Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform: Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform
Estimates for Public Services 2015
Vote 13 - Office of Public Works (Revised)
No. 1 on the agenda is consideration of the Revised Estimates for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for 2015, Vote 13 - Office of Public Works, which was referred by order of the Dáil on 18 December 2014 to the committee for consideration. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with special responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Simon Harris, and his officials. The purpose of the meeting is to consider the Revised Estimate and the supplementary performance information on outputs and the impacts on programme expenditure. A draft timetable has been circulated. Is it agreed to? Agreed. I call on the Minister of State to make a short opening statement.
I am delighted to be here. From the Office of Public Works I am joined by Ms Clare McGrath, chairman; Mr. Tony Smyth, director of engineering; and Mr. Michael Long, accountant.
As Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, I am pleased to set out some of the priority programmes of work to be funded from the 2015 Revised Estimate for the OPW.
As members will know, the OPW is responsible for a wide variety of functions, with an overall budget of €397 million in 2015. The principal areas of responsibility reflect two priority areas of the Government's programme - flood risk management and estate portfolio management. Before I address these two areas, I take the opportunity to remind committee members that the funding presented to them today, as part of the Revised Estimate, does not represent the full extent of the OPW's activities. In 2014 the OPW also incurred expenditure on behalf of other Departments and agencies which amounted to some €126 million. The main areas of this expenditure were the provision of schools for the Department of Education and Science, the newly developed national children detention facility in Oberstown for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the delivery of the Intreo programme for the Department of Social Protection and the leasing of accommodation on a repayment basis for numerous Government clients. In addition, the office's professional and technical staff also perform in an advisory capacity across a wide variety of functions which include energy conservation, architectural matters and property management.
On the topic of flood risk management, members of the committee are well aware that the OPW is the lead agency in the management of flood risk in Ireland.It has invested over €400 million in flood risk management measures to provide protection for homes and businesses across the country. Under the framework for capital investment up to 2016, the Government committed €225 million to flood risk management, a substantial capital allocation which is enabling the OPW to continue its flood risk management programme in conjunction with the local authorities. Despite regular reductions in capital funding, the OPW has made every effort to prioritise this area of investment in recent years. A capital allocation of €60 million is provided for the programme in 2015.
In order to implement the State's strategy for flood risk management , the OPW has developed a catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme in recent years. The CFRAM programme lies at the core of the assessment of flood risk management and will allow Ireland to meet its commitments under the EU flood directive. The programme is focused on 300 areas of potentially significant risk. These areas are known as areas for further assessment, AFAs, within the programme. A comprehensive suite of flood maps is being produced for each AFA which will represent a significant addition to and complement the existing flood mapping produced by the OPW. The ongoing programme is looking at all possible options to address flood risk in each AFA and will identify the optimal measures for inclusion in the flood risk management plans to be produced under the programme. Members are probably well aware of this in their constituencies from ongoing consultations on the matter. The programme will set out the medium to long-term strategy and, subject to resources, prioritise a programme of work to achieve the effective and sustainable management of flood risk in Ireland.
For members' information, the current position is that flood maps are being produced by the OPW. It is only through the clear identification of the risk now and in different climate change scenarios in the future that all of the main stakeholders concerned, both nationally and at local level, can work together towards implementation of sustainable measures to manage that risk. In line with this approach in recent years, numerous major flood relief projects are being advanced by the OPW and at various stages of completion. The schemes in Bray, for the River Dodder, in Fermoy, Waterford and Ennis are just some of the ones under construction, with considerable investment committed to in 2015. Many other schemes are at various stages of planning, with a view to starting construction this year.
Many areas of the country, mainly coastal areas, were impacted on during the adverse weather in December 2013 and the early months of 2014. To repair the public infrastructure that was damaged, the Government allocated funding to various Departments, including €19.1 million to the OPW. The chairman of the Office of Public Works wrote to the committee last month providing details of the funding and payments made by the OPW to local authorities in 2014 in respect of damaged coastal protection infrastructure. Provision is included in the 2015 OPW Estimate to meet the storm damage funding allocations which some local authorities were unable to draw down in 2014.
In tandem with its major capital projects, the OPW has provided almost €27 million in funding for local authorities since 2009 to carry out localised minor works where a requirement for such works is identified and they meet the eligibility criteria set out under the scheme. The OPW has established excellent working relationships with the local authorities and this, together with the considerable funding provided for them, has proved to be a key factor in maximising the capacity of the minor works scheme, with approximately 460 projects completed to date under the scheme.
The estate portfolio management programme, on the other side of the Vote, encompasses the management, maintenance and development of the State’s property portfolio, including the conservation, protection and presentation of national monuments and national historic properties in State care. Property represents the second highest administrative cost to the Government in the provision of public services after pay and pensions. The Office of Public Works has been given the considerable task by Government of rationalising the State's property portfolio in order to reduce that cost and reflect the substantial fall in staff numbers across the Civil Service in recent years.
