Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Ministerial Advisers

Mairéad Farrell

Ceist:

10. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of special advisers employed across all Departments, disaggregated by Department; the annual salary of each special adviser; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16861/20]

We hear the triumvirate of taoisigh will have up to 17 special advisers. At the same time, there are reports that the Government plans to cut the Covid-19 payment by €50. Cut backs do not appear to apply to well-paid Government advisers. Ministers of State will get extra allowances. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, will cost taxpayers an additional €200,000. Will the Minister outline how many special advisers will be employed across all Departments, disaggregated by Department, and the salary of each special adviser?

I thank the Deputy for her question and congratulate her on her appointment and look forward to working with her.

On the commencement of every Dáil, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issues guidelines setting out the arrangements for the staffing of ministerial offices. The guidelines for the 33rd Dáil currently await Government approval.

Appointments to the position of special adviser are made in accordance with section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 which states that the Government may by order, appoint special advisers to the Minister or Minister of State who is assigned to a Department or to a scheduled office provided that the number of special advisers shall not in the case of a Minister, other than the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste or the leader of a political party registered in the register of political parties, be greater than two, in the case of a Minister of State who regularly attends meetings of the Government be greater than two, and in the case of any other Minster of State be greater than one. All appointments to the position of special adviser require a Government order to be made.

Special advisers to Ministers and Ministers of State who regularly attend Cabinet are to be placed on the principal officer - standard - PPC scale, which is currently €87,325 - €101,114.

Special advisers to Ministers of State are to be placed on the assistant principal officer standard scale, which is currently €67,659 - €78,816. While appointments should normally be on the first point of the scale, Secretaries General have delegated sanction to approve any increment on the scale where they are satisfied that this is justified. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will publish the rates payable on its website.

The above restrictions on salary scale do not apply to special advisers to the Taoiseach or Tánaiste. The individual pay rates will also be published on the website. At this stage, no special advisers have been formally appointed by the Government. This process will start once the guidelines have been approved by Government and details will be published on the website of my Department.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus gabhaim comhghairdeas leis féin. Tá brón orm ach bhí deacrachtaí anála agam tar éis an cheist a chur.

When Ministers have entire Departments to assist them in their work it seems less than prudent to spend taxpayers' money on costly advice sourced from elsewhere. An Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, is to have a chief of staff, a deputy chief of staff and three special advisers, not to mention an economic adviser. The Fine Gael leader, Deputy Leo Varadkar, is to have an aide-de-camp, despite no longer being the leader of this country, or is he simply did Taoiseach-in-waiting? In addition, he will have five or six advisers. The Green Party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is to have four or five advisers. Given the events of the past week, one of them may be there to wake him up when he falls asleep. This is fast becoming a circus. The Minister said the details will be published online. Can he commit to publishing an updated and ongoing list of special advisers as has been done in the past and can the list include more detail, including whether the advisers are related to the individual receiving the advice?

I thank the Deputy for her follow-on question. There is always transparency as to the persons who have been appointed and the salaries they are paid. We will continue with that transparency. The details will be published in the normal way. That cannot happen until we have adopted a formal Government policy on the appointment of special advisers. A memorandum will be brought to Government shortly to formalise this issue and to get Government approval for this policy. All the details will be published in the normal way and will be open to question and scrutiny. I know from my time in the Opposition that of all of those details are available in parliamentary questions and will be published directly on the website of my Department.

The work special advisers do is really valuable. I am a new Minister and have one person working with me at the moment. The amount and volume of work that is coming our way is phenomenal. I was in the office until after 11 o’clock last night working through a range of issues. One needs as much help as one can get. Provided the right people with the right experience, qualifications and calibre are appointed, as a country, it is money well spent and we get a return for that investment.

I agree special advisers add a great amount to the work of a Deputy and, I am sure, even more so to the work of a Minister. We also hear a great deal about responsible Government and fiscal prudence. Yet here, where taxpayers' money is concerned, it seems to the public - people have contacted me - like reckless spending on special advisers. How can we reiterate time and again that we are all in this together when it is quite clear we are not? I have no problem with people having to tighten their belts but the reality is we all have to be wearing the same size trousers at that point. It is very evident that while many people are struggling and many SMEs are starved of capital, there is a select few who live in different reality. Is it fair that at a time when so many people are doing more with less that Ministers continue to have more?

