like that in the future, because we do very well on many other infrastructure projects for which we are responsible.

If I am going to take credit for what I believe we can do well, I will take responsibility for what goes wrong as well. That is the way I have handled this. I am under no illusion that if we had gone ahead with a project tender that was more expensive than the lowest one, then the Deputy would be raising that with me here today.

I am anxious to facilitate others. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

That is not the question the Minister was asked.

I answered the Deputy's question.

I find it interesting that when doing this, it is completely outside the realms of consideration for the Minister to contemplate whether the State should do things directly itself. It would not require a profit motive, potentially would be able to get things cheaply in bulk and would be able to borrow money more cheaply. There are all sorts of possibilities as to why the State, when directly constructing projects might end up with a considerably cheaper cost. Moreover, there might be better oversight of it because there are layers upon layers when dealing with outsourced projects to the private sector.

Somebody who worked in industry, not particularly a socialist incidentally, made another point to me. He said that in his experience, the main contractor gives a certain price but is getting a much cheaper price from the subcontractor and is loading on the profit margin for the job. If one went to the subcontractor, who ends up doing the work in any event, before the main contractor went directly to them, one would find a much better price.

Then there are issues such as quality. How forensic is the comparison between tenders?

I am allowing Deputy Jonathan O'Brien a short supplementary question.

I disagree with the Minister's point that if he did not go with the lowest price, he would be criticised. If we had followed the legislation and had analysed the lowest bid and could prove that it was unable to fulfil the contractual obligations for that price and if the bidder was disqualified on the basis, I do not see how anybody could have criticised the Minister in such a scenario.

We will have to agree to differ as to what might have happened. I have not come across a case yet where if a Government body had been involved in not selecting the lowest price option, that this would not have been a cause of scrutiny and questions here. I believe that would have happened in respect of this project as well.

As to what Deputy Boyd Barrett has put to me and the early part of his question that I did not have the opportunity to answer, we have many situations in which the State directly builds projects itself. He should look at local authorities that are directly involved in building houses and our commercial semi-State sector that is directly involved in delivering infrastructure projects and the Office of Public Works, which is directly involved in building flood relief programmes.

I am unsure of where the Deputy is getting the view-----

The housing projects are not built directly.

-----from that we have ruled out the State delivering projects, given that it does and we are supportive of doing that. I remind the Deputy that the one time we tried to set up a new State body whose only job it was to deliver infrastructure, that being Irish Water, he fiercely opposed it.

The Deputy opposed it.

The councils were already doing that work.

Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 47.

Departmental Reform

Bernard Durkan


52. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent to which he expects reform to feature in respect of policy affecting various Departments with particular reference to the need to ensure equity throughout all Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10629/19]

This question is self-explanatory. To what extent do the reforms that were evident in recent years continue to be exercised across all Departments, without exception?

I thank the Deputy for his question. I launched the current framework for public service innovation and development, Our Public Service 2020, in December 2017. This plan is a whole-of-public service initiative that has been designed to build on the success of previous reforms, while also expanding the scope of reform to enable more collaboration, innovation and evaluation.

Ensuring equity and consistency in the application of reform across the entire public service is central to the framework. I expect this to be achieved through a robust and innovative governance structure, namely, the public service leadership board, PSLB, and the development of key indicators and metrics that are designed to track performance across our entire public service.

The PSLB was established to lead the delivery of Our Public Service 2020. For the first time ever, civil and wider public service leaders will share ownership and work jointly to drive the reform programme. This governance structure provides a platform for officials at the most senior level and from across the gamut of public services that we provide to ensure the even and consistent application of reform. Furthermore, Our Public Service 2020 contains an added focus on evaluation and the importance of building an evaluation culture. This will be achieved in part by developing indicators that support a focus on outcomes. For this reason, my Department established a reform evaluation unit to monitor and evaluate the reform outcomes and to create greater links between expenditure and reform.

Our Public Service 2020 seeks to deliver better outcomes for the public by ensuring that the citizen is at the centre of all policies and services that we deliver. There are always ways to do things better when it comes to the delivery of public services, but I am confident that my Department and those involved in the delivery of public services look to find ways to improve continually.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Are Departments encouraged to compare their results with a view to achieving the best possible outcome for the taxpayer? Has that happened in the past? Can that be done and is it likely to be done in future?

