Thursday, 15 February 2007
National Development Plan: Statements.
Brian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
I thank those who contributed to the debate. We have a sustainable and achievable framework. Programmes in the past were maintenance rather than capital ones. We now have a substantial capital investment framework going forward. It is not only a capital framework in that this structure of the plan is in keeping with the Towards 2016 ten-year framework agreed with the social partners. They are meeting in plenary session this morning and the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are attending. I was surprised that there was some criticism of them not being in this House this morning. I do not believe anyone would contend that they should be anywhere else this morning other than at the social partnership plenary forum.
It is a question of pursuing economic policies which will also bring us a greater degree of social justice and social inclusion and greater participation by everyone in our society with people contributing to their greatest potential. A vision is outlined within the social partnership context of an internationally competitive economy which seeks to promote social justice, increase participation and deal with the historic infrastructural deficits that can be addressed in the window of opportunity which presents itself before higher social costs, particularly in the areas of pensions and health, will perhaps deny us the opportunity to move forward.
As a percentage of GNP, we have set out an annual capital investment programme of approximately 5.4%. That is not a ratcheting up to the extent one saw at the beginning of the previous plan when we did not have a programme of this magnitude. With the increased capacity in the construction industry and the ability of international consortia to bid and tender for and carry out major complex jobs, particularly in the transport area, due for completion during the course of this plan, one would not expect to see the inflationary impact on the construction side which unfortunately was a feature of the early years of the last plan given that tender inflation on construction contracts has been 3% to 4% in recent years.
The Government strongly contends that we can proceed with the five priority areas identified, namely, economic infrastructure; social infrastructure; human capital; enterprise, technology and innovation; and social inclusion.
On the level of integration, the spatial strategy came out in 2002. Regional policy guidelines are now in place. As people know, there is an improvement in development planning at county and at local area planning levels. At all times, cognisance has been taken of the larger strategic framework that has informed the decisions which have now been finalised at local government level so we can proceed.
We have a gateway formula for the purpose of creating critical mass in the regions. It is undoubtedly the optimal fashion in which we can effect regional development more effectively and efficiently than has been the case in the past. We have reached a stage in our economic and social development to make that an attainable objective on the basis of the resources we are creating and the objectives which have been agreed in terms of a shared vision at social partnership level.
I thank those who contributed to the debate, some of whom have been critical. I do not accept the contention that this is a party political document. It is the result of a consultation process. I attended consultations and I spoke to people and listened to what they had to say. The social partnership process ensures we have a far wider consultative and structured process than may have been the case in the past.
The process works and is recognised for its value in terms of ensuring we get the greatest possible buy-in to the strategic objectives we have outlined and the cross-cutting objectives, for example, in regard to all-island co-operation, which was mentioned. These are important new facets of this plan which we hope can be partnered with a devolved administration in the North and the British Government because many of our strategic interests coincide. I hope that during the course of this plan, we will see a deepening of that shared approach so the logic of an island economy can complement the social and policy objectives both sides of the island share.