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Consultancy Contracts

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 July 2012

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Ceisteanna (28, 29)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

4Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his Department has recruited any consultancy service in the past year; if so in what area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21423/12]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

5Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the total cost of consultants hired by his Department in 2012. [23762/12]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (71 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.

Expenditure on consultancy by my Department has greatly reduced in recent years. Since 2008 there has been an 88% reduction on consultancy spend, and consultants are only engaged when necessary, with all guidelines in engagement of consultants adhered to. In 2011 my Department engaged QTS Consulting to carry out a risk assessment and update the Department's 2011 health and safety statement at a cost of €1,271.

The organisational review programme, ORP, which was mandated to examine the capabilities of the Civil Service to meet the challenges ahead and deliver focused public services into the future, finalised its review of my Department last year. To assist in the preparation of my Department's action plan in response to the ORP report, Towers Watson Consultants was asked to facilitate a series of workshops with staff. The use of consultants in facilitating the workshops helped to assure staff of confidentiality and the independence of their findings. The total cost of the consultants was €12,100. The total spend by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.

Will the Taoiseach indicate that the experitse was not available in the human resources section of the Department to provide the seminars, in particular, and the workshops with staff, etc.? Does the Taoiseach envisage that more companies will be recruited over the next year? What will be the cost of same? An important point has emerged in the utilisation of consultancy companies to legally evade taxation obligations in this country. Apparently, this is now the case in the Department of Health, where two of the senior advisers on the team of the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, are, in essence, consultancies procured through arrangements and vehicles in the United Kingdom to evade legally any obligation to pay taxes in this jurisdiction.

I respectfully suggest that this has serious implications for social solidarity when we are asking everybody in the health service and across the public and private sectors to bear the burden of taxation and additional charges. It adds to cynicism and scepticism if this means of procurement and utilisation of consultancies by the Minister in particular and the Government in general is to be used. I ask the Taoiseach to consider this seriously, as it has the capacity to undermine public confidence in administration and the manner in which the Government procures advisory services.

The number of consultants employed by the Department of the Taoiseach is kept to a minimum and when it happens, the process is strictly in accordance with guidelines and proper regulations. QTS Consulting was engaged in 2010 following a competitive tender to carry out a risk assessment and review of the Department's health and safety statement, which is a requirement for all Departments. Section 20 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires the Department to have in place a written safety statement based on the identification of hazards and risk assessments carried out in the workplace. The reason is that while one may have competent internal personnel, in any Department having an objective outside independent view on the importance of a written statement on health and safety in the workplace is in the interests of all employees. That was the reason a competitive tender was sought and the consultants were appointed.

The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has employed several specialists on specific contracts because of their expertise. The Deputy should raise the point with him about consultants being involved in tax evasion or making recommendations. The subject requires a more detailed response in a Topical Issue Debate or to a priority question tabled to the Minister.

It was tax avoidance.

I imagine the Minister would be happy to respond in detail.

Will the Taoiseach give us the figures again? He gave a total figure of €21,074, some €12,100 of which was attributable to the departmental action plan. What did the health and safety review cost, that is, the work carried out by QTS?

QTS carried out a risk assessment and updated the Department's health and safety statement at a cost of €1,271.

The figures are €1,271 and €12,100. They do not come to €21,074. There is obviously something missing from the Taoiseach's script. I am trying to figure out the mathematics because I am puzzled. The health and safety review cost €1,271. Is that what the Taoiseach told me?

Yes, €1,271.

The departmental action plan cost €12,100.

That is correct.

The Taoiseach told us the overall spend was €21,074.

The total spend by the Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.

The Taoiseach has only itemised spending on two contracts, which comes to approximately €13,000. Clearly, there is something missing.

The EU communications contract was given to a media and public affairs consultancy firm for 60 days to deal with the EU affairs and co-ordination division of the Department of the Taoiseach. It was to assist in the development of a media and communications strategy in respect of Ireland's role in the European Union and to identify and advise on the media and communications challenges relating to the Union in a complex environment with increasing demands for public information. The work also involved identifying concrete actions to deliver on priorities and develop an initial communications plan, including logistics, for Ireland's Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers. Following a competitive tendering process, a person was appointed on 28 March to provide EU communications advice. She commenced work on that for 60 days. The person concerned, Ms Erskine, has completed her work and finalised her duties.

Does that account for the difference in the figures?

I assume it does, but I do not have the figure before me. As far as I know, there was no other consultancy contract.

I thank the Taoiseach for clarifying the matter. In the case of QTS and the EU media consultancy contract, competitive tendering procedures were applied. Is that equally true of Towers Watson and the work on the departmental action plan? I am calling on the Taoiseach to confirm that all consultancy work is subject to the standard and required procurement procedure. The media consultancy contract to assist the Department in communications on our position in the European Union and so on was for 60 days. Did it coincide with the referendum period? Will the Taoiseach clarify the matter?

