Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Other Questions

Departmental Expenditure.

3:00 pm

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Question 81: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the expenditure reviews which have been completed in the first six months of 2007. [17317/07]

4:00 pm

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The value-for-money and policy reviews process encompasses formal value-for-money reviews, as well as all other policy reviews conducted and commissioned by Departments which have an impact on value for money. Under the new arrangements, the Government approved some 90 formal value-for-money reviews to be carried out for the period 2006-08. That programme of reviews focuses on significant areas of expenditure and major policy issues.

Details of the programme of reviews have been placed in the Oireachtas Library. I also wrote to the Chairman of each select committee on 5 October 2006 setting out the reviews to take place relevant to that committee's remit. The reviews, when completed, will normally be published and submitted to the relevant select committee for consideration. Responsibility for carrying out each review and for publishing and submitting it to the Oireachtas committees rests with the individual Departments and offices.

To date in 2007, seven reviews have been completed under the new arrangements. These are:

Department/OfficeReport Title
Office of the Houses of the OireachtasExpenditure Review of the IT Service Level Agreement
Environment, Heritage and Local GovernmentOnline Motor Tax
Agriculture and FoodLaboratory Testing for Plant Health, Feedingstuffs, Fertilisers, Forestry and Crops
FinanceGrant-in-Aid to Ordnance Survey Ireland
Social and Family AffairsUnemployment Benefit/Assistance for atypical workers
Communications, Marine and Natural ResourcesPublic (Exchequer and EU) Supports for Aquaculture 2000-2005
Justice, Equality and Law ReformIrish Prison Service Capital Expenditure Review

I am also informed, based on the latest information available to my Department, that 69 of the 92 reviews scheduled for completion under this current round to end at the end of next year are either completed or under way. Of these, 20 reviews have been completed while a further 14 have reached the stage where they are quality assessed by an independent party before being finalised and published.

If the Deputy wishes to receive information on progress in regard to individual reviews, I suggest he pursue the matter with the relevant Minister.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister agree this is a totally pathetic outturn from what was to be a very important element in getting value for money? That only seven reviews out of the requirement of 30 per year have been completed, in even the very unambitious programme the Minister published, is way behind schedule. The Minister read out the topics which I conservatively guess represent approximately one quarter of 1% of public spending which is under scrutiny in these reports. This is not scrutiny in any meaningful sense.

Will the Minister immediately lift the embargo on any value for money reviews being conducted in the Department of Health and Children, one of the Departments which spends the most money in this State, much of which is not giving the value we should get from it? Will he also lift the embargo on examining value for money in the Office of Public Works? Again, the fact it is involved in decentralisation is offered as a spurious reason why it should not come under scrutiny.

Will the Minister implement, as was intended when this legislation was introduced in the Dáil, the proper mandate to have a rolling programme of expenditure review which considers at least 25% of public spending each year? Let us have meaningful scrutiny in the House.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is available to committees anyway. Taking this specific structured review of value for money, we are talking about approximately €6.5 billion of expenditure being reviewed. We can have ambitious programmes of reviewing 25% of public spending and not get it done properly or we can do it properly in respect of what is achievable and what should, and can, be done. It is not exclusively through this structured review that review of value for money continues when we have capital appraisal guidelines and the output statements from Departments. They will be set against performance next year as against outputs — what people expect to get for the money they spend. I have put budgetary reform processes in place which would generally be regarded as improvements as well.

We discussed this issue before and I took it up with Departments but I expect the areas which have been agreed will be dealt with within the timeframe about which we are talking. As I said, 69 of the 92 are in place at present.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The testing of plant is hardly a mainstream concern of people worried about value for money.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have answered the Deputy's question. The total area——

