Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
2013 Allocations for Public Expenditure
Vote 25 - Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government
I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and their officials, Ms Geraldine Tallon, Secretary General, Ms Mary Moylan, assistant secretary general, Mr. Michael Layde, assistant secretary general, and Mr. Maurice Coughlan, finance officer. As the witnesses are familiar with procedures relating to defamation and so forth, it will not be necessary to set them out in detail. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I congratulate Deputy Michael McCarthy on his appointment as Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and look forward to working with him in the period ahead. I thank the joint committee for the invitation to discuss the Estimates for my Department for 2013. The Government’s expenditure reform programme has provided for enhanced engagement by committees on expenditure issues and, as part of this process, I am keen to hear members' views and proposals on the difficult choices which must be made in the context of budget 2013.
I have arranged for briefing material to be made available to the joint committee, which I hope will assist members in their deliberations. It sets out the structure of the Department’s Vote, both current and capital, reductions in expenditure that have had to be implemented in recent years, and the financial parameters in which we must operate in the period ahead. I look forward to members' engagement and hearing their ideas as to how my Department should achieve its expenditure ceilings in 2013 as well as 2014 when further savings have to be made.
In recent years, the Department has developed and maintained a strategic focus on contributing to economic recovery and employment and assisting those in need of support through the various programmes for which it has responsibility. This has been done in the context of a sharp reduction in resources following the financial crisis that began in 2008. Total funding for the Department’s programmes has been reduced by slightly less than 50%, from nearly €2.7 billion in 2009 to €1.36 billion this year. In tandem with reduced programme expenditure, staff numbers have declined substantially, as have the day-to-day costs of running the Department.
Notwithstanding these reductions, the funding available to my Department remains significant and a key priority is to maximise efficiency and secure the best value from the resources available to us. The Department continues to be the second largest capital spending Department, having spent €861 million in 2012, a figure which does not take account of €34 million carried forward from 2011. Within our capital programme, expenditure on housing and water services predominates. The Leader and EU-related programmes are also vital to achieving rural development and enhancing cross-Border co-operation, respectively.
The current spending provision for 2012 amounts to €467 million. Achieving reductions in current expenditure is highly challenging given the non-discretionary nature of much of it. As a result, there are major areas where unavoidable commitments arise. These comprise the rental accommodation scheme, for which €135 million has been committed, local authority housing leasing costs on existing units, for which €20 million has been committed, the capital loans and subsidy scheme loan charges of €71 million, departmental pay of €50 million and agency pay and pensions of €31 million. These current items amount in total to €307 million, with the remaining €160 million of the €467 million used primarily for the local and community development programme, which accounts for €55 million, and accommodation for homeless people, which accounts for €50 million. These two programmes are of particular importance in countering and dealing with social disadvantage.
Capital expenditure has declined from €1 billion in 2011 to an estimated €861 million this year, with the bulk of the savings falling on the housing and water services programmes.
Savings are being realised on the current side of the Vote by replacing the Exchequer contribution to the local government fund with the revenue from the household charge. There are also other savings of the order €34 million in voted current expenditure in 2012. In addition to the Vote, the environment fund is also an important but relatively modest means of financing current spending related to environmental requirements, while the local government fund delivers vital resources to local authorities.
Turning to the years ahead, the Government, in the comprehensive review of expenditure and capital review processes in 2011, published spending ceilings for all Departments. In the case of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, these provided that capital expenditure will fall from €861 million this year to €760 million in 2013. Current expenditure will fall from €467 million to €416 million. The spending limits were set at €558 million capital and €383 million current for 2014.
In terms of planning capital programmes, the investment framework provided envelopes for investment in housing and water services in the period 2012 to 2016. This investment amounts to in excess of €3 billion in respect of the combined programmes. The Department has a broad and diverse agenda that presents particular challenges in identifying areas for savings on the scale that is needed given the State's extraordinarily difficult financial position. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will speak about the spending pressures in the housing area.
It is vital also that we have a modern, adequately resourced water services sector which provides the critical infrastructure needed to support economic recovery, employment creation and environmental protection. As part of this, we need to press ahead with strategic water and waste water schemes in the greater Dublin area and with the water conservation programme, responding to critical investment needs during the period of transition to Irish Water. As the committee is aware, the programme for Government commits to a fundamental shift in the way water services are organised and funded in Ireland. The establishment of Irish Water to take over responsibility for the delivery of water services from local authorities will require resources at an early stage to help deliver on the commitment.
Provision needs to be made for the Leader rural development programme, which achieves important economic and social objectives and facilitates take-up of EU funding. The PEACE and INTERREG programmes, part-funded by the Department, remain key measures to promote a better future on the island of Ireland.
On capital spending, Ireland has been dealing with a substantial legacy in relation to unlicensed local authority landfills and illegal dumping sites, and significant work remains to be completed. Given the existing European Court of Justice judgment against Ireland and to avert a referral of the case back to the court for the imposition of potentially very significant fines, it has been necessary to agree a comprehensive programme of measures that must be implemented to satisfy the terms of the judgment. Progress in delivering on our commitments in this regard is being closely monitored by the legal services of the European Commission.
On the current side, we have unavoidable resource requirements in respect of Ireland's upcoming Presidency of the European Union. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has indicated that additional funding will be provided as required to meet third party costs associated with the Mahon tribunal.
I hope I have a given the committee a clear outline of the challenges in 2013 and beyond and touched on the wide variety of issues which must inform consideration of Estimates as far as my Department is concerned.
I have kept my remarks brief in order that we can have a full debate on the issues across the Department's programmes. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will complement what I have said by going into more detail in her area of responsibility in housing and planning.
