Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Question 37: To ask the Minister for Transport the steps he is taking to ensure that the taxpayer receives value for money in relation to the construction and acquisition costs for major roads and public transport projects. [41663/06]
I am satisfied that the investment that has taken place over recent years in upgrading our road and public transport infrastructure represents good value for money. The position as regards national roads is that, as Minister for Transport, I have overall responsibility for policy and funding of the national roads programme. In accordance with the Roads Act 1993, the implementation of the projects that make up the programme, including measures to ensure that these projects are delivered on time and in budget, are a matter for the National Roads Authority in conjunction with the relevant local authorities concerned.
My Department's main focus in monitoring the progress of the national roads programme is to ensure that it meets the overall policy priorities and targets set down in Transport 21. In addition, my Department has a role in ensuring that appropriate arrangements are in place for project management and cost estimation and control so that the programme can be delivered in accordance with best practice value for money principles. This is achieved through a number of different methods ranging from day-to-day liaison with the authority, the submission of regular formal progress reports to my Department and regular meetings of senior officials of the NRA and my Department.
In addition it should be noted that the NRA must also comply with the Department of Finance's value-for-money framework. In recent years, at the behest of my Department, a greater emphasis has been placed on the NRA on improving their cost estimation and control measures. So far this year, 12 of the 14 projects already completed have come in on time and within budget, and a number of projects were delivered comfortably ahead of the original schedules. These include the N15 Ballyshannon to Bundoran bypass, three months ahead of schedule; the N2 Ashbourne bypass, four months ahead of schedule; the N8 Rathcormac to Fermoy bypass, eight months ahead of schedule; and the N25 Kinsale road interchange, six months ahead of schedule.
Indeed, the project from Kinnegad to Tyrellspass was completed 12 months ahead of schedule. All major capital investments in public transport are subject to rigorous appraisal procedures ensuring the need for each project and the options for delivering it are established with the objective for maximising value for money. Major rail projects are now being delivered on time and within budget.
Progress on projects is monitored through regular reporting by and meetings with the implementing agencies and through technical and financial audits of a selection of projects by independent consultants.
One of the key functions of the monitoring group, established to look after Transport 21, is to monitor the implementation of projects provided for in that programme, with particular reference to compliance with the Department of Finance's capital appraisal guidelines and the value-for-money indicators. It will also review ongoing programme progress using information supplied by Endorse, an audit regime for the Transport 21 framework, and submit an annual report of progress to Government on the implementation of Transport 21.
I am very satisfied the arrangements in place for appraisal deliver value for money on all these projects.
How can the Minister state he is satisfied when the NRA last week pointed out that the cost of land acquisition amounts to approximately 23% of the cost of road building projects, which is completely unsustainable whether relating to road building, transport or housing? It is simply unacceptable that big landowners and property speculators are making a killing at the expense of the taxpayer.
This has been pointed out to the Minister and his Government colleagues for many years. In 2003, the Labour Party introduced a Bill to provide for the Government to compulsorily purchase land at use value. The Government voted it down, but the All-Party Committee on the Constitution recommended that it legislate for something similar. In spite of this issue arising time and again, with cost overruns on public transport projects, road building and house prices, the Government has refused to take action.
The Labour Party is the most anti-farming and anti-rural party in the House. The Government will certainly not go down the road of what the Labour Party prescribes. It is typical of the Labour Party to be disingenuous on the facts presented to the House.