The ownership of State property is legally vested across many State authorities and agencies, which can at times result in an independent approach by each State entity to managing its property portfolio. Changing this approach by legislation to a more centralised model would be an onerous undertaking and thus the Government decided that a collaborative and consistent approach by State property managers in dealing with property would be the most effective manner to progress this particular reform. With this in mind, the Government appointed the Office of Public Works as lead of the steering group on property asset management to co-ordinate and drive this reform.
As protocols for streamlining intra-State use of public service property are being developed within the group, we are already seeing more effective engagement by public property holders. Optimising value for money and the enhanced use of State properties for the public good continue to be pursued through an ongoing property disposal programme and a more streamlined administrative and legal process for the valuation, transfer and sharing of property. Strategic property related decisions are being facilitated by an intra-State property register, developed by the OPW, which is being populated with property data from all State property holders. Ministers have given their full commitment to ensuring their Departments and agencies will co-operate fully. The plan will, over time, promote agreed targets for space allocation per full-time equivalent employee to be achieved by Departments.
From the OPW's perspective, office accommodation was recognised a number of years ago as one area where significant savings could be made. I am glad to update the committee that, since 2008, the OPW has undertaken a major rationalisation programme that has resulted in the surrender of over 1.2 million sq. ft. of office accommodation and yielded a cumulative reduction of over €111 million in rent. In that period the OPW has surrendered 276 leases, with an annual rental value of €34.7 million, while rent reductions were negotiated by the OPW on 121 leases between 2008 and 2014. The annual rental value of reductions achieved is €8.59 million.
The drive to further optimise office space needs to continue and will be facilitated by establishing a revised workplace definition for the public service based on space allocation required for the functions being performed by staff. Departmental accommodation requests will be addressed through examining alternative, flexible modern working practices and encouraging Departments to review records management processes and storage needs in order to optimise space requirements and achieve best value for the money invested.
As part of the project management service provided, the OPW will continue to deliver both major and minor works to a variety of Government clients. This year will see major Garda accommodation projects on site at Wexford and Galway and on Kevin Street in Dublin, while the development of Kilmainham Gaol and courthouse will be completed in time for the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.
In the area of property maintenance the OPW has assumed funding responsibility in recent years for the provision of a shared service for Departments. The funding for works relating to building maintenance of State property to the value of almost €20 million transferred to the OPW in 2013. This allowed the OPW the opportunity to manage maintenance on a prioritised, whole of government basis and initiate a planned preventive maintenance works programme, which will produce savings in the medium term and deliver better care for the fabric of the State's buildings.
Within the area of estate portfolio management, heritage services manage the conservation and presentation of 760 national monuments and 30 national historic properties, with a combined provision of 70 visitor centres across the country. Through targeted presentation by the OPW, visitor numbers to heritage sites have increased by 33% since 2010. The free first Wednesday initiative, for example, has contributed greatly to the increase in visitor numbers. Visitor numbers at staffed heritage sites continue to grow, with 4.4 million visitors recorded in 2014 and multiples of that number visiting open sites around the country. The focus of heritage services in recent years has been on the protection and maintenance of structures, with a greater emphasis on minor improvements works, rather than on major capital projects. Any investment funds available will go to sites most in need and, importantly, to where capacity has been identified that will generate increased business and receipts. The planned reinvestment of surplus receipts generated from creating such additional capacity will support a strong incentive to increase activity at heritage sites and improve business opportunities. It is a key initiative.
On staffing, I am pleased to inform the committee that, after an absence of some years, the OPW has reintroduced the apprenticeship programme. This topic came up at Question Time this morning. The national monuments division has recently recruited 21 apprentices in the crafts of carpentry, joinery and stone masonry. They will be the first participants in the inaugural SOLAS stone curriculum. This is a valuable development in the field of conservation and will maintain and sustain these skills to the benefit of the OPW, the wider State sector and the country into the future. In tandem with this initiative, the OPW continues to demonstrate its commitment to training and work placement through its ongoing programmes that enhance the professional development of professional graduates, while making a contribution to the work of the office.
I acknowledge and highlight the substantial contribution the OPW's staff play in these programmes of work for the State. Since my appointment as Minister of State, I have had the opportunity to experience at first-hand the professionalism of many staff cohorts across the office, ranging from the engineering staff dealing with drainage maintenance and flooding crises in communities to the exceptional guiding staff at heritage sites who are ambassadors for tourism in many parishes and communities. I compliment all staff of the office on their work and ongoing commitment in the challenging environment they continue to face.
I thank committee members and look forward to taking questions they may have.
The Chairman can decide. I wish to ask general questions across the board. We will then clear the subheads one by one. I will concentrate on a few issues, one of which is flood risk management and the State's portfolio.
The Minister of State says the OPW does a lot of work on behalf of other Departments. It manages the Leinster House complex, Government Buildings, Dublin Castle and many other places. There used to be an issue of being paid by the relevant Department. How much money is due to be paid by Departments and how much is owed for longer than 12 months? Are there amounts for which the OPW has billed Departments that have not been paid? It may be on a sheet of paper in someone's drawer in the OPW or on a sheet of paper in someone else's drawer at the other end, but it is relevant in considering the financing of the OPW.