It was about the key message to be communicated during Ireland's Presidency of the European Council and associated preparations. I confirm that the logistics and the preparations for Ministers for the Presidency are intense and will become even more so in the run-in from September. It had nothing to do with the referendum issue but with preparing for the EU Presidency which we will assume on 1 January next year.

I am sorry for getting up and down, but I was keen to clarify those matters. The Taoiseach was asked about the in-house expertise available and, no doubt, it is considerable within the Department. I understand there are matters which of necessity require consultancy support and for which the Department must buy in skills. It strikes me as rather odd, however, that the Taoiseach would need a media consultant to work with him on his political messages, to use his phrase, for the Presidency of the European Council. As the Head of Government, he and his departmental staff should be more than well equipped to crunch down on these issues and decide on the messages they reckon it will be appropriate to communicate in that time. Will he clarify the matter? He has stated this work started on 28 March and that it was a 60 day contract. I presume the work was finished in or around 28 May. There was a referendum held on 31 May. Will the Taoiseach be clear on the nature of that consultancy work? I find it odd that he required it to be done, but nonetheless he has suggested it referred solely and exclusively to the upcoming European Council Presidency and that it had no bearing on the treaty referendum. Will he tell the House off the top of his head, if possible, how much the Department spends per annum in dealing with European communications issues? Is it common practice for the Department to bring in media advisers for his public enunciation of the European message.

The Department of the Taoiseach only brought in personnel in the European section when the Government was formed last year. There was a unit dealing with questions on the European Union but to streamlinee matters and to be more effective personnel dealing with European issues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade came to the Department of the Taoiseach. There was a more hands-on approach as a result, with a specific Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs reporting both to the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I cannot indicate what was spent in the past in dealing with European affairs isues by the Department of the Taoiseach, although I am sure that figure is available for the Deputy. We try to keep costs to a minimum in the best way possible.

The Deputy referred to the date of the referendum and the period for completion of the work by the advisory service. I am sure that since the dates overlapped to an extent, there would have been some advisory work done in respect of the Government preparing for the referendum and the EU Presidency. Things will overlap, although the remit was specifically the EU Presidency and what it meant for us. It is fair to say the range of questions and requests for information to the Department is rather extensive. The Deputy would be surprised by the range of questions and what people ask about the European Union and how the Government intends to deal with issues as we prepare for this, our seventh Presidency which we want to be as effective as possible. Several matters may fall to be dealt with during the Irish EU Presidency. I am glad the Danes concluded on the patent agreement, the work on which lasted for 30 years. The multi-annual financial framework, which is the budget for the European Union from 2014 to 2020, may fall to be decided during the Irish Presidency. One cannot reform the CAP without having in place a multi-annual financial framework. That is of such importance to the Union, 80% of whose budget is related to the CAP, but also to this country in respect of the single farm payment and what it means for the agriculture sector and exports. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, was in France with 35 companies during the week. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, was in the United States following through on clear opportunities.

There is a need to update, in a complete fashion, the website on the Irish Presidency with a view to outlining what it means for Ireland and our relationship with our colleague countries in Europe. That was also part of the work. It is a matter of taking into account the fact that the Presidency offers an opportunity to send out a positive message about Ireland and how we are moving towards economic recovery, and about decisions that are being taken that affect our society and the Government's political vision on Ireland's place in the eurozone and European Union. It is also a question of determining where the European Union should position itself globally.

May I make a comment?

No. To be fair, I must call Deputy Martin.

May I come back in later?

Deputy Adams's question concerned the total cost of consultants hired by the Department in 2012.

This relates to consultancy costs.

There are other Deputies present who have tabled questions and we must try to reach them.

Perhaps the Taoiseach could explain why he did not give a full answer at the outset. He did not mention the media and public affairs consultancy in his initial reply to my question and that of Deputy Adams.

I gave the full amount.

The figures were wrong.

The Taoiseach did not mention that a media and public affairs consultancy was used. He mentioned QTS, the ORP and Towers Watson, but he did not mention the other company. Is it in the official reply? Will the Taoiseach undertake to forward to us the exact details of the consultancy contract given that they may not appear in the formal reply prepared for the question I tabled? I do not know whether there was an attempt to hide the information. In response to a supplementary question, the Taoiseach articulated the information to the House. There may have been a genuine misunderstanding. It is incumbent on the Taoiseach, given the questions asked, to give the full answer. For some reason, we-----

I hope the Deputy is not suggesting I was hiding something.

Can the Taoiseach explain why he did not give the information?

These are oral questions and the Minister or Taoiseach replies orally. It is not a question of a written statement.

I gave the official answer and I gave Deputy McDonald further information, which is in the official brief.

I asked the Taoiseach "if his Department has recruited any consultancy service in the past year; if so, in what area; and if he will make a statement on the matter". In his answer, the Taoiseach, for some reason, excluded any mention of the EU media messaging consultancy.