I join the Minister in congratulating the Chairman and thank the committee for the opportunity to engage with it. I will concentrate particularly on the housing programme.
The significant challenges faced in the housing area within the current budgetary climate are clear to all. Therefore, in allocating the resources likely to be available to me in 2013, I intend to continue to focus the necessary adjustments on areas where there is scope to maintain output through more flexible approaches and to continue to direct the available capital resources substantially towards the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors.
In terms of the delivery of social housing,the Government's housing policy statement clearly identifies that the main focus in terms of supports provided by the Government will be on meeting the most acute needs - the housing support needs of those unable to provide for their accommodation from their own resources. Meeting social housing need in the coming years will, therefore, have to involve a continuation of the transition from traditional construction and acquisition towards more flexible options such as the rental accommodation scheme and the leasing initiative. We must tailor these supports according to the market conditions and the financial parameters in which we are working.
The local authority capital allocation programme has been reduced to €112 million in 2012. This funding provides for the continuation of existing housing construction and acquisitions programmes, a small number of payments under the land aggregation scheme, and funding of the public safety initiative for unfinished housing developments.
It must be recognised that, while there are existing public financial constraints, there also remains a need for local authority housing. To this end, I announced a programme of local authority house purchases and new construction starts last July. Construction will start this year on a number of well-advanced projects, with the balance being advanced next year for completion by 2014. I need to caution that the programme had to take account of the current financial circumstances of the country and was, therefore, a limited one. However, we will work to ensure that the best value possible will be obtained from the funding which will be available in terms of unit cost and the number of units to be delivered.
I am acutely aware that the issue of mortgage arrearsis one of the most pressing economic and social challenges facing the Government and the nation. A mortgage-to-rent scheme was launched on a pilot basis and extended nationally earlier this year, targeting those low income families whose mortgage situation is unsustainable and where there is little or no prospect of a significant change in circumstances in the foreseeable future. It is just one element of the range of solutions on which the Government has been working.
The capital assistance scheme is the main source of new housing provision for the most vulnerable, disadvantaged households and those with specific needs. The 2012 allocation for the capital assistance scheme should support the provision, by approved housing bodies, of accommodation for households with special categories of need.
The social housing improvement works programme spans a range of crucial Exchequer and local authority funded programmes and initiatives designed to maintain and improve the local authority housing stock of approximately 125,000 units. My Department supports an ambitious programme of regeneration projects which seek to address the causes of disadvantage in some of the country's most disadvantaged communities through a programme of physical, social and economic regeneration. In addition, funding is also provided to estate-wide remedial-type worksand necessary adaptations and extensions to properties to meet the needs of tenants with a disability. The ongoing importance of these programmes cannot be underestimated, not just from a social policy perspective but also in terms of the job creation and economic renewal that are delivered as part of any regeneration programme.
The energy efficiency programme of retrofitting and improvement works across the local authority housing stock is a further example of how social interventions can also help meet economic and employment objectives. This is a highly labour intensive programme and the funding provided will facilitate the upgrading of units as well as supporting and maintaining jobs. The improvement works programme is specifically targeting vacant dwellings and, in particular, stock that has remained vacant for a significant length of time. Returning vacant stock to productive use is essential in order that high quality, energy efficient homes can be provided, especially in light of the current pressures on local authority housing waiting lists. Similarly, the suite of housing adaptation grants very effectively delivers across a number of priority areas, with households benefiting from investment from the Exchequer and from local authorities' own resources.
A commitment was given in the programme for Government to review and update the current homelessstrategy and to introduce a so-called housing-led approach to accommodating homeless people so as to offer them suitable, long-term housing in the first instance and radically reduce the use of hostel accommodation and the associated costs for the Exchequer. Work on the review is almost complete and I intend to launch a homelessness policy statement in the coming weeks. The statement will indicate the steps the Government intends to take and also what housing authorities and other stakeholders need to do to accelerate progress towards realising the ambition of eliminating involuntary long-term homelessness. The statement will advocate a housing-led approach. This is about the rapid provision of secure housing, with support as needed, to ensure sustainable tenancies.
I have set out the broad parameters within which the 2013 Estimate in respect of housing will be framed. I welcome the members' views on the key issues and challenges outlined.
In regard to the rent supplement scheme and the changeover next year to the rent assistance scheme to be administered by local authorities, is it intended that it will still be a rent assistance scheme or to accelerate the rental accommodation scheme? I do not need to go into the detail on the differences. As the scheme will require significant additional administration, is it intended to facilitate local authorities in that regard and, if so, has it been quantified? I would like to know how that can be done with a reduced budget next year for dealing with homelessness because it is not obvious that the available funds will allow for anything more to be done.
I am a little concerned about the language the Minister of State used when she stated "the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors" because that is an expanding sector. Is there something in that language that we should understand to be different from the current position?
First, I am in regular discussion with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, on the issue of the transfer of rent supplement from her Department to the local authorities. We have brought two memos to Government. The full roll-out of it will not happen next year. We intend to begin with a pilot phase sometime next year. It is obviously a major change to which the Government is committed. It involves the transfer of a large number of recipients of rent supplement to the local authorities and Deputy Catherine Murphy correctly points out that it is a big change which involves a good deal of work.
On the financial side of it, the intention is that it will be Exchequer neutral. In effect, it is transferring a group of recipients from one Department to another. In terms of how it will work, there are a number of purposes. One is that the entire cohort of those who are in need of housing support will be under the one system and there will not be one lot in one Department and the rest under the local government system. It will be coherent and it will be easier for those involved in the system. We also want to ensure that we can do it in a coherent way. We want to get rid of the poverty traps that are there at present of which public representatives around this table will be well aware where recipients are afraid of losing their rent supplement if they get even part-time work. The intention is that when it is fully implemented there will be a sliding rent scale - something similar to the differential rent system under local authorities - so that recipients will not suddenly lose their rent supplement but that they will pay in accordance with their ability to pay.