I was disturbed by one newspaper headline on an article written by a journalist about paintings missing in the Leinster House complex. It gave the impression that it had happened after the previous general election. In fact, it almost gave the impression that some Deputies had run away with them. It could be seen in the light that paintings could not be located after the previous general election.
Will the Minister of State provide an update on this issue? I suspect the paintings have not been tracked down and that they are in storage in a basement somewhere. I would like the Minister of State to debunk the myth that has developed in this matter. I do not have any painting in my office.
All I have are three blank walls and one with a window.
In the context of the objectives for 2015, will the Minister of State outline the position on the 14 schools building projects - referred to in subhead B6 - the OPW will be managing? Why is it involved in this regard? I thought most of the PPPs relating to these projects would involve the Department of Education and Skills or individual school boards of management.
Will the Minister of State expand on the position on the OPW's delivery of Government initiatives in terms of commemoration projects? There is only a 1% increase in this regard. There is a very big centenary coming up next year, namely, that of the 1916 Rising. I would have liked to have seen a significant increase in the Estimate for 2015 in preparation for next year's events. An increase of 1% in the entire subhead for heritage services does not give the impression that sufficient planning is taking place in the commemoration of the 1916 Rising. Perhaps the Minister of State might outline the position in greater detail.
Will the Minister of State provide a rundown of the Intreo public offices managed by the OPW? This is a relatively new project and remains a work in progress.
The next issue to which I wish to refer relates to the old decentralisation programme and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's offices in Portlaoise. This matter has been discussed by the joint committee and I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on it. Essentially, the Minister of State confirmed in reply to one of these parliamentary questions that sanction had been given for an extension to the offices in Portlaoise. There are 11 offices leased in the town and the Minister of State provided information on all of them. Having already sanctioned the extension, it appears the OPW is now going to conduct a space audit in the coming months. Does the sanction still obtain or will it have to be amended in the light of the results of the space audit? Why was sanction given, particularly as the OPW is now obliged to engage in such an audit? If the Minister of State does not have the relevant information to hand, he can forward it to me.
My final point is on subhead B10 - unitary payments. The OPW is managing the National Convention Centre in Dublin on behalf of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport by way of a public private partnership. It is indicated that the costs to be borne by the State will be met by means of single unitary payments from the OPW Vote over a 25-year period which commenced in mid-2010 and that the final capital payment will be made in 2015. The briefing note we have received indicates that for the period 2012 to 2015, inclusive, capital payments amounted to €75 million. The total is probably even greater, particularly if earlier payments were made. The capital payments on the National Convention Centre are running at approximately €30 million per year. Over a period of 25 years, this amounts to €750 million. Therefore, the total involved will be over €800 million. What was the total cost involved during the lifetime of the PPP for the National Convention Centre? I do not know whether the unitary payments are due to taper off over time or whether they will increase. Will the Minister of State indicate what will be the full cost of the PPP for the entire period?
That is correct. There is a great deal of work going on in that regard and I am aware that the select sub-committee discussed the matter in detail.
On the issue of maintenance budgets, a problem does not arise. As I believe I stated in my opening remarks, since 2013 the maintenance budget has been transferred to the OPW. That is an important point.
I am extremely happy to try to debunk the myth about State art. Frankly, matters in this regard have become silly. There is no view within the OPW that anybody went off with a load of paintings in the back of his or her car. Let us be very clear on that point. However, there are lessons that need to be learned about the inventory of State art. We have adopted the necessary procedures. Any Deputy with an office in Leinster House or any public building is entitled to hang State art on the wall. There is a perception that such art is locked away in vaults, but that is not the case. It can be found in Garda stations, Intreo offices and Leinster House. Some of it could be hung in the Deputy's offices if he was so minded. As he is aware, there tends to be a significant churn of personnel in these Houses. Members lose their seats, while others are promoted and demoted. There are those who will leave pictures on the walls of their offices when they leave, while others will take them with them when they move offices. That is our understanding of what happens. However, 21 artworks remain listed on the OPW art asset register. These may have been moved to different office spaces within and outside Leinster House without the Superintendent's staff being notified. Several artworks have been located in other Departments or offices during inventory checks in recent years. The issue is not particular to Leinster House, although referencing the Parliament tends to make for a good media story on occasion. My officials had discussions with the Superintendent on this matter and he has agreed to circulate images of the unlocated works to assist the inventory process. During the summer months I expect my staff to dedicate a little more time to this matter in order that we might try to bring it to finality. There is no assertion on my behalf or that of the Office of Public Works that anybody ran off with the paintings in question. However, there are lessons to be learned. The OPW, as an agency, is eager to ensure State art is displayed. There are a number of peace initiatives, as part of which we take State art on tours, both North and South. We are very eager that State art be accessible, that it should not be locked away in vaults and that it should be displayed in public buildings. I am happy to debunk that myth.