Whatever we do will be fully in accordance with the relevant 1997 legislation. The rates of pay of any adviser appointed will be governed by that. It is principal officer level for Ministers’ special advisers and assistant principal officer level for any special adviser appointed for a Minister of State. The very issues and policies the Deputy has highlighted underline the need for a really good Government, one that is going to invest in the people, is going to underpin the income supports people have and is going to unveil this week a July stimulus package, which is designed to support employment, to support incomes and to help businesses to try to survive what is an incredibly tough economic period. There will be a huge challenge ahead in trying to implement the objectives in the programme for Government at a time when we are in many respects trying to rebuild our country in the context of the fallout from Covid-19. Special advisers have a role to play but the Deputy has made some valid points and we will certainly take them on board.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Matt Shanahan

Ceist:

11. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the learning that has occurred from Covid-19 planning; and the measures that can be implemented into the future regarding public policy planning from recent experience gained. [17332/20]

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him the very best of luck in his new role, which the country will certainly need. What learning has occurred from Covid-19 planning? What measures might be implemented in the future regarding public policy planning and procurement as a result of the recent experience gained?

I thank the Deputy for his good wishes and for his question and Iook forward to working with him over the term of this Dáil. He has put forward a really good question. I will read the official answer and look forward to engagement on any particular issues he may wish to discuss in the course of this debate.

Covid-19 has been an unprecedented public health emergency with implications across the economy and society. For that reason, there has been a whole-of-Government response led by the Department of the Taoiseach and involving all Departments with many other public bodies, including my Department. As the Deputy will be aware, the Government has established the Cabinet committee, chaired by the Taoiseach, to assess the social and economic impacts of the potential spread of Covid-19. The work of the Cabinet committee includes addressing the impacts, mitigation measures and contingencies for cross-sectoral issues which arise in areas beyond the health service, building on the effective public health work undertaken to date. A whole-of-Government approach to the Covid-19 response requires cohesive decision-making, a partnership approach, expert public health advice and clarity of communications.

As the Deputy will be aware, the health sector response has been led by the Department of Health and the HSE and questions in this regard are a matter for the Minister for Health. Due to the nature of its role, my Department has been involved in a number of areas of the overall Government response including but not limited to the following. There is a whole list of them and I will read a few into record. My Department has engaged proactively with relevant Departments from an expenditure perspective throughout the crisis and the Deputy will be aware that the Government has agreed to allocate substantial additional funding to a number of Votes to meet additional costs, including, for example, in the social protection and health areas. The crisis has had major implications for employers and staff across the Civil Service and public service and my Department has provided leadership, direction and a collaborative approach to managing the complex issues that have arisen for public service employers.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer in my Department has worked with other public bodies in the context of the role of digital Government in responding to the crisis. The Office of Government Procurement in my Department has played an important supporting role in respect of aspects of the public procurement response and there have been many innovative elements to the response to this unprecedented crisis. My Department’s reform office is seeking to capture those and will look to reflect them as appropriate in the next phase of the public service reform programme.

My Department has also had its own departmental response to the crisis through the implementation of its internal business continuity plan and the move to large-scale remote working. Lessons have been learned about the value of effective communication and collaboration on cross-cutting issues, the importance of business continuity planning and the effective use of technology, and these will continue to inform the Department’s future approach to such issues.

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to the way in which individual public servants and public bodies have responded to this emergency. The response across all sectors has been immense and I am grateful to all the public servants who have played such an important role.

I thank the Minister for his response. One of his areas of responsibility is expenditure and its management and oversight. One of the issues arising in Covid-19, in particular, is the issue of procurement of supply chains. We have had to run to China and spend inordinate amounts of money to try to secure the supply of PPE, when in fact there are a number of companies in this country which could provide that. It is time for HSE procurement to take a very different view on this. The private hospitals deal done recently excluded doctors with private patients and ultimately reduced the amount of capacity we are able to secure. These are things I would like to see the Minister’s Department taking some leadership on.

There is also the question of indigenous manufacturing. The Minister is quite right in that his Department is supporting employment, the pandemic unemployment payments and the wage subsidy schemes but what we actually need is procurement into the end SME sector as well.

I thank the Deputy for raising those points. One of the issues that will have to be considered by Ireland and by Europeans in general is whether we should reduce our reliance on other countries such as China for the provision and manufacturing of essential items that could be required in the event of the pandemic becoming more serious. We need to become more self-sufficient in respect of critical services and goods for our economy. That is a key issue that I am determined that my Department will play a role in trying to manage.

I think our economy will change as a result of Covid-19. The increase we have seen in remote working and more flexible working will be here to stay to some extent, though not to the extent it is at the moment. It will be present across the Civil Service and public service. The aim is that next year we will move towards 20% of working time being remote working from home across the public service. For many public servants, I think that would be a good change. The public service has shown an ability to adapt. It has adapted at a time of great change and has performed exceptionally well. We need to see that level of flexibility implemented in adopting and putting into effect some of the reforms that are necessary to improve our public services further.