We will introduce a pilot phase next year. We are in ongoing discussions and there will be a further memo to Cabinet in the fairly near future. The intention is to eliminate poverty traps and to make the system more coherent. It will involve a payment system for those currently on rent supplement who will move to the new system that will be more appropriate in terms of a gradual increase in the amount they pay if they are able to secure employment. No doubt it will be a better system for those involved. However, it is a big move. That is why, initially, we need to conduct a pilot to start off the scheme. Bringing in the entire group in one go would be difficult for the local authorities.
It will not be Kildare. For what it is worth, the Department would not be able to afford it because rent assistance is way out of sync with even what is being paid on the rental accommodation scheme. However, I would like to see Kildare or a similar area being used as the pilot because that would provide a robust test given that there are particular problems such as that rents are significantly higher than the rent assistance being provided.
I thank the Minister and Minister of State for their presence at the meeting and for engaging in this process which is a pilot scheme. It is difficult enough to make suggestions in the absence of a full budget being available at this early stage, but I have a few questions.
The capital expenditure on housing will fall from €189 million this year to €92 million in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016. Is this amount sufficient to tackle social housing waiting lists? Is it almost whittling away at local authorities' functions in this area by virtue of housing associations, private finance or deals with NAMA becoming sufficient to meet the challenge of social housing needs across the country?
The Exchequer initiated a contribution at least at the start of this year of €175 million to the Local Government Fund and it was replaced by a €160 million contribution from the household charge. Some €110 million was collected, leaving a €65 million shortfall. Local authorities were bearing the brunt of that cut, during the course of the year and in the third quarter and fourth quarter, despite the Estimates that they had agreed earlier in the year. The Minister has been reducing the contribution to local authorities with low household charge payments. Will that trend continue in the context of the proposal on property tax next year?
It has been quoted that €500 million per annum will be derived from the property tax. How much of that will go to the Local Government Fund, how much of it will be retained by the Department and how much, by a process of elimination, will go back to the Central Fund?
How much must the Minister commit towards Irish Water next year? There has not yet been confirmation as to the cost, for example, of metering. When the committee met Bord Gáis last week on this issue, the cost from its perspective was estimated to be €450 million whereas Deputy Stanley mentioned that a report of which he had sight stated it could cost €1.2 billion. The existing cost of local authorities for maintenance of water services, based on the research that I have done, appears to be approximately €600 million per annum. There is that figure, the figure for metering which I ask the Minister to clarify and the charge to be imposed, and then one must measure that against the Minister's statement that he will have to supplement Irish Water in the coming years before it becomes self-sufficient. At what level will the Minister supplement Irish Water?
I have two questions on EU related programmes. I presume a large element of such programmes are co-funded by the European Union and it would be in all our interests that they would be retained and enhanced where possible. Can the Minister give a commitment that such will be the case in the forthcoming years?
What co-operation has there been with the Minister's counterpart in agriculture on the CAP proposals? Specifically, I refer to environmental issues and to the funding that may be available within that envelope of CAP. Will such funding be retained and controlled by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government or its agencies for disbursement to the relevant sectors of society? For example, I am conscious of SACs throughout the country where REP schemes, which were to be put in place, have not been put in place. It is my information that there is a fair-sized sum that will be available under CAP within the envelope of environment that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, could garner for the public who need this and have not had comfort in this area vis-à-vis the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I will deal with the matters raised by Deputy Cowen. In 2012, the Local Government Fund gave us approximately €1.12 billion which was made up of the motor tax and various other receipts. We had to take out the €160 million Exchequer contribution for 2012 in the Estimates and introduce the household charge. When it came to the third quarter of the year where people were not performing to the extent that they should and where people were advocating that they should not pay, obviously, counties were going to suffer a little in the provision of those services if the money was not coming in.
We estimated there would be a deficit of about €45 million by the end of the year. The Department absorbed €30 million, with €15 million to be absorbed by the local authorities. The Department absorbed a significant portion of the deficit which had to be found elsewhere by means of savings.
A total of €830 million of savings has been achieved in the local government system since 2008. Unfortunately, much of this saving was brought about by a reduction in staff numbers. Local authorities are under-staffed and there is a shortage of outdoor staff. I am very conscious that they will find it difficult to address this situation in 2013 because we have a financial ceiling imposed by the agreement with the troika. I am not in a position to answer the questions about property tax because I have not brought proposals to Government as yet. It will be part of the budgetary considerations. Questions about the amount to be levied, the amount to be included in the local government fund, are matters to be teased out between the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Finance, between now and the budget.
A provision of €10 million is provided to set up the structure for the establishment of Irish Water in 2013. Legislation to set up Irish Water on an interim basis will be brought forward pending the full implementation in 2013. The cost of metering will be paid out of a loan from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. It will not be included in the Department's Estimates as metering will be rolled out over a number of years.
We have made some progress on the EU-related programmes-----
That will be a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation which is the regulator for the water sector. I cannot provide that information until the commission is organised. The Deputy is a bit ahead of himself and I understand the reason.
I got a lot of training from the Deputy's brother. We have made progress on EU-related programmes. I know the Deputy has an interest in the progress of the rural development programme. We front-loaded money into the rural development programmes in the Estimates for 2013 on the basis that we can get a refund of 85% rather than a refund of 55% from the European Union. We are getting more bang for our buck. That is working well. It is one of the few areas where we have money and we encourage Leader groups and communities to advance their projects. Axis has more applications than money at the moment.