A decision was taken by the Government that the OPW would directly contract work in order to assist in the delivery of schools. This was viewed as a speedier method of proceeding. The projects are directly contracted from us and I can supply the Deputy with the details.
As all Deputies will be aware, a number of Departments are involved in planning next year's commemorations. The lead Department is the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It would be useful to provide the Deputy with an overview of the OPW's involvement in the process. As stated, Kilmainham Courthouse is going to be renovated and integrated into the Kilmainham Gaol visitor attraction. This is going to be of major benefit to what is one of our most popular and heavily visited tourism sites. Since taking up my position, one of the most common complaints I have heard is that, such is the level of demand, tourists are obliged to queue for lengthy periods to obtain access in Kilmainham. If not actually in Deputy Mary Lou McDonald's constituency, this attraction is located close enough for her to know it well. The idea is that a new visitor space and entrance will be created at the former Kilmainham Sessions Courthouse, which will greatly expand capacity and the value of the experience. The Government has made €5.5 million in funding available for this project, as one of the signature capital developments associated with the 2016 anniversary. There were 328,886 visitors to Kilmainham Gaol in 2014, 326,200 in 2013 and 310,910 in 2011. Urgent repair works have been undertaken to protect the fabric of the courthouse and prepare for the more significant works to be carried out by our property maintenance services which will be completed in quarter 1 of 2015 at a total approximate cost of €3 million. In addition to the courthouse project, the OPW is also undertaking work to adapt and refurbish the gaol museum, which is obviously also a key part of the visitor experience.
A restoration programme has been put in train at Glasnevin Cemetery. Works to be undertaken on memorials are funded from the general grant to the cemetery. Obviously, however, we provide any co-operation and assistance we can.
The Commissioners of Public Works have statutory responsibility under the National Monuments Act to undertake the care and maintenance of national monuments. There are a number of historic properties under the care of the OPW, including Kilmainham Gaol, Arbour Hill, the Garden of Remembrance, Pearse Cottage in County Galway for which significant funding has been provided, Dublin Castle and the Pearse Museum at St. Enda's Park in Rathfarnham. We will be fulfilling our statutory remit in protecting these properties. As the Deputy is aware, a new Cabinet sub-committee charged with dealing with this issue has been appointed and on which the OPW is represented.
I have an update for the Deputy on Intreo offices. The Government set the OPW and the Department of Social Protection a very ambitious target-----
A target of 61 Intreo centres were to be in place in cities and towns throughout Ireland by the end of 2014. The first ten Intreo offices were delivered in May 2012 and a further 35 offices were handed over in 2013 and 2014. The remainder are targeted for delivery in 2015. In a number of towns Intreo has been delivered across two locations. The Intreo programme is estimated to cost in excess of €40 million. Where possible, the OPW and the Department of Social Protection will work within existing available space. However, at 20 locations, additional accommodation or leases will be required. Many of the projects targeted for completion in 2014 have rolled over into early 2015. I am happy to acknowledge that fact. Given that it has been an ambitious programme, property solutions have been found, on occasion, to be complex. This has involved the splitting of the Intreo offices into two locations. However, the majority of Intreo offices are complete or will be complete by the end of this month. I can provide more detail if the committee wishes.
Deputy Fleming knows the history of the issue of Portlaoise far better than I do. While there was a decision taken, there is no funding to make that decision a reality. As a result, the OPW has been considering the scenario. We have given a commitment to carry out a space audit. I reckon that is the prudent thing to do at this stage. I know from my colleagues across Government that several public servants and civil servants working in various Departments are based in Portlaoise. We are going to carry out the space audit. The current annual rent for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine lease in Portlaoise is a little short of €634,000. The rent has been reduced from approximately €926,000. There is one matter I am somewhat concerned about, which comes up from time to time in parliamentary questions, although not necessarily from Deputy Fleming. It is the idea that if we have a lease, it is not a permanent building. Sometimes, the OPW uses leasing as a more appropriate way of providing a permanent facility. It is not necessarily a short-term lease. I am happy to continue to engage with Deputy Fleming on the matter. Anyway, we are carrying out the space audit. That is the most up-to-date position.
The unitary payments in respect of the National Convention Centre will be phased out over time. Committee members will note there were significant payments in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but they have been decreasing each year. The capital payment in 2012 was €20.221 million, whereas in 2015 it is €13.5 million. The project cost is €380 million. I hope that answers the question.
I have a number of questions. I wish to raise with the Minister of State the issue of flooding. There is an ongoing issue that many householders have in respect of getting insurance for their homes. I know that the predecessor of the Minister of State, Brian Hayes, had entered into discussions with the insurance industry. Will the Minister of State bring us up to date on the position?
I welcome the plans outlined by Minister of State for Kilmainham as well as other projects of the OPW in respect of works in anticipation of next year. No better body than the OPW to be in charge of such works. Its excellence as a State body is well established.