I said "only engaged when necessary, with all guidelines in relation to engagement with consultants"-----

I am saying the Taoiseach excluded that information in the beginning. There was an attempt not to mention it, although I do not know why. The Taoiseach just did not mention it; it is not included in the answer. We are, at least, entitled to receive answers to the questions we ask. I hope there was not an attempt to bury the information because of the sensitivities associated with European issues and the referendum.

This is Question Time.

Exactly. I want an answer to the question I tabled but I did not get one.

May I offer an apology to Deputies Adams, McDonald and Martin? I forgot to read page 3 of the three-page response.

Questions Nos. 1 to 5 deal with the ORP report. Questions Nos. 6 to 17 deal with the media and public affairs consultant and Question No. 18 deals with the health and safety statement. When I finished at the end of page 2, I stated total expenditure by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074.

Let me read the next three paragraphs, which state:

This includes a payment of €19,803 to Ms Caroline Erskine, media and public affairs consultant who was engaged to provide an EU communications advisory service to my Department following a competitive tendering process. This is a particularly intense period of EU-related activity for Ireland. Preparation for Ireland's Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers has intensified since the start of the year. A major Government information campaign was also launched to inform the public ahead of the referendum on the stability treaty, which had not been foreseen at the start of the year.

The Government is committed to building public understanding and knowledge about Ireland's EU membership.

A payment of €1,271 was made to QTS who carried out a risk assessment and updated the Department's 2012 health and safety statement.

I apologise again to the Members. Page 3 got stuck to page 2 and, inadvertently, I did not read it out.

I accept the Taoiseach's apology. I will now ask the supplementary question I was to ask before the misunderstanding. With regard to my question on the utilisation of consultancies to avoid paying tax, which avoidance is illegal in this country, I suggest that the matter be a broad Government policy issue. The bottom line is that it appears that in the Ministry for Health and Department of Health, consultancies are now being used as a basis for hiring senior advisers to the Department, with companies located in the United Kingdom avoiding the payment of any income tax. That is unacceptable. Does the Taoiseach agree it is unacceptable? Will he, as Taoiseach, take up this issue with his Ministers?

I will take it up with the members of the Government. I do not believe it is acceptable to have consultants involved in work if it has the effect described. Obviously, in the financial world, people often prepare reports on how to lessen the impact of tax payment. When the Deputy talks about tax evasion or avoidance, he should note these are other matters. I will certainly raise the issue with the Minister for Finance. There may be technical reasons requiring a response and I will revert to the Deputy.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

There are only 20 minutes left. We have spent 40 minutes on the first few questions. The next grouping contains questions Nos. 6 to 66, inclusive.

It relates to the matter at hand.

I ask the Deputy to table a further question. I have spent enough time on this and must move on, in fairness to other Deputies.

The Taoiseach made a statement to the Dáil that requires a response. Whatever about one page being stuck to another, his figures still do not add up.

In that case, the Deputy should table a written question, in which case she will receive a full answer.

The question is tabled and it should be answered accurately and fully. While I realise there are bigger issues further down the agenda-----

It is not that; it is that I am trying to be fair to everybody.

We have a legitimate expectation to receive a full answer.

I am just trying to be fair to everybody.

The Taoiseach stated that EU consultancy work did pertain to preparation and advice in respect of the referendum. He did not say that at the outset. I am working on the broad supposition, probably incorrectly, that the use of public moneys for that was fully in accordance with the letter and spirit of the McKenna judgment. The Taoiseach did not give a full answer although I acknowledge his pages stuck together. His figures still do not add up, however, because his revised figures give him a total of more than €32,000, rather than €21,074, as first articulated. I am more concerned about the fact that it is only in response to further questioning that the Taoiseach clarified the EU consultancy work was not simply about the Presidency, as he indicated at first, but also related to the referendum campaign. The work was concluded on 28 May and the people went to the polls on 31 May. The Taoiseach needs to clarify for the Dáil that the use of public moneys was in accordance with the McKenna judgment.

If one adds up €1,271 and €19,803, one gets the princely sum of €21,074.

What about Towers Watson?

I said that, at the end of the page that got stuck, it is stated the total expenditure by my Department to date in 2012 on consultancy is €21,074. The next sentence stated this includes a payment of €19,803 to the media and public affairs consultant.

Could we bring in someone from sixth class maths?

The consultancy payment of €21,074 includes the payment of €19,803 to the media and public affairs consultant. That, together with the payment of €1,271 to QTS, gives one €21,074.

Where is Towers Watson in the departmental action plan mentioned a few minutes ago?

What did I say Towers Watson got?

He said €12,100.

That makes €32,000.

I think it is a sign.

The total cost of the consultants was €12,100.

Two questions were tabled. The first, from Deputy Martin, asked the total cost in the past year and the second asked the total cost of consultants hired by the Department in 2012.

I think that clarifies it.

I do not think it does.

At the moment we can only separate the questions.

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