I thank the Minister. I look forward to engaging with him. One thing that must be considered is that the State is the largest purchaser in the country. We have to get far more radical about how we procure services and products in this country. I point out to the Minister that there is a list of necessary pharmaceuticals, with about 175 in total. Some 135 are made only in China and India. We need to consider these things, as other countries do, with regard to securing future supply lines and safety in case of future pandemics and future health risks. We can hopefully engage and look at that in greater deal in another forum.

I thank the Deputy. The point he has made about essential supplies and securing the supply line is really important. We will need to reflect carefully on it as we further develop our economic response to Covid-19, because those challenges could emerge again. Not just Ireland, but many other countries were faced with that reality where much large-scale manufacturing has moved to the Far East. A dependence has built up and it is a lesson for the entire European Union that needs to be taken on board and put into effect in new policies. On the procurement issue, I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, when he served in that role previously. I note that the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, is keen to continue with the work to open up procurement opportunities for small and medium-sized indigenous businesses in Ireland. That is a key objective of this Government. It is reflected in the programme for Government and we are determined to build on the progress that has been made so far in collaboration with all the representative bodies to cut through some of the red tape and open up those procurement opportunities insofar as we can.

Public Procurement Contracts

Mairéad Farrell

Ceist:

12. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if there have been reforms to the procurement process with regard to the issue of guaranteed maximum price contracts to ensure that massive cost overruns will not be borne on the taxpayer going forward; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16633/20]

A major reason for the cost overrun of the children's hospital was the extremely deficient way the guaranteed maximum price contract was handled. I have here a quote from the independent PwC review into this debacle. It states, "There was a lack of formal planning, strategic direction and preparation in relation to the process by which the GMP would be determined." Have there been any reforms to the procurement process related to the issue of guaranteed maximum price contracts to ensure that substantial cost overruns will not be borne by the taxpayer in future?

I thank Deputy Farrell for her question. I will give her the written answer and then she can ask questions to follow up. As Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform I have responsibility for the development of policy to ensure adequate expenditure oversight on capital projects and for public procurement. The public spending code is the set of rules, procedures and guidance developed to ensure value for money in public expenditure. It sets out the oversight and approval process for public expenditure proposals, including capital projects.

All public works projects that are delivered under the Exchequer-funded element of the national development plan must be procured in accordance with the provisions laid down in the capital works management framework. It comprises an integrated set of contractual provisions, procurement templates, procedures and guidance which cover all aspects of the delivery process of a public works project from inception to final project delivery and review to assist contracting authorities in meeting their ongoing procurement requirements.

The general requirement is that public works projects are to be comprehensively defined prior to tender. The standard form of public works contract is used on the vast majority of public works projects. It is a lump sum, fixed-price contract with tightly defined conditions governing price increases and time extensions. In limited circumstances, a derogation from the use of the standard forms of contract may be sought by means of an application to the Government contracts committee for construction. This process may be used for complex or large projects or for those which have specific requirements which do not naturally fit with the standard forms of contract.

Since the public works contracts were introduced in 2007, two projects utilising a two stage award process resulting in a guaranteed maximum price have been agreed through this derogation process. These are the new children's hospital and Dunkettle interchange upgrade works. Due to the scale of the national children's hospital and the complexity of the Dunkettle project, the early involvement of the contractor, facilitated by these types of contracts, formed part of the risk management strategy.

It is important to note that a derogation, if agreed, does not approve the approach or strategy of the contracting authority, but simply acknowledges that the circumstances are such as to warrant a different approach than the standard. It is a matter for the contracting authority and the approving authority to satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the approach with regards to compliance with procurement rules and project appraisal in accordance with the public spending code. Accountability for the procurement strategy rests with the contracting authority.

Significant amendments were made to the public works contracts in 2016 and engagement is currently underway in the Office of Government Procurement on a more comprehensive review of construction procurement. The latest review of the public spending code was completed in 2019. The update to this code specifically strengthens the existing guidance to better reflect the realities of project delivery with a particular focus on financial appraisal, cost estimation and risk management. It will be supplemented by a new governance and assurance process for major projects with an estimated cost of more than €100 million. This new process will involve an independent, external review of major projects at key stages in the project lifecycle.

I believe a guaranteed maximum price is essential, because it gives price certainty to the State about the cost of large public procurement projects and ensures taxpayers are not left on the hook for the types of cost overruns we have seen, which have seen the cost of the children's hospital balloon to what I am worried will be around three times the original cost, making this the most expensive medical centre in the history of the world, which is embarrassing to say the least. It seems to me from the Minister of State's response that there will be some sort of review and report. Will he outline the areas and the issues that will be examined and confirmed? Will it be made publicly available and, if so, when?