The Minister of State did not mention Moore Street, the national monument and the terraced areas. The Minister of State is aware that this is an area of some controversy. He may not be aware of it, but Kilmainham is not in my constituency, while Moore Street is.
It is in a state of dereliction. There has been ongoing toing and froing between Dublin City Council, the Department and the developer. The thing is a fiasco, quite frankly. With a little over a year to go to the moment of commemoration, it is quite disgraceful that it has come to this pass. I realise the Minister of State may be limited in the nature of his commentary overall. However, I call on him to set out the role of the OPW in this as well as anything he may be able to do by way of finding a solution. To my mind, any solution requires entirely new planning permission as well as a new concept for Moore Street and the historic buildings.
I note that under subhead B8 the Department is paying more than €86 million in rent. Has there been a value-for-money audit in respect of this area? I know the Department is holding substantial leases. Are there plans to surrender more of them? It is a substantial budget.
I am keen to raise the issue of the National Convention Centre as well. The Minister of State will be aware that the Comptroller and Auditor General issued a rather damning report on that project. He found that the high cost of the project would outweigh its public benefit over the next century. Obviously, he wrote that when we were approaching the new century. Anyway, it is rather shocking. In fairness to the Minister of State, the unitary payments have been scaled down, but they are still very substantial. Fáilte Ireland reckons the potential benefit of the Conference Centre to the economy over the 25-year period when the payments are being made will be somewhere in the region of €170 to €255 million, well short of the investment by the State. The point is that in 2010, on foot of this fiasco, the Comptroller recommended changes in terms of how bids are evaluated in future. Can the Minister of State indicate whether those proposals have been taken on board? Have those recommendations been implemented?
By the way, on the issue of heritage services, I call on the Minister of State to tell me he had nothing to do with the 1916 video or that website fiasco.
Thank goodness for that. My faith in the Minister of State remains steadfast.
I note there has been an increase in spending on Government publications under subhead B12. I gather it is in the region of one third, if I am not mistaken. This is substantial. I had assumed that e-publishing would yield cost savings, with an eye on the environment and efficiency. Will the Minister of State explain the position, please?
Under subhead B9, service charges and utilities, a total of €10 million is associated with energy costs, water rates and other local authority charges. The Minister of State said some of this was still being paid on unallocated space. Will the Minister of State explain this, please?
I will try to be as quick as I can in answering all the questions.
Deputy McDonald is correct on the issue of flood insurance. My predecessor established a memorandum of understanding between Insurance Ireland and the Office of Public Works. The understanding was that the Office of Public Works would make available all details of flood mitigation works carried out by it. In turn, Insurance Ireland would make that information available to its member organisations. The information could then be considered by them in assessing risk. As everyone knows, the OPW does not have a role in regulating the insurance industry. However, the OPW is the lead body in respect of flood mitigation and it can make all the information available. That is what we are doing. Insurance Ireland representatives have come back to my officials in recent days with the first progress report on what it has done with the information it has been given. As soon as that is analysed I would be glad to come back to the committee with it. I may be broadening my remit somewhat as Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, because we do not have a policy role, but I am a Minister of State at the Department of Finance as well. Anyway, I believe that as a country we need to have a serious discussion about flood insurance. I have looked at examples in other countries.
There does not seem to be a magic wand solution. They are doing something in the UK. We need to watch and see if that works. We could learn from that. They have started a few initiatives in France which have not worked and which have been unwound. We are unlikely to get into a detailed flooding discussion because we had one at the previous meeting, but if the State is gearing up to invest even more significant amounts of taxpayers' money in flood mitigation over the next decade, we need to have a scenario in which people can obtain flood insurance for both commercial properties and residential homes.
A dual approach is needed. The first approach, in which I have a direct role, is that the OPW gives the information to Insurance Ireland to pass on to its member organisations, which should let us see an increase in insurance coverage and good faith in return. However, if that does not work, I have an open mind on what we should do. While I do not wish to give the committee more work, I would be eager to engage on this on a cross-party basis. I will revert to the committee with the first progress report from the industry's point of view on flood insurance in the coming weeks. I would appreciate its help on that.
I do not have a role in the Moore Street issue. My role covers property taken into State care. There is then a duty on my office to maintain it. These buildings have not been taken into State care and, therefore, it is a policy matter for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
We have had significant success on rents over recent years. A total of 1.2 million sq. ft. of office space has been surrendered, which equates to 276 leases. Department rents have fallen from €131 million in 2008 to an expected outturn this year of €87.4 million through a programme of lease renegotiations and surrenders. The OPW continues to progress the property asset management delivery plan to ensure further opportunities. We have plans to further reduce leases this year. We have a surrender target of 16 leases, 15 of which are in Dublin. This will amount to 349,717 sq. ft. This work is not finished, though we have achieved a great deal. There are also plans to move to OPW-owned properties. There will be lease surrenders, for example, by Department of Social Protection local offices. The headline target is further lease surrenders, the overwhelming majority of which will be in Dublin.
