DÁIL SPEECH ON REVISED ESTIMATES

Deputy Burton’s comments remind me that the wonderful new stadium built by Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane cost just over €1 billion which is perhaps half the cost of the new national children’s hospital.

The introduction to the Revised Estimates mentions that they “have been supplemented with key performance information regarding programme outputs and impacts”. We were also promised that information on key performance indicators would be provided in the 2019 HSE service plan and that a number of post-budget technical and policy adjustments would be included in the Revised Estimates. However, if we examine the expenditure of €66.6 billion in 42 Votes, while there is some useful information on the delivery of spending programmes, we will see the performance metrics for each Vote give little insight into the achievement of the strategy being pursued by each Department of State. That is particularly true for the €52.3 billion or 78% of total Government spending provided for in four key areas – Department of Education and Skills, Vote 26; the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Vote 34; the Department of Health, Vote 38; and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Vote 37.

The excellent Parliamentary Budget Office, in Paper No. 10 of 2019 on the Revised Estimates, notes, for example, that the modelling of retirements from the education sector is an ongoing issue which has required a Supplementary Estimate each year since 2014, yet the Minister has not addressed it. Also, there are issues with the European Social Fund and the capital budget accounting systems of the Department of Education and Skills.

I represent the constituency of Dublin Bay North which has about 7,000 households on housing and homeless lists. It has the worst total of any constituency or county. The critical metric of 10,000 citizens in emergency and homeless accommodation was passed a few weeks ago. The housing Vote is rising from a figure of €3.3 billion in 2018 to almost €4 billion in 2019, yet the housing output metrics on page 160 do not give any hint of how this sum can remotely address the ongoing suffering of the tens of thousands of citizens in dire need of housing, of which the Minister is very aware. There is an element of “housing solutions” about which we hear in the PR statements of Fingal County Council and councils in other counties when, as my colleague said, it actually refers to the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme tenancies. The Minister has provided for a further 17,000 such tenancies in the Revised Estimates.

Since its inception, the Parliamentary Budget Office has, rightly, drawn attention to difficulties in measuring and assessing Vote 38 for the Department of Health and, in particular, the problems in reconciling expenditure incurred under the HSE national service plan with voted expenditure and the annual use of Supplementary Estimates. Expenditure is projected to be €16.6 billion, or just over €17 billion taking account of appropriations-in-aid of €405 million. Much of the increase seems to be related to the acute hospitals sector. I hope we will see the results of that expenditure on the ground. It is not clear if the first charge is dealt with in the 2017-18 budget and the carryover to 2018-19. Also, as we do not yet have the 2019 national service plan, how exactly can the Vote work?

The austerity Governments have held Vote 37 for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection virtually static since the crash. It now stands at €10.6 billion, €200 million less than in 2018. With the inclusion of the Social Insurance Fund, the figure is approximately €20 billion, the same it has been throughout the austerity era. The Parliamentary Budget Office has drawn attention to the Christmas bonus. Why does the Minister not mainstream it as basic income at Christmas time for citizens on lower income and not leave it to the whim of the Government?

Yesterday, at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, I asked the Chairman and committee members to respond vigorously to the report of the PwC consultants on the outrageous escalation in the cost of the national paediatric hospital. I asked the Minister to come before the committee and understand he will do so shortly. At long last, we might see the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Robert Watt, also talking to the committee. I asked specifically that the committee focus on the reason the so-called red flags in respect of the runaway cost of the project were not noticed or acted on by the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, their Secretaries General and senior staff since about 2013. It is incredible that at management committee meetings – there was an item related to risk on the agenda for every meeting – the Minister was not raising his own red flags virtually each month on the biggest infrastructural project in the State until we come to build the metro. It is astonishing that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, said nothing to the Minister for three or four months about this incredible elephant in the room. Many of us worked in the construction sector earlier in our lives. Almost all of us have been on building sites, but probably the most experienced Deputy in that regard is Deputy Wallace. He made a powerful and cogent case yesterday for a retendering process for the completion of the project at St. James’s Hospital, with bills of quantities based on clear, transparent and detailed architectural and engineering designs. The Minister could try to fix this problem.

We have all watched the proceedings in the House of Commons in the past three or four months.

If they were in the House of Commons, this Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, would be gone. There is no question about that. The least the Minister can do now is try to fix and curtail it. As the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister like to point out, we have not spent the vast bulk of this money yet. We can do it better, and the Deputy who is probably the most accomplished person in this area, even though many of us have experience in the building sector, made a strong case. We have had the Revised Estimates, or whatever they were called, and €75 million has been lost by other bodies.

With regard to the capital budget, the Parliamentary Budget Office, PBO, has suggested a capital reserve and a move to programme logic model analysis. Those are two suggestions the Minister’s staff might examine for coming years.