My Department has a very good relationship with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I refer to recent announcements about the environment which take into account the bad weather conditions which affect the farming community. We have approval to extend the slurry spreading season because animals have been housed for a large part of the summer and we did not want to cause an animal welfare issue. We are very conscious that when putting robust systems in place it is essential to avoid causing a nitrates problem. The negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy will include the rural development element. As part of what is called the greening of the CAP, I hope there will be additional funding for the environmental provisions which will be administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine through the AEOS, agri-environmental options scheme.
The special areas of conservation, SAC, are a matter for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan. This relates to funding for the turf-cutting season and there are many more restrictions other than the 53 SACs. The question of providing alternative opportunities for people to cut for domestic purposes on different bogs is a matter for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Some progress has been made. I wish to pay tribute to Mr. Conor Skehan who has played a leading role in bringing people together. I hope this will be continued by Mr. Séamus Boland who has assumed the position of chairman of the Peatlands Council.
Deputy Cowen asked about the capital budget for housing. Unfortunately, because of the state of the country, we only have what is in hand. The capital budget contained €1.8 million in 2009; €1.4 in 2010; just over €1 million in 2011; €895,000 in 2012 and a further reduction for next year. We have to provide housing within that budget. We are concentrating on housing for the most vulnerable people and regeneration is part of that policy. I refer to other methods such as the leasing initiative for providing housing. We also encourage the not-for-profit voluntary sector as a means of assisting with housing. They have access to funding from donations or private capital. We welcome any suggestions from any members of the committee and that is the purpose of our attendance at this meeting.
-----and I would be very nervous that the role of local authorities in this regard may be whittled down by housing agencies. There is never an opportunity for people to own those houses. I refer also to the issue of -----
I thank the Ministers for their presentations. My point is about the property tax. In some ways our discussion is surreal. We are discussing the framing of the budget for 2013 but we have no figure for the first half of the year. We can only assume that the tax will continue to be €100 per house for eligible households. A collection rate of 100% will garner €80 million as opposed to €160 million for the full year. We have been informed that the new house tax will begin on 1 July - it has been referred to as a property tax. We are discussing this tax but we have no indication of what the rate of the tax will be. The troika and Ministers have said it is expected to bring in €1 billion a year. I ask the Minister to give some indication of what his Department hopes to realise from the new house tax - property tax - from 1 July to the end of December 2013. We are discussing the budgetary process. However, if we do not know what money is available and where it is coming from it is very difficult to have a realistic discussion.
Yes. If we had the figure for the second half of the year that would be useful. It would seem that the tax will continue at €100 per household up to 1 July.
The Minister said in his opening statement that savings are being realised on current expenditure by replacing the Exchequer contributions to the local government fund with revenue from the household charge. He stated there are also savings to the order of €34 million in the voted current expenditure in 2012. I ask him to explain where the saving of €34 million was achieved.
I refer to the establishment of Irish Water. Representatives of Bord Gáis attended the committee last week. I am surprised at the mention of the figure of €10 million. If the Minister will pardon the pun, it will be a drop in the ocean compared to the figures we discussed last week. The figure of €10 million seems to be very low. The Bord Gáis representatives said this would require ongoing substantial funding and subsidy from the Exchequer - from the taxpayer - as well as whatever charges are levied at the meter.
Will the Minister clarify what that €10 million will cover? Such an amount will not-----
I am referring to the €10 million to which the Minister just referred in respect of the establishment of Irish Water next year. Will he indicate whether that amount will be sufficient?
Will the Minister comment on metering costs? The money in this regard is being taken from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and while it will facilitate the putting in place of meters, it will not stop the leaks in the system. Many people are curious with regard to the overall cost in this regard. Figures ranging from €300 million to €1.2 billion have been referred to at meetings of this committee and in the Dáil in the context of the cost relating to the introduction of metering. The representatives from Bord Gáis were extremely complimentary regarding the expertise that has been built up by local authorities. I am of the same opinion and the Minister is aware of that because he has heard me comment on this matter on many occasions. The representatives of the professional staff of local authorities have claimed that it could cost in excess of €1.2 billion to install meters and to carry out the substantial ancillary works that will be required. Will the Minister comment on this matter?
What will be the level of subsidy from the Exchequer to Irish Water? Will this be a continuation of the €10 million to which I referred earlier or will it be ten times that amount? Will the Minister provide a rough estimate of the actual figure in this regard? I accept that he is in the process of putting all of this together and we will not argue about €1 million or €2 million one way or the other. However, there are huge variations in the figures emanating from different sources and these do not stand up to scrutiny.
Has the Department considered the situation which is emerging across local authorities in respect of outdoor staff? It might not be too apparent from the Custom House but, as regards the position on the ground, the time is approaching when city and county councils throughout the country will not have sufficient outdoor staff to allow them to deal with emergencies. These staff already carry out certain functions at a very low cost. The concern in this regard is that private contractors are going to have to be brought in at a higher cost. Have the Minister and his officials examined the position in this regard, particularly in the context of the large number of retirements that are occurring? The age profile of many outdoor staff is at the upper end of the scale and many of them are over 50 years of age. Has the Department considered this matter and, if so, what plans does are in place to deal with it?
To answer the Deputy's final question first, we have given priority to requests made by local authorities in the context of replacing staff who are retiring. We have given particular priority to the operational side of local authority staffing.