I have inherited a legal reality where the convention centre is concerned. The contracts are signed and it is a legal agreement. The decision was not mine or the Deputy's but it was taken in the context of the ancillary benefit to the State of having this facility available and attracting conferences. It is my office's role to administer that legal reality and that is what we are doing. As the Deputy acknowledged, the cost is decreasing. With regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General's comments and whether lessons have been learned, it is a matter for the National Development Finance Agency, but I will revert to the Deputy on that as well because serious issues have been raised.
With regard to the issue of Government public services, the increased requirement in 2015 is for additional printing costs of approximately €65,000 relating to the publication in Iris Oifigiúilby the Department of Justice and Equality of the details of approximately 66,000 non-nationals to whom citizenship was granted in 2010 and 2013. I am a great believer in e-government, but that is why the subhead has increased.
With regard to unallocated space, this relates to vacant buildings, including Garda stations, which I discussed with Deputy Fleming this morning. There has been a decrease in the number of vacant buildings. A number of Garda stations were closed through both disposals and arrangements with the community. That is what the figure refers to.
Increased allocations have been provided for training, development and incidental expenses. There are plausible reasons for this, but I am anxious to know that this is not a case of training for training's sake. Is there a metric for this? Do the people who undergo training deliver better services afterwards? I refer to shared services. The training allocation has increased from €262,000 to €627,000, while the training allocation for the Valuation Office has increased by 33%. I acknowledge that staff need training, but when they are training, they are not working. I am wondering whether it is necessary.
The Minister of State said the amount of office space in the OPW had gone from 357,000 sq. ft. to 84,000 sq. ft. Where are all those people now? Are they all squashed in or are the properties leased? That is a massive reduction.
We discussed flood plains with the former Minister of State, Brian Hayes, a few years ago. As late as this week, someone in my own village was refused insurance because of the maps and contacted me. When the maps were last drafted, work on them was not done on the ground. They were based on previous maps. The flood plains stopped on an incline, because water cannot flow uphill. When the new maps are produced, will they be more reflective of reality?
Will the Minister of State considering moving Heritage Week? It is always held in early September, which is a busy time for those involved in agriculture. We never get to enjoy it. Could the week be rotated, or does that present a logistical problem?
On the issue of maps, I would like to address the insurance coverage issue head on. None of us believes that insurance companies are not mapping risk. If the fact that Ireland and other European countries are complying with an EU floods directive in the interest of their citizens to map flooding on a methodical basis, make it public and set out in a systemic way a list of projects that need to be done, it would be regrettable if the industry suggested that would create new risk in any shape or form. I have spoken to industry representatives about this. I told them that we will continue to make available the information we have and keep them in the loop. They are involved in a number of CFRAM stakeholder groups. I am disappointed when I hear the feedback the Deputy has given, because we are not creating new risk, but I hear it from time to time. Nobody is at a greater risk of being flooded because the OPW is mapping the risk. We will lessen the risk by being able to seek funding from Government to properly address it. However, we have been clear that the maps are preliminary. There is significant ongoing consultation in the Deputy's constituency and county and then there will be final maps, which will be more reflective of that.
If the Deputy has specific constituency concerns or community input that he wants to feed in he should please come to me.
On the same topic, it is a year since we sat here with the Minister of State’s predecessor and had exactly the same conversation when he said he would keep communicating with the insurance industry and that maybe at some point it might move. It has not moved and is not likely to move, given the new information the Minister of State has provided. He has quite rightly said it already had information he will continue providing. There are people in every constituency who cannot get insurance and who continue to be at risk of flooding, for example in Baltrasna Lane, in my own neck of the woods, on 13 November. These people are out of their homes for months on end and suffer €30,000 worth of damage every time there is a flood and they cannot get insurance. What steps will the Department take? Does it need to bring in new legislation? There must be at least a minimal level of insurance that insurers must be obliged to provide to certain people. I know two families on Baltrasna Lane who have abandoned their houses because they do not have the money to keep putting back into them because there have been floods again this year and they are down €30,000 again.
I fully agree with the Deputy, except with the assertion that no progress has been made. I cannot speak for my predecessor. He put in place this arrangement, which has been very good, to establish the sharing of information. We are now at crunch time. We have the first progress report. We need to see whether all that engagement and time-consuming effort by the Department’s officials in meeting with the insurance industry yielded results for the citizens. We told the insurance industry we had reduced the flooding risk in an area and asked it what it had done. We will have the initial overview of that shortly.
