Thursday, 21 November 2019

Ceisteanna (11)

Marc MacSharry


11. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the NTA offers significantly higher salaries on average to external agency staff than it does to permanent members of staff; his views on whether this is appropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48146/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I ask Deputy MacSharry to forfeit his 30 seconds and ask the Minister to answer the question immediately .

It is question No. 11.

I have forfeited my 30 seconds to save time. The Minister should go ahead.

My Department has been working closely with the NTA about strengthening its staffing position so that it is robust and sustainable. It is essential that the NTA is adequately resourced to successfully deliver its pipeline of key strategic infrastructure projects. These are large in scale and ambition, for example, BusConnects, MetroLink and the DART expansion.

The NTA is resourced by a mix of permanent staff and outsourced placements. At present, there are 148 outsourced placements in the NTA. Each of these people is an employee of one of the service providers that the NTA has engaged through public procurement procedures. As employees of a service provider, the salary, pension and any other payments to these personnel are matters for the relevant service providers and not the NTA.

The Deputy may recall that the NTA was established in 2009, during a period of great economic difficulty for the State. In this context, significant constraints were placed on the agency with regard to resourcing. Yet, while these constraints remained in place until 2018, the NTA’s remit expanded significantly in the intervening period. For example, it assumed statutory responsibility for integrated ticketing including the Leap card scheme, regulation of vehicle clamping and local and rural transport, all of which put further pressure on the NTA with regard to staffing levels. As a result, the NTA came increasingly to use outsourced placements to assist it in fulfilling its remit, particularly in the planning and implementation of major strategic programmes.

In 2017, my Department sought, and later received, sanction for increased staffing for posts that the NTA itself had identified as being a priority. My Department also encouraged the NTA to make a broader analysis of its overall staff resourcing position. This was so that the NTA would: critically assess its staffing position taking account of its existing and legacy position; identify its business needs into the future, especially having regard to the expanded investment programme it would be managing over the coming years; and develop a staffing plan that could successfully addresses these matters.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This resulted in the NTA producing its strategic financial plan, which included a strategic staffing section outlining the NTA's requirements in terms of filling key posts to implement major transport programmes. The NTA set its plan over the period 2018 to 2023, and structured it over three consecutive phases. Overall, this plan involves a process of internalising a number of outsourced positions and ensuring that the NTA is adequately resourced to deliver on the key capital investment projects that it will be managing over the coming years, such as MetroLink and DART expansion.

Phase 1 of the plan for 2018-2019 has been sanctioned and is being implemented. Constructive engagement is ongoing with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and with the NTA about sanction for Phases 2 and 3. Phase 2 envisages 22 new positions and, in addition, internalising 42 currently outsourced roles. If approved, it is expected that these internalisations will result in a significant cost saving of €1.5 million in 2020 and €3 million in a full year.

Certain programmes will always require a number of skilled outsourced placements to supplement teams with specific skills, but the NTA's aim, strongly supported by Department, is to transition to a more permanent staffing model to deliver long-term stability. The aim is for the NTA to have sustainable staffing arrangements which leave it appropriately resourced to effectively and efficiently carry out its functions both now and into the future, and which are consistent with public service pay and numbers policy.

The NTA has 114 staff who are being paid an average of €73,000. By the Minister's own admission, a further 148 staff are being paid €140,000, or twice as much. This is the organisation we charge with looking after major public transport schemes and we are throwing good money after bad.

Earlier we discussed the commute misery out to Fingal. The Minister actually said that public transport had become a great success. In what universe does the Minister live to think that? Back here on Earth, people see the reality of the commute misery every day while we double the price for external consultants at the same time as arguably paying a pittance to some of our own staff and the situation continues to get worse. The Minister just does not seem to get it. He does not get the public transport misery and nightmare we have while throwing good money after bad. What will we do to take control of the Department and stop wasting money in this fashion?

I think what we will do is get back to topic. The NTA has a low number of permanent staff with the biggest increase taking place in 2018 when 114 permanent staff were employed, compared with 91 for each of the previous years. In December 2018, the NTA received delegated sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for 140 permanent staff for 2019, an increase of 26 on the number of staff sanctioned for 2018. The NTA also has 148 outsourced placements from third-party service providers, necessary to deliver its strategic programme. Discussions on staffing requirements for 2020 are ongoing with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The high volume of outsourced placements, which make up 57% of the staff represents a significant cost for the NTA. On average an outsourced placement is double the cost of a permanent staff member. Within the premium cost of the use of outsourced personnel over direct NTA employees is VAT at 23%, which cannot be reclaimed by the authority. The resourcing changes planned for 2020-2021 will deliver a resourcing mix change over the five-year period from 2018 to 2023 from a ratio of nearly 43:57 to a ratio close to 68:32 in favour of NTA direct employees.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.