No. We have already hit our ceilings for 2015 in respect of local government. Ours is the only organisation in the public service that has hit its ceilings in 2012. Local authorities deserve great credit for this. I do not believe we have declined a request from any local authority - within its ceilings - in the context of prioritising outdoor staff. It is a matter for local authorities to decide on their priorities. If they make requests in respect of replacing staff, they will certainly receive a positive response from the Department with regard to staff who work outdoors. We are conscious of the fact that a large number of people will be retiring. I know Deputy Stanley might not think so but I am aware of the position on the ground.
The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, the officials and I are all in contact with the local authorities.
Some €5 million of the €10 million relating to water will be required for rolling out the surveying that will be required in respect of the water metering programme. The Commission for Energy Regulation is going to be the regulator for water and €2 million has been allocated in this regard. A further €2.75 million has been set aside for administrative and set-up costs. These amounts are part of the establishment costs associated with Irish Water. The loan Bord Gáis will be obtaining from the National Pensions Reserve Fund will go towards the metering programme.
Local authorities will continue to play major role in the provision of water and wastewater services. IMPACT has already signed up to the arrangements in this regard, while SIPTU has yet to do so. We have established a conciliation and consultative process, which is chaired by Mr. Kevin Foley. The latter is meeting the unions involved on a regular basis in order to ensure that there will be no misunderstandings in respect of the rolling out of this programme. I assure the Deputy that we will, in every possible way, be retaining the knowledge and expertise that exists in local authorities at present in respect of water and wastewater services.
In the context of the property tax, we are learning from the experience in Northern Ireland where such a tax has already been implemented.
Deputy Stanley asked me a question. We have not had a property tax in this jurisdiction for some time and we are learning from the experience on the other part of the island.
I am sure the Deputy is familiar with that experience. I cannot provide a figure for 2013 because this matter relates to the budget. The Deputy referred to leaks. We do not want many of those because they cost me a fair bit in the past, politically and in every other way. I would not want that to happen again. We are dealing with water leaks and in the next three years we will spend a great deal more money in this regard.
The IMF indicated that it wanted €1.5 billion to be collected in property tax. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has already discounted this figure. It will be nowhere near that amount. The word "surreal" can be attributed to the IMF's expectations on that front. I am not in a position to supply a figure in respect of this matter.
The Government is actually taking on the IMF at every possible opportunity. We do not agree with the figure to which I refer.
The Deputy referred to €34 million in savings. There are some such savings in respect of payments under international agreements from the environment fund for the EPA and the RPII. We have reduced provisions for leasing. As result of better value for money available in the market, we have achieved efficiencies on the reconfiguration of the delivery of housing services to the value of €7 million. On the administrative side and arising from the reduction in staffing numbers to which I referred earlier in the context of the employment control framework, we made savings of €4 million. We reduced the costs associated with the operation of the Mahon tribunal by €2.5 million. We also made savings in respect of dormant accounts and the RAPID and PEACE programmes of €3.5 million. In the communities and rural development section, there was a requirement for a reduction of €8 million in the current year in respect of the local and community development programme. That might be added on next year. It is part of a rolling programme to the conclusion of the programme period at the end of 2013. Those are the areas in which we made the necessary savings of €34 million.
Under the comprehensive review of expenditure, it was expected that €6.8 million would be raised from the landfill levy. I welcome the fact that 300,000 fewer tonnes of waste will be going to landfill. Is the Minister seeking to make up the shortfall between the €6.8 million referred to in the comprehensive review of expenditure and his estimate of €52 million in respect of this matter? On the figures provided in respect of revenue from the plastic bag levy and the fall-off in the number of audits taking place, is it the Minister's view that the number of such audits needs to be increased?
Up to 31 December 2011, the Housing Finance Agency had advanced approximately €500 million to local authorities in the form of loans. There appears to have been change regarding how those loans are dealt with. Previously, the interest relating to them was rolled up. As of this year, €179 million worth of these loans has been transferred to a 25-year annuity loan. However, there is no indication of how the remainder will be dealt with. In addition, there have been no payments to local authorities. Will the Minister outline the position on loan book and the costs incurred by local authorities?
I did not note in any of the Minister's estimates a figure for property tax, which we do not expect to be implemented until 1 July. Another revenue steam is the €100 household charge. There seems to be a gap in the figures of up to a quarter of the funding required. Will the Minister outline in terms of the Estimates how a funding gap of a quarter of the funds required will be addressed? There will be no income from either of those sources in April, May or June. How does the Minister propose that bridge that gap?
On the Deputy's last question, the local government fund is made up of revenue from motor tax and property tax. I am not in a position to say how that gap will be filled until we have completed negotiations with the Department of Finance in the context of the budget and on the amount of the property tax that will be given to the local fund to be divvied out to the local authorities.
It will be a challenging experience to provide the necessary resources for local authorities but we are working it out with the Department of Finance for cashflow purposes. Motor tax still comes under the remit of the Department, but perhaps not for long.
The Deputy can if he wishes, but that is the truth in terms of where we are getting the money. It will be a problem.
With regard to the environment fund and landfill levies, I have set out over a three-year period what the landfill levies will be, but the Deputy can take it that the environment fund is decreasing in terms of the amount of money we have available for purposes for which we would like to have it available, including in Deputy Catherine Murphy's area of Kerdiffstown and similar areas, where we have many challenges in regard to landfill remediation.
The Minister outlined his proposal on the landfill levy and the income to be derived from that was €6.8 million, as set out in the comprehensive expenditure review. The Minister is estimating the figure for this area to be €52 million at this stage. Is there a shortfall between those figures?
We have a surplus through which we are working down, and it has gone down to €2.7 million. I am not clear on the €6.8 million the Deputy mentioned earlier.
I do not have an immediate answer for the Deputy on that but I will come back to him before the end of the meeting. I will ask my officials to check that.