The Deputy is correct to ask where do we go if there is no co-operation. I do not want to jump that hurdle or to presume. I want to engage in this in good faith. Co-operation is the easiest way from every perspective, including that of our constituents but I genuinely appeal to this committee to work with me on where we go if that does not happen. Before I worry the chairman of the OPW and others, the OPW does not have a mandate in respect of flood insurance or insurance policy or regulation. However, across Government, be it in the Department of Finance, or through a Government decision, there are policy options. When I started exploring options, out of curiosity and frustration for my own constituents, I found that the policy options I thought might work did not. It was difficult to find a perfect model. I would be very happy to engage with the committee on this issue. Insurance Ireland, OPW officials and officials of the Department of Finance will have a round table discussion on this issue because it is a question of wanting to work and to co-operate with people but we also have to ask what happens if the State spends nearly €1 billion putting in place schemes. In fairness to the industry, it is important to say there will be several new schemes coming on stream – pardon the pun - for flood mitigation. We continue to roll them out. We will continue to provide that and to engage. I am not in the business of an engagement that does not yield results or of deploying public time and resources should it not. I hope it does. I am entering into it in good faith but I would really appreciate the input of everybody on the committee.
Before we move from that point, the committee has decided as part of its work programme to consider the insurance issue. We can put this into the mix too. We would appreciate if the Minister of State would send any information he receives to the committee secretariat because it is within our remit. We will feed it into our discussions when the insurance companies come before us.
I would be more than happy to make available the information and would really appreciate the input of the committee.
Deputy Barry’s last questions were about training and office space. He is right that we can regard training as wasteful but we need to be very careful because as part of Civil Service renewal and making sure our public services are fit for purpose we are, for example, obliged under the new building regulations to provide five days of professional training to people in the engineering sector. I assure the Deputy it is not window dressing.
In response to the question about where all the people are gone, there are fewer people working in the public service and that has been reflected in property choices and decisions made by this office in consultation with Government clients over recent years. We are also moving to different types of workplace. I see it in the OPW office in Trim. We are moving to open plan and hot desks which helps us reduce leases and costs.
On the one hand it is good, and on the other hand it is a pity to see such an increase in the budget for flood risk. I appreciate what is being done and wish the Minister of State well. I hope everything that he and the officials do yields results. The people we represent do not have any more hope. They are at the end of their tether.
Will the Minister of State explain the increase in the budget for household staff costs in Áras an Uachtaráin? Did we get a lorry load of new positions that we do not know about? It has increased by 7%, which is quite significant. This time last year when we spoke to the Minister of State’s predecessor it was revealed that there was an extra few bob in the heritage budget that had not been spent last year and because there were very few people in the room we had a general discussion about possibly investing in the visitor centre at the Hill of Tara. Subsequent conversations and correspondence revealed that would be pushed forward. It is not mentioned anywhere in this year’s budget. No further discussion has been held about it. We have one of the most precious sites in the country in Meath and there is not even a toilet there for people who visit it. There is not a visitor centre there to open five days a week, let alone seven days a week. It is an absolute shame that there has been near on zero investment in one of the most beautiful sites in the country. What are the plans in that regard for this year? Where was the extra €25,000 spent last year that was ringfenced at the end of the year for Tara?
I will check the records for last year and contact Deputy Doherty directly about the Hill of Tara. I thank her for making me aware of that.
The total staff numbers in Áras an Uachtaráin are coming down. On 1 January 2014 there were 24 people working there and on 1 January 2015 there were 20 people. The budget was provided at the end of 2014 in anticipation of 2015 but we do not expect it to be fully spent. There was an extra pay day which inflated the salary figures. I will come back and clarify that is the reason.
There is a long-standing issue dating back to the decentralisation programme and particularly the OPW’s involvement with Cork County Council. There is a view that we should not stick our oars into administrative issues arising between the OPW and local authorities but nonetheless it is in my constituency and concerns the site acquired on behalf of the OPW by Cork County Council and funds which are due to be refunded to the council. That needs to be wrapped up.
The OPW recently purchased a site with Cork County Council for a Garda station and a fire station.
The local authority, Cork County Council, is proceeding in-house with its own design for the fire station and the OPW is about to embark on a process to appoint consultants to design a Garda station. It would appear to be desirable on a number of fronts, not least for the economies involved, but also from a design compatibility perspective, that we would have one design team working on the site. I have tentatively raised this issue with the local authority and it has no objection in principle. It would also assist in shrinking the timeline involved in getting a project like this, critical local infrastructure, to a stage where it can proceed to construction. Could the Minister of State confirm that there is not a problem from his side in working with the council, notwithstanding previous hiccups the OPW has had with the council, to resolve a single design team? There could be two very fine designs done by the respective design teams that might not be compatible on a single site and it would be better if one team was designing the fire station and the new Garda station. The Minister of State might address those two issues.
I agree with Deputy Creed about Kanturk that the issue needs to be brought to a finality. My officials are in discussions and will be meeting Cork County Council officials. I do not think it is prudent for me to say more than that, but the meeting will be taking place.
Regarding the delivery of a Garda station and a fire station in Macroom, which we have discussed, there are examples of where this has happened before and there has been synergy between two projects. I would urge Cork County Council to contact my officials to explore this. There is no problem with having the conversation and it is a live possibility that it could work. I cannot definitively say one way or the other, but certainly there are no flashing lights that the conversation cannot happen. I would encourage Cork County Council to contact my officials, who will certainly engage on it.
