I propose to take Questions Nos. 124, 141 and 144 together.
In his pre-Budget letter to the Minister for Finance, Governor Makhlouf sets out three key areas on which policy should focus. These are:
- Supporting the productive capacity of the economy;
- Eventually setting a path to a lower and more sustainable debt and deficit ratios; and
- Building resilience to future shocks.
The Governor acknowledges the significant supports that have been put in place thus far in response to Covid-19 and notes that the scale of these supports has helped to contain the extent of the downturn and mitigate some of its impact. In terms of protecting the productive capacity of the economy, this is something that the Government has prioritised. It is clear that the labour market has borne much of the economic impact of the crisis to date. Significant steps have been taken to cushion the impact of this on households and firms and to minimise the potential longer term effects on businesses and employment. Protecting incomes and supporting business through this time has been a central element of the Covid-19 crisis. This is reflected in the level of additional funding allocated in 2020 including:
- over €9 billion for income support and job activation schemes bringing total Social Protection spend to over €30 billion; and
- approximately €1½ billion provided for a range of business supports to help firms that have been impacted by the crisis.
As we look towards the medium term a crucial part of any sustainable expenditure strategy is prudent use of funds. There are a number of processes and frameworks already in place that aim to embed value for money, efficiency and effectiveness in public expenditure policy. This includes initiatives such as Performance Budgeting and the Spending Review process. These projects are important pillars in evidence-based approaches to policy development.
Looking at the economic, social and environmental return generated from expenditure, there are also frameworks in place which aim to examine the ways in which public expenditure impacts on peoples’ lives and wellbeing. Equality Budgeting, which was introduced in 2017, considers the budget as a process that embodies long-standing societal choices about how resources are used, rather than simply a neutral process of resource allocation. Dedicated equality indicators are included in the REV and, since 2017, the Public Service Performance Report has included an Equality Budgeting Update.
Further to this, the Programme for Government set out a commitment to develop a set of well-being indices to create a well-rounded, holistic view of how Irish society is faring; to use these well-being indicators, as well as economic indicators, to highlight inequalities and ensure that policies are driven by a desire to do better by people. Officials in my Department are now preparing a programme of work that will support the Government in meeting this commitment, building on the experience to date with Performance and Equality Budgeting.
All of these initiatives are about ensuring that public services are being delivered in the best possible way, identifying and acting on areas for improvement over time and making sure that the citizen is at the heart of policy decisions.
Finally, as Budget 2021 is now fast approaching, budget discussions are well underway. Official level bilateral meetings have been underway for a number of weeks. I am engaging with my Ministerial colleagues over the coming weeks with a view to agreeing allocations for next year.