Local authority debt is a serious issue, as the Deputy will know, and the HFA is working with the local authorities to find the most efficient way of dealing with these issues. It is generally a matter between the local authorities and the HFA; the Department does not engage directly in this regard.
Representatives of Irish Water appeared before the committee last week, and there are major concerns regarding the relationship between the staff of local authorities and Irish Water. We have seen what has happened in Northern Ireland, where huge mistakes were made. The representatives, when pressed, said that in the short term perhaps staff at local authority level throughout the country could do what was required. I believe, as I am sure do other members, that they are the appropriate people to identify the issues, as they have been working with this system for many years. What arrangements or firm commitments have been given to the Department and Irish Water that these people's jobs will be secure in the future? I have been told that many of these people are concerned about the security of their jobs after 2018. The commitment given to us in this respect was only for the short term. Some of these people are young and have large commitments to meet. It is vital that we get clarification from the Department and Irish Water on a firm commitment regarding the security of these people's jobs.
I have a few questions for the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan. Under the capital allocation programme, the Minister of State referred to funding for unfinished housing estates throughout the country, referring to those under NAMA and various others. What amount of funding is available for this work for 2013? Unfinished housing estates are a major issue throughout the country. It is vital that adequate funding be available to ensure that most of these estates can be completed. This would assist in reducing the number on the housing waiting lists. I do not know the Minister of State's objective regarding the use of these houses. I note there has been a reduction in the capital allocation programme to €112 million in 2012 and that funding under the programme provides for acquisition programmes and a number of schemes which are to be started during 2013. I believe there are adequate numbers of houses in many areas of the country to accommodate many people's housing needs. Another major issue is retrofitting and improvement works on local authority houses. Does the Minister of State have information on the carrying out of this work next year? A complaint I have received on numerous occasions is that local authority houses are left for far too long from the time they are vacated until the next tenant takes up residence. That happens because funding is not available for such work. It is vital that this be addressed. It would provide a saving in terms of generating work on the retrofitting of houses and it would ensure people get into their homes as quickly as possible.
What is the budget for regeneration programmes for 2013? The Minster of State might indicate what areas will benefit from regeneration projects for next year.
I consider Irish Water to be a great opportunity for staff at local level because the idea is to bring more investment into the capital programmes for water and waste water services. We are working closely with Mr. Kevin Foley, who is facilitating transitional arrangements over a six-year period, and while many things can change in six years, I want to keep the knowledge and expertise we have built up at local level for the benefit of a more enhanced and ambitious capital programme for water and waste water services for the future. Promotional opportunities as well as new opportunities will be available at local level for many people in the future. It is important to note the increased investment we are seeking from private sources to enhance the public capital programme, which people do not take into account.
Deputy McLoughlin asked me questions on three areas. On the unfinished housing estates, €5 million was allocated nationally this year in regard to public safety issues, and this has not all been drawn down yet. I chair an ongoing committee on unfinished estates and we have required the local authorities to have site resolution plans for the estates in their various areas. NAMA attends those meetings as well. Some of the estates are under NAMA while others are not, and NAMA is carrying out the same kind of programmes as the local authorities.
In terms of acquiring housing, we are also dealing with NAMA with regard to the acquisition of properties for social housing. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, and myself have met NAMA on a few occasions and we intend to meet it again before the end of the year in order to speed up the process. The Deputy may remember that it originally identified approximately 2,000 properties that would be suitable. The latest figure I have is that 133 of those are over the line and about 400 more are under negotiation. There was a time lag in terms of bringing those NAMA properties over the line because this process involved the original owners, the receivers and the lending institutions - there was a series of hoops to jump through. NAMA has set up a special purpose vehicle which we hope will speed up this process and we hope to transfer them more quickly in the future. The meetings we have had with NAMA have been productive in that regard.
Programmes are available to local authorities to address the issue of housing voids in terms of energy efficiency and improvement works; these are targeted particularly at vacant dwellings. The Deputy may be aware that local authorities have a sum of money available per house from our Department to improve the status of empty houses. We want to work with the local authorities to bring any housing voids back into use because there is no point in having empty houses if we can use them for families who need to be housed.
With regard to regeneration, approximately €80 million has been allocated for next year. We have not finalised the figures yet so I cannot be definite. In so far as is possible, we want to protect the regeneration budget. Ballymun must be finished in the next few years. Limerick is the next biggest regeneration project and, as the Deputy is aware, there are also projects in Sligo, Cork and Tralee. Then there are what were to be the PPP projects in Dublin that will now have to be funded in a different way because PPP is no longer viable. We are protecting the budget and we will have a significant amount of money for regeneration next year.
I will be brief. I thank the Minister and Minister of State for their overview which sets the scale of the challenge that faces them. I have a couple of questions about the housing area. The first point to which the Minister referred is that of the transfer of the rent allowance to local authorities. Does the Minister agree that we have major problems in store unless local authorities have additional staff, albeit from their own resources, to work in the housing departments who are trained to deal with this activity? We must accept that not all local authorities have given housing the priority it deserves in the past. If they had, we would not have the scale of housing problems we have today.
Reference was also made to RAS and long-term leasing as being the emergency initiative to deal with the growing waiting lists. That is fair enough under the circumstances but what is the long-term vision on RAS and long-term leasing? I am minded of what is happening now with shared ownership loans. There was a time when we encouraged people to move away from the old annuity loans into shared ownership. We now find that people at an advanced stage in local authority shared ownership loans are carrying a very substantial burden. A small shift in the housing market will cause significant difficulties as far as RAS and long-term leasing is concerned.