The council is proceeding with its own design and has its own in-house architectural team, employees of Cork County Council, who design council houses and are now designing a fire station for this site. I am sure, if it is possible, that as a public body it would like to facilitate another public body because that is what public bodies should be doing. It would like to assist in solving a problem and doing it more economically than having two design teams. The initiative to make contact should probably come from the OPW, should it not?
We do a fair number of Garda stations in house in terms of in-house design, but I still take the point. If two buildings are being designed by public authorities side by side, it is important to have a conversation. I will arrange for my officials to contact Cork County Council on foot of this conversation.
That is a very good question. There are a number of reforms. I have to say this sincerely. In this role over the past seven or eight months I have had the opportunity to travel to an awful lot of OPW sites, many of which I had never been at before. The dedication and commitment of the staff, who, like so many right across the public service, have had to deal with fewer colleagues in the workplace, pay reductions, harder work and all that sort of stuff, is something of which we can all be really proud. That is seen in the visitor numbers. Even in a scenario with fewer staff on the sites and given the challenges for anybody working in the public or private sector during an economic crisis, to actually see these people continuing to increase visitor numbers is something of which we can be really proud.
From an economic point of view, the OPW has managed to take on a substantial body of extra work and it is important to say that it is extra work. The Government makes decisions and the OPW then has to get on and deliver the decisions. The Intreo offices, the school buildings, the maintenance we carry out, the many extra tasks that have been taken on at a time of reduced budgets and reduced staff numbers is a credit to my officials and our front-line staff throughout the organisation.
I put the statistics on the record of this committee earlier in respect of the economic benefit of the work of the OPW. Aside from the economic benefit of the revenue brought in at heritage sites, we have the economic benefit of our flood management schemes and the colossal work being done by Tony Smyth's team on the whole seafront project. If we look at the money that has been saved for the taxpayer, and it is a recurring annual saving, by reducing the footprint in terms of State leases, it is quite colossal and I outlined those figures.
There is a lot of work to do. There is no area in which the OPW is working where the work is complete, and probably no area where the work will ever be complete. The organisation can be very proud of what it has achieved, but the work goes on.
As regards sites, the Minster of State has done a full inventory of all the sites the OPW manages. Does he have any liaison with, say, the IDA in specific regions where the IDA finds it does not have the appropriate sites? Does he liaise with the IDA and see if he would have the appropriate sites that might be useful for it or even for other enterprises?
This goes back to the whole-of-Government approach to property asset management and the fact outlined in my opening statement that we are putting together the property asset management delivery plan which the OPW has been charged with leading. There has been a scenario in the past where the left hand did not necessarily know what the right hand was doing. For the first time, we are trying to bring together all the information and the IDA is able to feed into that, which I think is important.
I will now call out the individual programmes and corresponding subheads for Vote 13. Vote 13, Office of Public Works, subheads A1 to A7, inclusive. Are there any comments or questions? This is programme A, flood risk management. A1 and A2 are administration - pay and non-pay. A3 is purchase of plant and machinery. A4 is hydrometric and hydrological investigation and monitoring. A5 is flood risk management and A6 is drainage. Any questions or comments? No. Agreed. Key outputs, output targets and context and impact indicators. Any comments or questions? No. Agreed.
Programme B, estate portfolio management. Subheads B1 and B2 are administration - pay and non-pay. B3 is the President's household staff - pay. B4 is grants for certain refurbishment works. B5 is purchase of sites and buildings. B6 is new works, alterations and additions. B7 is property maintenance and supplies. B8 is rents, etc. B9 is service charges and utilities. B10 is unitary payments. B11 is heritage services. B12 is Government publication services. Any comments or questions?
I would like to make a comment for the record in respect of the unitary payments ongoing to the convention centre in Dublin. I appreciate the Minister of State's point that his Administration inherited this but it is a colossal drain in terms of public moneys and has been critiqued by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I appreciate he is bound by the contractual arrangement but wish to make that comment at this juncture.
On the appropriations-in-aid, I asked the Minister of State earlier about recoveries for services carried out on a repayment or agency basis from other Departments and, under subhead C4, he is expecting to receive more than €7 million this year, having received a similar amount in each of the previous three years. How come they are still in the system if the Minister of State says his budget now covers that? Is that old money that is still coming through from previous years, and how much is still outstanding? That was my essential question. The Minister of State might explain to us one other question. On subhead C2, events and facilities management, is that to other Departments or would that involve concerts and private events? What kind of locations would have been rented out for events and facilities management?
Yes, it is commercial. In respect of the figure he raised, I do not wish to mislead the Deputy and have not misled him in the sense that the maintenance budget has transferred. The issue does not arise now because the budget is here since 2013.
However, there is an issue regarding the recovery of funds from the Social Insurance Fund and an agency fee. Regarding recoveries for services carried out on a repayment or agency basis, which is under subhead J4 that the Deputy raised, from goods and services we get €9,529, an agency fee of €826,634 and, from the Social Insurance Fund, which repays the OPW, half the rents of all properties.