Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Ceisteanna (33)

Dara Calleary


33. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount of funding allocated by his Department for current and capital expenditure in 2018 including the capital carry-over from 2017; the amount spent under each category to date in 2018; his plans to ensure full expenditure of funds available by the end of 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52192/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Rural)

Let battle commence. I am trying to get my head around the funding model of the Minister's Department and the constant underspend in capital. I know it is drawdown but the fact is there is still 30% of the budget unspent after 11 months of the year. What are the Minister's plans to deal with that and to ease the system whereby money is drawn down from his Department?

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Deputy Calleary on his recent appointment. I am delighted to see him opposite me. It is well deserved and it is a great honour that I have the deputy leader of Fianna Fáil as my spokesperson. I am very pleased to have him and welcome him.

The revised Estimates for 2018 in respect of the Department of Rural and Community Development set out gross capital expenditure of €87.5 million and current expenditure of €144 million for the Department. The capital expenditure is supplemented by €7.7 million capital which was carried forward from 2017.

As of 7 December 2018, €73.7 million of my Department's capital allocation and €135.4 million of the current allocation has been spent. There remains €21.5 million in capital expenditure and €8.6 million in current expenditure to be spent before the end of the year.

Close monitoring of expenditure is a matter of significant priority for my Department so as to ensure full use of our allocated resources and that value for money is delivered in respect of all our funding. I have already identified areas where some capital programmes are unlikely to spend their full allocation this year. For example, while LEADER activity is ramping up and a healthy pipeline of projects has been approved, the programme will not require its full allocation this year.

I have been proactive in reallocating resources where possible. For example, I have already expanded the community enhancement programme this year, increased investment in libraries, and provided additional support to fund the local improvement schemes, LIS. I have also supported the development of Coillte trails, Tidy Towns, agricultural shows and men's shed organisations.

The progress being made with regard to payments is clear. Almost €35 million in capital expenditure was paid out in October and November. I will continue to closely monitor expenditure over the final weeks of this year to ensure our resources are fully used, delivering for all communities and for rural Ireland.

I thank the Minister for his good wishes. Both of us share an interest in and a passion for this area and I look forward to working with him. There is €21 million in capital to be spent between now and the end of the year in three weeks' time, and €8.6 million in current expenditure. Is the Minister confident that he will spend that €21 million, particularly in capital? I suspect he will spend the allocation in current expenditure. Can he give a guarantee that if it is not spent, it will go into his Department's budget next year as opposed to going back into the central Exchequer? Are there programmes into which the Minister intends to divert extra cash over the next two weeks or maybe when the House is in recess? Can he give us an indication of what those programmes are?

All available allocations will be spent on my capital. I will guarantee the Deputy that. As I said in my reply, almost €35 million in capital was allocated in October and November. The Deputy is quite correct that I have reallocated resources required to the senior alert scheme, libraries and the LIS scheme. I have reallocated money to that already and am confident that my capital budget will be spent at the end of this year. I can assure the Deputy in that regard. I know he spoke about last year. We have to remember that this Department is 16 months in existence. I want to take the opportunity to put on record that the Department had two moves. The Department was set up in July of last year and I am very proud of the hard work done by my officials, my new Secretary General, my assistant secretaries and all my staff, both in Ballina and in Dublin. I want to compliment the staff on the work they have put into setting up this Department - I am very proud of them. I would go so far as to say it is a Department that should be kept for the future. There is a fantastic team there now. I have no doubt and can assure the Deputy that I will have my capital allocation spent by the end of this year. A colleague of the Deputy's used to have a lot of sleepless nights about underspend. The Deputy should go back over his record; it is no wonder he had sleepless nights.

I am very proud of the Department as well. I am very proud of the fact that my party proposed that it be established. I am delighted we gave the Minister a job. I am proud, too, of the fact that it is in Ballina. That is an example of how decentralisation works. The people who are on the ground, top class civil servants, who are living these programmes are delivering them. Long may it continue and let us encourage more of it. The Minister has made commitments on expenditure but will the groups be in a position to draw them down? Allocations are certainly made but the drawdown across many of the Department's programmes for whatever reason seems to be complicated and difficult. Is the Minster 100% confident that the money will not be just allocated but completely drawn down before the end of the year?

What I will guarantee the Deputy is that my capital allocation will be spent for this year. He asked a question. There is funding outstanding to different groups that they will not be able to spend but we have taken that into consideration. My capital budget will be spent this year. Anything that is not spent I have already reallocated in respect of LIS. The Deputy knows how important that is to our own constituents and to every other constituency in the country. I am proud also that we put in place the senior alert scheme; thousands upon thousands of people now feel safe in their homes because I have reallocated money for that. I am confident that my available allocation for 2018 will be spent and I assure the Deputy that when he puts down this question again in the new year, I will have my capital allocation spent.