In regard to vacant dwellings, in recent years if one met people involved in local government they would tell one about the number of vacant units in their respective areas. Only recently did I discover why that is happening. I suggest that it is because of the improvement works programme because the houses have to be vacant for a period of six months before they can attract funding. What is happening is that local authorities are leaving houses vacant for six months and they are falling into greater disrepair and they are then drawing money from the Department, which should be drawn the minute the vacancy arises. Will the Minister revisit the issue?
In terms of the scheme of works for the elderly and housing adaptation grants, there seems to be a fear in the Department that someone who is not entitled to them will get those grants. They are of invaluable use to the elderly, disabled people and those who are vulnerable across the country. If the Minister is worried about the grants, rather than cutting back on them would he consider doing something similar to what is being done in respect of the fair deal scheme, namely, registering a charge against the property for a period should the property be disposed of and should one be afraid of people profiteering?
Approximately 25,000 units are managed or owned by the voluntary housing sector. It is doing a good job but I do not believe it should be allowed to build empires. People who live in the mainstream family, non-specialised housing units who have come off local authority waiting lists and have had houses provided for them that are 100% capital funded by the Department in the same way that local authorities have been funded should be able to buy their houses. Will the Minister introduce a tenant purchase scheme for the voluntary sector and ring-fence the funding for the provision of other social housing?
I thank the Minister and Minister of State for their presentations. The direction in which we are going with housing is a big disappointment. I question the economics of it because we are moving away from the delivery of social housing. I do not just mean building social housing but acquiring it in various areas at current prices which would be far more attractive than the costs involved in building houses. One could get housing now at a very good price.
The waiting list for social housing is approximately 98,000. It is increasing at a dramatic rate. We also have more than 100,000 people on rental subsidy and RAS. Some of those people are receiving rental subsidy for up to ten years. We are spending approximately-----
I am coming to the question but I must outline the position first. As outlined by the Minister, we are spending approximately €635 million. A total of €135 million is spent on RAS. How much have we saved on it compared to the rental subsidy scheme in the past year? Is it planned to cut rental subsidy further? Landlords are refusing to co-operate and we are creating a new category of homeless person. Those people need accommodation. Currently, we rely on the rental subsidy and the RAS. Does it not make more sense to build more local authority units, as that would create more money for them? Less funding will be required for local authorities if they get revenue from renting properties.
I have a few questions. The Minister referred to 2,000 NAMA properties but he recently referred to 3,800 units. Last Christmas, we were supposed to deliver 2,000 units. We delivered approximately 130.
The recent figure is 3,800 units and we have identified approximately 1,200 of them for use. They should be used to take people off rental subsidy or the RAS. We should be trying to target the area.
Is it true that NAMA is holding substantial funds of approximately €2 billion in cash? Apart from the assets it is holding, is it possible to put pressure on it to access funding? If the funding is just sitting there then it makes sense for us to chase it.
What level of local government cuts will be introduced in the coming year? Reference was made to the amount previously. I am concerned that the funding is being continually cut.
It is important that houses are returned to a fit state. We must invest more in the area. If local authority houses are renovated, then it will ensure more money is available to local authorities from rent.
Those questions are nearly all for me. I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for the constructive suggestions he made which we will examine. He referred to grants and the possibility of a fair deal-type approach to them. There is merit in such an approach. He also inquired about a tenant purchase scheme for the voluntary sector. We will introduce an incremental purchase scheme in the near future. I agree that is an issue we must examine, in particular where 100% public capital funding has been provided.
On the transfer of rent supplement, the housing agency will provide training for local authorities. We are trying to devise the best possible system of payment which does not involve local authorities having to chase individuals for rent supplement. We are working on that.
The Deputy also inquired about my long-term vision on RAS and leasing.
Our vision is that we will be able to go back to building more local authority type housing but for the moment we do not have the money and therefore we must use these measures to provide opportunities for people to have homes.
That comes back to the issue raised by Deputy Ellis. It is all very well to say that we should be buying houses and building houses but we would only cater for a fraction of the number of people who need housing in the current economic climate.
Unfortunately, with the amount of money we have at our disposal because of the state the country is in we simply could not cater for the numbers we are now catering for if we were to use all the money to either purchase or build houses. We would have people on the side of the street.
We must use the various methods at our disposal, and that includes the NAMA units. We have to pay for those NAMA units; it does not give them to us. It did come up to over 3,000 because it identified other units. We will bring them over the line as quickly as we can do so but there is a cost to the public purse for every NAMA unit we purchase. NAMA is required to give a return to the taxpayer under its legislation and therefore we have to pay for those units.
On the issue of the cap on rent subsidy raised by Deputy Murphy and others, currently that is a matter for the Department of Social Protection. We are working towards that responsibility coming under local authorities but for the moment it is an issue for the Department of Social Protection.
I understand that shared ownership raised by Deputy Ó Feargháil is an issue, and it is a particular issue in some counties. Many members of the committee have brought that to my attention and we are examining it in terms of the burden it places on people on shared ownership. We do not have easy answers to it because if the burden is taken from the person living in the house it is put onto the local authority. It is not an easy one to solve but we are considering what we can do about that problem.
NAMA will not give us properties. If it has money and that can be used in some way or other to benefit people I am in favour of it but in terms of it giving us money to buy properties, if that is what the Deputy is suggesting, unfortunately, that cannot be done under its legislation.
The Deputy mentioned that there might be cuts in local government in 2013. I hope there will not be any cuts but I am working as closely as I can with the Department of Finance in the context of the budget to ensure that we can minimise the reductions in expenditure because local government has taken a reduction in expenditure in 2012 and in 2011 to the tune of 16%. That is a substantial cut in the resources but it is in line with what we are trying to do on the efficiency agenda to see if we can free up resources for priorities local authorities might have in the economic area in particular and in the social and communities areas.