They do that through the PSLB, a new organisation that we have put together. What is notable about it is that it involves leaders from our civil and wider public services. For example, it has the Garda Commissioner as a member in addition to the Secretaries General of Departments. This is the first time that we have brought leaders from across the entire public service together with a view to seeing what they can learn from one another. In the delivery of, for example, IT projects, there is a far greater sharing of knowledge and services across Departments than was the case previously. Local authorities are a leading example of this. A number of them have taken on responsibility for the discharge of particular services on behalf of all local authorities across the country. This is a good development.

Given the obvious success of that policy during the downturn, does the Minister remain satisfied that the same benefits can accrue in a growing economy, as ours is? Will the reforms that are in place have the same effect or be even more beneficial in our current economic climate?

That is a relevant question. During the economic difficulties, there was a necessity for change in how we did things. Indeed, those difficulties provided a burning reason for why things needed to change quickly. It is fair to ask how we can maintain the same impetus for change when, thank God, we do not have those awful circumstances around us any more.

I am satisfied that there is the enthusiasm and drive to do this. That comes from two factors, the first of which is digitisation. There is a demand from citizens to be able to access services in a new way. Our public services must respond. The leading example of this is Revenue and the work it does in terms of the filing and use of tax information online. Second, those who provide our public services every day come into work and find ways to perform their jobs differently and better. There is an attitude for change there that will not go away.

I thank the Minister.

Community Sector High Level Forum

John Curran


53. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the community sector high level forum has met recently; the progress in regard to pension provision for supervisors and assistant supervisors of community employment schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10450/19]

Bríd Smith


78. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the total amount of providing pension entitlements to community employment supervisors in line with the Labour Court proposal has been costed; if funding will be made available in the coming period to deal with the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10622/19]

I suggest that there be no introduction to these questions, with the Minister to respond. The Deputies will have 30 seconds each for just one supplementary question apiece.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 78 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, this issue relates to a claim by community employment, CE, supervisors and assistant supervisors who have been seeking to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme. The matter was the subject of discussion at the community sector high level forum that was reconvened to examine certain issues pertaining to the CE sector and, in particular, to ensure that the matter was fully examined while having regard to costs and precedent.

A detailed scoping exercise was carried out by my Department in 2017 in order to examine and assess comprehensively the full potential implications of the issues under consideration. That exercise clearly illustrated that this matter presented significant issues for the Exchequer, with a potential cost to the State of between €188 million per annum and €347 million, depending on the size of the sector, which is difficult to ascertain, in respect of funding to enable an employer pension contribution in State-funded community and voluntary organisations. This excludes any provision for immediate ex gratia lump sum payments of pension as sought, which could, depending on the size of the sector, entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million.

It continues to be the position that State organisations are not the employer of the particular employees concerned and that it is not for the State to provide funding for such pension scheme provision. The employees in question are, or were, employees of private companies, notwithstanding the fact that the companies concerned are, or were, in receipt of State funding.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He knows that this issue has been around since the Labour Court recommendation of over a decade ago. The high-level forum that the Minister mentioned has been examining it. However, the matter must be resolved at some point. These people have spent years providing a significant service as supervisors and assistant supervisors, yet we are not making the level of progress that we should be.

I chair the Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which is examining the issue of bogus self-employment. There are parallels with what has been done to this group of people by saying that they are employed by private companies. They had no autonomy. Their sole funding came from the State. We must accept a level of responsibility and deal with the issue. It will not disappear.

It is ironic that the Government is constantly warning about pension time bombs and the need to force or cajole workers into pension schemes, yet here it is refusing to acknowledge the State's responsibility to provide these workers with pensions despite effectively being the agency that hired and paid them. These workers have taken strike action as a last resort in an effort to persuade the Government to negotiate with them. Their claim for a pension has been supported by the Labour Court and Dáil Éireann, which passed a motion calling on the Government to put in place pension arrangements for these workers. The Minister is now saying that it will cost too much even though we do not know the size of the sector.

We do know the size of it. I have shared with the House on a number of occasions the different figures that are involved in this. The key point I would make to Deputy Curran in response to the points he made is that the Government is not the employer. These were companies and organisations that were formed to provide services to which the State made a contribution. I know that Deputy Curran, as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, will appreciate the challenges involved here. As the Deputy knows, we are about to embark on a process in which we will be asking people, through the pensions master scheme and automatic enrolment, to forgo earnings to build up a pension in the future. However, we would face a great challenge were we to say that for another group of employees, we are going to do that retrospectively. How do we handle that issue for the citizens in our State? That is what is at the heart of this issue.

I thank the Minister. The issue may require more time but that is the best I can do.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.