Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Public Accounts Committee

2020 Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts
Vote 31 - Transport
Chapter 5 - Expenditure on Night Vision Imaging Technology and Training for Search and Rescue
Special Report 113 of the Comptroller and Auditor General - Procurement of Vehicles by the Irish Coast Guard

9:30 am

Mr. Ken Spratt:

The year 2020 was one of change for the Department of Transport. The tourism and sport functions were transferred out of it, and its remit is now focused solely on transport. Three programmes remained - civil aviation; land transport; and maritime transport and safety. The onset of the Covid-19 crisis in March 2020, along with the transfer of functions, necessitated the publication of a further set of Revised Estimates in 2020. The appropriation account for 2020 reflects this set of Estimates. The Department’s net allocation in the further Revised Estimates for 2020 was, to round, €3.0285 billion, comprising €1.981 billion in capital and €1.047 billion current expenditure.

The allocation of capital was primarily directed towards the core capital programme, with an additional allocation of €113.25 million for the July stimulus. Current expenditure supported existing services, with a substantial in-year increase of €492.55 million in funding compared to the start-of-the-year position to address pressures caused by the Covid-19 crisis with €2 million related to July stimulus funding. As it transpired, not all of the emergency funding was required in 2020, which was a significant contributory factor in the surrender to the Exchequer of €176 million in current expenditure funds at the year’s end.

I would like the committee to note that, taking on board the advice of the Comptroller and Auditor General at the Public Accounts hearing in May 2021, concerning the splitting of the land transport programme in the interests of transparency and better reporting, I can confirm that this has now been completed for 2022, creating three new programmes: programme A – sustainable mobility, covering active travel and greenways; programme B – sustainable mobility, covering public transport; and programme C – road networks and road safety.

The high-level goal for aviation in 2020 was to “maximise air transport connectivity with a safe, competitive, cost-effective and sustainable aviation sector”. The programme was allocated €41.865 million in current expenditure and €10.7 million in capital in the aviation sector. This financed public service obligations for the regional airports, as well as capital investment in aviation safety and security projects. The programme included €15 million in contingency to support the travellers’ protection fund. This fund, administered by the Commission for Aviation Regulation, is in place to meet any legal obligations arising regarding customers requiring repatriation or reimbursement in the event of a travel or tour operator failure.

For land transport, our goal in 2020 was to “service the needs of society and the economy through safe, sustainable and competitive transport networks and services.”. In this regard, we are responsible for the corporate governance of the two leading planning and investment agencies, namely Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the National Transport Authority. A sum of €1.963 billion in capital was allocated to progress the core capital programme and also to provide additional Covid relief measures and a near-term economic stimulus. A sum of €917.062 million was allocated in current expenditure, primarily to support PSO-funded services. Of this allocation, €460 million was related to emergency PSO funding for non-commercial and commercial transport services.

Major construction developments in 2020 included the commencement of construction of the national train control centre, the Ballyvourney–Macroom development on the N22, the Dunkettle interchange, the opening of the N25 New Ross bypass in Wexford, and the completion of the N7 Naas road-widening project in Kildare. In addition, the development of the Dublin megaprojects preliminary business cases continued, along with construction of key national roads, the N5 from Westport to Turlough, the N56 from Dungloe to Glenties, and the N4 from Collooney to Castlebaldwin, despite severe disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Prior to the onset of Covid-19, public transport bus and rail services had effectively reached capacity. Year-on-year increases in fare revenue meant that PSO funding requirements were relatively stable. Public health measures introduced in March 2020 led to public transport capacity limits of 25% of normal capacity. Mid-year forecasts from the National Transport Authority, NTA, in a situation of a high degree of uncertainty, indicated that an additional €460 million may be required in subvention to address the shortfall. A portion of this funding was also utilised to fund a series of short-term contracts to support commercial public transport operators, which were also severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

Under the maritime programme, our 2020 goal was to “facilitate safe and sustainable maritime transport and the delivery of emergency management services”.Of the €110.667 million comprising the current allocation to the maritime sector, €76.877 million supported Coast Guard services. Of the latter, €62.515 million was allocated to the Coast Guard search and rescue service delivered by CHC. A budget allocation of €5.659 million was invested by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, which is responsible for maintaining marine navigation systems in Irish waters. In addition, €15 million was allocated as contingency to support certain key commercial ferry services as a result of financial stresses caused by the impact of Covid-19 and related public health measures. A sum of €6.42 million in capital was allocated to support investment in Coast Guard building and assets and in the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

I note the committee’s interest in discussing a number of specific projects today, including BusConnects, DART+ and MetroLink. I expect the preliminary business cases for the three Dublin megaprojects to go to the Government shortly. I also note the committee’s interest in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s special report into the procurement of Coast Guard vehicles. On the latter, I share the Comptroller and Auditor’s concern as to its findings. Prior to publication of the report, or even to its genesis, the Department had been in the process of strengthening its corporate governance in the area of procurement. This has involved aligning the Department’s procurement activities with Office of Government Procurement guidance on procurement. Since the end of 2019, a procurement officer has been in place within the Department and has provided valuable support in ensuring that new procurements are conducted in accordance with all legal and administrative arrangements to ensure that the correct processes are followed.

The Department has strengthened its analytical tools in procurement analysis and will be further strengthening the corporate monitoring of procurement activity in 2022 and beyond, as we move towards multi-annual procurement planning and forecasting. The rising number of 40/02 declarations in the accounts in the past three years is a direct result of the monitoring, compliance, awareness and education frameworks we are implementing and are continuing to build on, as we seek to ensure that the smallest procurements are treated with the same rigour, thoroughness and attention to detail as larger procurements.


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