Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Public Accounts Committee

Business of Committee

9:00 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness. He is joined by Ms Geraldine Mooney, deputy director of audit.

We have received no apologies for this meeting. The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 24 October - we had no meeting last week - together with the follow-up questions sent to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Are the minutes agreed to? Agreed.

The next item on the agenda is correspondence. The first items, Nos. 2513 and 2525, are correspondence received from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, including briefing documentation and an opening statement for today's meeting. We will note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Category B is correspondence received from Accounting Officers and/or Ministers in follow-up on matters raised at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts and other items for publication. At our last meeting we agreed to hold over some items for consideration this week. Items Nos. 2432 and 2465 are correspondence, dated 4 October 2019, received from from Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, enclosing a copy of the post-project review mentioned and referred to in our previous periodic report on the Palace Cinema project in Galway. I will make a number of brief observations.

Recommendation No. 7 on page 3, with which I am sure members will agree - I will highlight some of the recommendations made in what I stress is a 35 page document - is that performance indicators should be established for all grants funded by the cultural division and that data should be collected and collated in a systemic manner. This is a great recommendation, but in my view it does not grasp the point from the Committee of Public Accounts' point of view. This is a project within a Department that went seriously over budget. The Department's view is that within it there should be performance indicators within the cultural division. That is unacceptable from the point of view of the Committee of Public Accounts. Where mistakes like this have been made within a section in a Department, the lessons must be learned, not only within that section but also within the Department and across the public service. We will be writing to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as a result of this report to say it must put a system in place to ensure that in a case where lessons are learned, the results will not be pigeonholed in one cubbyhole in one section in one Department. That is a method that ensures there will be no learning across the public service from mistakes that happen in particular areas. The confining of the recommendation is not acceptable from the point of view of the Committee of Public Accounts.

The Department also states there is to be a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform spending code update. We will ask for a copy of it if it has been completed. The reference is included at the bottom of page 3.

Page 4 of the report essentially refers to the fact that the Committee of Public Accounts dealt with this issue in its periodic report and recommendations and that a post-project review was carried out as a result. We are pleased that that has happened. However, the Department has confined its learning from the mistakes to a very narrow section within it.

On page 6 of the report - this is a theme that arises here every week - the Department states two independent reports were commissioned to examine the demand for cultural cinema in Ireland: the Neil Connolly and Maretta Dillon report in 2001 and the report produced by the English consultants Todd in 2004. We are great at spending money in employing consultants. There is no problem with employing a consultant, but when one has to come along a short time later and employ another to examine a closely related issue, that is where we consider no proper value for money is being achieved. We had representatives of a State organisation here only a few weeks ago that essentially had four consultants looking at the same thing over a two-year period. Our concern is the overuse of consultants. Some may think we do not need them, but everybody can agree that our concern is their overuse.

Table 5 on page 9 of the report deals with the original allocation of €4.3 million for the project which ended up costing €8.3 million. The table shows where funding was received from various bodies. When site costs are included, the project was originally projected to cost €6.26 million, but it ended up costing €10.3 million. Thast is a serious overrun.

We have picked up on this project because the Comptroller and Auditor General highlighted it for us initially. Paragraph 6.5 on page 15 of the report refers to the fifth departmental review carried out in 2018 of the various cost increases over a period of time. It took five reviews to get to the end. In his report the Comptroller and Auditor General outlined some of the issues at which the Department had looked. My conclusion is that after so many reviews and consultants, the response of the Department has been to confine any learning to one narrow section within it. That is a point I have already made. There is to be no learning across the public sector on the issue.

Perhaps Deputy Connolly might like to add something. We will publish this information today, if we have not already done so.