Thursday, 18 April 2013

Ceisteanna (8)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

8. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the Revised Estimates for 2013 will be published before summer 2013; when they will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17852/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

The Revised Estimates Volume, REV, 2013 was published yesterday, 17 April, and provides additional details and information on the allocations contained in the 2013 Estimates as published on 5 December 2012 in the Expenditure Report 2013. Furthermore, the REV has set out key performance information regarding the outputs and impacts of programme expenditure and this will complement the financial data in the Estimates.

I tabled the question last week before the Revised Estimates were published. It appeared then that the Estimates would not be published before 1 May which is why I inquired whether they would appear before the summer. The Minister has now published the Estimates. The question relates to more than whether it is just a case of this week or next week. What is the Minister’s timetable for the Revised Estimates to be passed by the Oireachtas now that they are published? I hope that will be done during May. Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister held off on publication of the Revised Estimates while discussions were ongoing does he agree that it is not right that we should discuss the Estimates for 2013 in April and May when 40% of the money for the year in which approval is being sought in the Estimate has already been spent and the overwhelming majority of the balance is already pre-committed?

We are really just looking at the money and waving at it after the horse has bolted. Europe, thank God, is forcing a situation upon us whereby we will have the Estimates for 2014 published by October. Sometimes good developments come from Europe which we do not seem to be capable of introducing ourselves, for some reason. I ask the Minister to give a commitment to the House that we will have the Estimates for next year in October 2013. Will the Minister give a commitment that the full, revised Estimates for 2014 will be passed before 1 January 2014?

The Deputy will be aware that the two legislative bodies within the European Union, the European Council and the European Parliament, have enacted the so-called two-pack legislation which requires us to bring forward the budget and the Estimates to October, as Deputy Fleming rightly pointed out. It is the intention of the Government to have the Estimates for 2014 debated and voted on before the end of 2013. That is our intention and our commitment.

Did the troika instruct the Minister, or did he agree, to find the €300 million from the public sector payroll?

While the Deputy is going back to the previous question, I am happy to answer that. The arithmetic agreed with the troika was the budget line, which contained an additional saving of €300 million in payroll this year. That was understood when we negotiated the service outline for this year because we wanted to add back money to the Departments of Health and Social Protection. It was understood from the beginning of the year that those additional savings of €300 million, on top of the savings we have already targeted in the pay area, would come from pay. That is the understanding we have with the troika.

Was that reiterated during the Minister's recent telephone call?

That was the basis of the discussion, yes.

I strongly agree with Deputy Fleming about the nonsense that is discussing last year's Estimates this year. Deputy Howlin is the Minister with responsibility for reform and one of the issues that was often discussed at meetings of the finance committee and the Committee of Public Accounts was the need for the Oireachtas to have a meaningful input into the development of the budget in any given year. The Minister made reference to the first week in October for the publication of the Estimates. Last year, many Deputies tried to present alternative budget proposals, including Deputies from the Labour Party, as well as at least one MEP. Will space be provided for the Oireachtas to have a meaningful involvement, given that the Minister has said that the essential decisions will be made by early October, with the budget being passed before the end of the year? Can we adopt a more European style of drawing up the Estimates and framing budgets?

I entirely agree with Deputy Broughan. Parliament has never really been used in a way that meaningfully involves it in the drawing up of the Estimates. It was for that reason that the Government fundamentally changed things. However, it is not just a question of facilitating such involvement - the facilitation must be seized upon by Members of the House. We have published the comprehensive review of expenditure, devised by the Departments, which deals with all of the expenditure issues and options, although those options are not exhaustive and Deputies may think of others. We have also published the three-year envelope of expenditure, so Deputies will know what the envelope of expenditure in the Departments of Health, Education and Skills or Social Protection, for example, is for each of the next three years. Given that Deputies now know all of the issues involved and the envelope, I had hoped that each line committee would meet the Secretary General or Minister in each Department and go through the options. It should also be possible to involve members of the public and groups that have views on such options. The committees could test the options and make recommendations to Government. However, that process probably will not really take off until we are in an expansionary phase again and talking about additional expenditure. Just as it is difficult for the trade union movement to vote for a worsening of terms and conditions, it is difficult for Deputies in opposition, in particular, to come up with proposals to make reductions in public expenditure. It is difficult for them to say that one option is better than another, and so forth, and I understand that. It is, I suppose, base politics. However, if Deputies want to argue for the empowering of Parliament, they must take that on and not simply say, "none of the above", reject the basic premise of the budget line and refuse to engage. Maybe when we move into an expansion phase again, we will have a much more robust pre-debate of the Estimates, involving Parliament as the instrument of the people in the way that it should be.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 19 April 2013.