Thursday, 7 February 2019

Ceisteanna (3)

Barry Cowen


3. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his Department is or has been involved in the final stages of the tendering process for the national broadband plan; when the tendering process will be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5765/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is the sponsoring agency for the national broadband plan, NBP. The Government is the final sanctioning authority. A procurement process was launched to engage a company to build, operate and maintain the State intervention network. A final tender from the remaining bidder was received by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on 18 September 2018. Officials of that Department are examining this bid.

Officials of my Department with responsibility for the Vote for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment have been apprised periodically of progress in the NBP procurement process. The Office of Government Procurement was represented in an advisory role on the procurement board for the project, but it does not have a decision-making role in the procurement process. In accordance with the public spending code, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has submitted cost benefit analysis reports to my Department for comment regarding methodology. I will be working with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, as he gets ready to bring a recommendation to the Government once he has considered the outcome of the evaluation process being undertaken by his Department.

I ask the question because we all have a great fear in respect of another big capital project which is expected to cost up to €500 million more than originally intended. I am also mindful of the comments made this morning by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. He said the Cabinet had collectively thought the right protections were in place to protect taxpayers' money, despite the overrun that occurred on the children's hospital project. I am also conscious of the commitment the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, gave this week to bring forward proposals next week to deal with any such issue into the future. It was last November when he became aware of the problems. He is now bringing forward proposals only because of the furore caused by the fallout. It is incumbent on him to carry out an audit or trawl of all capital development programmes and projects that are under way or have been contracted. I have helped him along the way by putting questions about every item programmed for expenditure under the national development plan this year. I hope he can meet the commitment given by the Taoiseach on Sunday when he said he would bring forward the details of the projects within the capital development plan that would not be progressed because the money was needed to plug the hole created by the overrun this year. I hope in later weeks the Minister will bring forward the details of what will not proceed in the next three or four years to make up the shortfall of €450 million.

To be clear, these are completely different processes. Where we are with the national broadband plan is that any decision to be made on it will be made on the basis of a price now tendered. In working with me the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has completed a tendering process that is yielding figures. These figures, a consequence of the completed tendering process, will form the basis on which the Government will make a decision.

On what the Deputy aid about the furore caused, it is worth reminding the House that as part of the decision made to move ahead with the national children's hospital project, I said I would deal with the cost in 2019 inside the overall capital expenditure figures for the year. My commitment and decision in that respect predate the debate taking place on the project.

The Minister's last comment might well be true, but I am talking about a commitment the Taoiseach gave to the country when he spoke on on the "This Week" programme on Sunday. He was specifically asked whether, as a result of the overrun, he would bring into the public domain the details associated with the figure of €50 million to come out of the health capital plan and the €50 million to come out of other capital plans. He said he would; "reprofile" is the word he used. As I have said to the Minister previously, there were plenty of road shows to tell us what was going to take place under the national development plan. We only want one road show to tell us what is being cut, where it is being cut and the communities and sectors within the health service, in respect of which the Government will not be in a position to deliver on its commitments under the 2019 plan. That is only fair and appropriate. The public is very anxious to know the real effect the mismanagement of such a colossal amount of money is having on the daily lives and health not only of the nation but also of the various communities and sectors that will be affected.

I appreciate that. The Taoiseach was repeating again, in the context of the current debate, the decision the Government had made on this matter in December. I will be able to clarify the consequences of where we are with the national children's hospital project, but I also want to emphasise the long-term consequences when the hospital is delivered. I fully acknowledge the difficulties we now have. Next week I will deal with their consequences. As we move forward with the project and see construction work begin to accelerate, the scale of and impact the project will have when it is open will become clear to the public.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.