It is much more than a review and report, which would be inadequate. The Deputy is right to refer to the PwC report from last year. Its analysis was that the national children's hospital involved a substantial overspend and it pinpointed an underestimation of cost. It made two recommendations. One was that we need to strengthen the rules of the public spending code. Further, it stated that we needed an independent, external review of large projects at every stage, all the way through the project life cycle. There was somebody outside the contracting Department who could say "Hold on a second, we need to stop here". Both of those recommendations have happened. The public spending code was updated last year, in 2019, and I advise the Deputy to have a look at that. I met with the officials in charge of the public spending code and I am very impressed by their enthusiasm and ability. Secondly, on large projects of more than €100 million, there will be an external, independent review at all stages of the project life cycle.

It is good to hear there will be an examination of this issue. It is a pity the PwC report also makes clear that the business case proposal upon which the State based this investment decision contained material errors regarding not adhering to the public spending code, to which the Minister of State alluded. Will the Minister of State advise why it was not adhered to? Who is responsible for ensuring it is enforced? It will be the most expensive hospital in the world.

I confirm that the recommendations of the PwC report will be implemented. The shortfalls that were found will be addressed. With regard to who is responsible, the sponsoring authority that wanted to propose this project is the Department of Health. The body that sanctioned it, the approving authority, was the Government. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform provides the public spending code and advice and help to anybody who is undertaking large projects. The PwC report indicated that it was not enough to rely on the sponsoring authority, which is the contracting authority, to monitor its own projects and that we needed an external, independent review so that someone could review it and say that it is not enough.

That is the change that we need. We have a huge number of projects worth €1 million and more planned as part of the national development plan. We need a robust control mechanism to make sure those projects do not run over in the way the children's hospital has done, and that we learn from that.

Capital Allowances

Mairéad Farrell

Ceist:

13. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the agreed capital ceilings for each Department in tabular form; if there have been changes in respect of committed and pre-committed expenditure as a result of the Covid-19 crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16634/20]

Will the Minister provide the agreed capital ceilings for each Department in tabular form and confirm if there have been changes in respect of committed and pre-committed expenditure as a result of the Covid-19 crisis?

As the Deputy will be aware, Departmental structures are currently being revised. Work on putting the new structures in place is being implemented and involves the drafting of transfer of function orders. It is expected that this work will be completed in the coming weeks. In addition, legislation approved by the Government on 13 July will come before the House later this week. The purpose of this legislation is to establish the new Department of higher education research, innovation and science.

Hence, I propose to answer this question on the basis of the capital allocations listed in the Revised Estimates Volume published on 19 December 2019, which set out capital expenditure allocations of €8.166 billion for 2020. The capital allocations were considered to be sufficient to meet the commitments of Departments at that point.

The following table lists the original departmental Estimates alongside their revised allocations to reflect the need to fund projects and programmes to alleviate the impact of Covid-19 of on our society. It should also be noted that the allocations shown in the table will be further updated, in the context of the restated Revised Estimates which will be presented in the autumn in line with the new departmental structures and these will reflect the additional capital funding that is being made available as part of the July stimulus measures. The table shows the original allocations of €8.166 billion, the additional allocation of €742 million, which brings the total of revised allocations to €8.908 billion.

Capital Expenditure Allocations

Original Allocations €,m

Revised Allocations €,m

Increase

Agriculture, Food and the Marine

274

294

20

Business, Enterprise & Innovation

632

1,115

483

Children and Youth Affairs

31

38

7

Communications, Climate Action & Environment

382

382

0

Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht

81

81

0

Defence

113

125

12

Education & Skills

922

922

0

Employment Affairs & Social Protection

15

15

0

Finance

22

22

0

Foreign Affairs

13

13

0

Health

854

1,074

220

Housing, Planning & Local Government

2,240

2,240

0

Justice

269

269

0

Public Expenditure and Reform

225

225

0

Rural & Community Development

150

150

0

Transport, Tourism & Sport

1,943

1,943

0

Total Vote

8,166

8,908

742

I shall outline some of the issues that led to this growth. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine received an additional €20.4 million for a number of different measures. The largest element of the increase was for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which received nearly €500 million. This funded the sustaining enterprise fund operated by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. There was €250 million for the restart grant scheme. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs received €14 million for capital grants. A total of €220 million for additional capital funding was allocated to the Department of Health for infrastructure and capacity expansion, including ICT investment. These are the overall numbers.

There are no further questions on that. I had just wanted to get those figures. We will read the full detail in the written reply. I thank the Minister.