We hope so. I hope that in terms of local authorities, which have had a very tight budgetary position this year, we will be able to persuade the Department of Finance that is the case.
I thank the Ministers for the information they have given members. An issue arises in my constituency and in some of the neighbouring constituencies whereby under the differential rent scheme many people's rents have increased above what it would cost them to rent a private house in our area. It is difficult for people to accept that they are paying more to the council than what they would pay in the private market. What does the Minister intend to do about that? Also, in addition to having to pay higher rents people are being made feel that these are not their houses-----
-----and that they are only borrowed. Last week, for example, a girl who takes very good care of her house and maintains the garden well who is paying a higher rent than she would pay for private rented accommodation came home to discover a mini-digger in her front garden had dug up her lawn. She was told too bad, it was not her house, she was only renting it.
Given that we have no oversight at a local level because of our disastrous local government system, and the new one on the way does not appear to be much better, what can the Ministers do to make sure that does not happen again? Our local councillors cannot do anything about it and it is a very unsatisfactory situation.
Are the Ministers aware that under the rental accommodation scheme in my area - I can only talk about my area - many landlords are getting a bonanza of rent in comparison to what they would get if they rented the property outside the rental accommodation scheme?
Also, are the Ministers aware that many of the houses rented under the rental accommodation scheme are not fit for housing a dog because they are not insulated and there are numerous problems with them?
First, it is clear that the local government fund has been decimated in the past four years and that we are down to the bone at this stage. The flawed needs and resources model was used to create a base line for the needs of people. Has a base line been determined by the Department on what local authorities require? Clearly, issues such as non-discretionary pay would have to be included in that.
Second, last year the Minister advertised to the effect that people who paid the €100 charge would be paying for the upkeep of their libraries, grass cutting and so on but in reality it was to replace the money withdrawn from the local authorities to allow them pay wages and so on. It was damaging to give the impression that the money would be used for some additional purpose.
Third, staffing in the public service has been cut back over several years and the Minister said it has reached its level for 2015. There is an intention to further reduce staffing in the public service, and that is to be done in a more targeted way. Will that include local authorities and, if so, will there be an assessment of needs within those local authorities-----
I apologise for arriving late. I was in the Chair in the Dáil. I have a few queries on housing in the Estimates. The Minister spoke about the programme in the Estimates for next year. Has he examined sheltered housing because the schemes that have been provided were very successful, particularly the one in Tuam? I ask that the Minister examine the schemes in other counties.
I support Deputy Ó Fearghaíl's call regarding voluntary housing where houses could be purchased by the voluntary sector. On sheltered housing, it is not just a question of the housing non-governmental organisations. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, for example, has submitted proposals.
My main query is on the tenant purchase scheme referred to in the Minister's reply. We are all familiar with the 30% deduction in the current scheme, and the Minister mentioned a new scheme. I read about that in the Irish Mail at the weekend. I believe it was the only paper to carry the story. If legislation is to be brought in I would expect it to be brought in soon because the 30% deduction is only available for another short period; I understand it may only be months for people who have applied and were sanctioned. If it is the case that the people cannot make the deadline, will the Minister ensure they will get a better deal under the new scheme? When will the legislation be introduced? I understand people who got the 30% deduction also got a reduction which they would have got if they had built the houses themselves.
It is a pretty good deal but there are only months remaining. The legislation is very important if a new scheme is to be introduced. I hope the Minister of State will give us some details.
I can give Deputy Flanagan a positive response on the differential rents and high rents. We are drafting new guidelines to have more equality around the country.
With regard to the RAS limits and the bonanzas for private landlords, certain Deputies will tell one that the caps are not high enough in regard to people topping up payments that are not supposed to top up. I refer to both the rent supplement and the RAS.
Unfortunately, it varies from place to place so the Deputy's experience may be different from that of others.
On Deputy Kitt's point, I agree on the question of sheltered housing. We are targeting the most vulnerable, in particular. There is still some funding, albeit limited, in the CAS. We have signed an agreement with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, with regard to people coming out of institutions. There is €1 million to be transferred specifically to our Department for people coming out of institutions. That will address the problems of some of those to whom the Deputy is referring.
The 1995 tenant purchase scheme is coming to an end at the end of this year. People can apply up to 31 December and will have the full course of next year in which to complete the applications. I refer in particular to those who have been in their homes for a long time because the length of tenancy is counted in calculating the discount.
We will be introducing legislation next year to implement it. The idea is that we will have all of next year to conclude the current scheme, after which the one and will be introduced. Certainly, any long-term tenant thinking about a purchase needs to get his application in before the end of the year.
If we had not had the household charge this year, there would be €160 million less in the local government fund because we would not have been able to proceed with the Exchequer contribution. If this is added to the saving of €51 million we must make next year, it results in a total of €211 million. Deputy Catherine Murphy should tell me where we would get the money for local government if we did not introduce some measure to pay for the services provided by local authorities.
Local authorities have saved some €800 million in various ways over recent years. There has been a reduction of €300 million in the local government fund over the three-year period. We are targeting through a voluntary redundancy scheme. It will not be a broad-brush redundancy programme for the public service. There will be a targeted process and this will include local authorities at the higher levels. There is considerable workforce planning in local authorities at present to determine where a need arises. I suspect there will not be further redundancies among outdoor staff because more are needed to ensure there is a proper operational structure from local authorities. We will not be replacing some staff who are eligible for retirement in certain counties and we may have to share a fire officer between two counties, for example. This is the sort of thinking that is taking place to achieve the desired savings at the senior level of administration, rather than operational level.
Workforce planning is the mechanism we are using to model and determine where additional staff are needed and where pressure points are located.