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should look at the answer he has given. It is ridiculous.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The total area under review — the 92 areas — covers over €6.5 billion. That is a significant amount of money. It is open to the committees and I have invited the Chairmen of the committees to monitor this process.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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One cannot monitor plant testing.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is only one of 92 areas. The Deputy should not suggest that is the issue.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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The whole list is of that nature.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The issue is the €6.5 billion. The point I make is that there have been reforms in the budgetary process which are bringing greater accountability and a greater sense to the Oireachtas as to the outputs expected for the money being spent and which also ensure that during the course of next year — the first full year — we can mark that performance against the proposed outputs. Then we can have a really beneficial discussion beyond rhetorical counterblast about what we are doing in regard to these areas and where we are and are not getting value for money. These are important reforms in addition to these internal departmental reviews which take place. Important as they are in respect of €6.5 billion of expenditure, we also have the output statements from each Department and the performance targets set against them in regard to all areas of expenditure which will be available for committees to examine, detail and work on once they are published and people are brought before them to answer for the performance.

That is a fairer indication of the total value for money effort being made because it is in all our interests that taxpayers' money is spent, to the greatest possible extent, efficiently and effectively. Everyone is agreed on that. We use the committee system, the Oireachtas and these internal departmental reviews as the mechanism by which we can chart to what extent we are getting the outputs we expect for the money we spend and to hold people to account thereafter.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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In the context of the review, has the Minister been able to give guidance to the HSE on the distinction between capital expenditure and revenue and current expenditure? Embarrassingly, the Minister had to come to the House some years ago to correct errors in the HSE's capital budget. In recent days, we have again seen the HSE underspend its capital budget by €90 million only to deny it is a problem as the money can be switched over to revenue. The difference between capital and current expenditure is fundamental. Leaving aside all this other fancy stuff, has the Minister been able to talk to the HSE to establish whether it has made another multi-million euro error in its distinction between capital and revenue? Has the Minister managed to ring and sort it out for them? There is no point talking about reviewing public expenditure if the HSE, which spends nearly €13 billion and rising per year, cannot distinguish between what is capital and what is current.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I call Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Is the Minister afraid to comment? Has the HSE got the figures wrong again?

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I asked Deputy Ó Caoláin to speak. The Minister will reply afterwards.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am trying to be in order.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Sorry, I apologise.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Has the use of public private partnerships been looked at in the context of any of the reviews of which the Minister has advised the House this afternoon? Would the Minister support the initiation by the Comptroller and Auditor General of a full review of current and previous PPPs to compare Revenue costs and wastage to the long-term projected costs and potential costs of the alternative approach to such projects?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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To answer the questions in reverse order, I am aware of Deputy Ó Caoláin's outright opposition to public private partnerships. PPPs can be and are used to meet public sector benchmarks. We establish if there is a way to carry out a project through public private partnership which is better than through the traditional procurement method. There is no doubt that the private sector is in a position to deliver projects far more quickly, unfortunately, than the public sector currently can. It is a reality those of us who support public services must ensure we deal with to get the efficiencies required. Taxpayers are agnostic in Tubbercurry and everywhere else about who builds a school as long as they get one. It is our job as the people who are accountable for taxpayers' money to ensure the process we use, whether traditional procurement or PPP, and the mechanisms we put in place confirm for taxpayers that we have adopted the most effective approach.

PPPs are a feature of our multi-annual capital programme and will remain so. I would hate to think where our roads programme would be were we simply depending on traditional public sector procurement and interaction between local authorities to build a motorway system.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I did not ask for a defence. I asked if it had been included in the review.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is necessary to defend it because it is under constant attack from the Deputy's quarter.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Fair enough. We both know where we stand on this issue.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I do not agree——

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Can the Minister not answer the question?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Let me answer your question.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Please.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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As I move specifically to answer, I do not agree with the idea that we should continue to review every aspect of governmental activity when it is clear that we have already had a review of the issue under the schools initiative. We have put forward reforms and improvements, like the public sector benchmark requirements, which deal with a great many of the issues. We cannot continue to roll the matter over, argue repeatedly and expect that people will find schools on their doorsteps while we are here talking about it. Let us get on with the business we have been told to engage in. While we look at reviews and listen to what people have to say, Government has to govern and make decisions. I am satisfied the improvements in public private partnership processes are such as to provide the best possible value for the taxpayer. The public sector benchmark is our best guarantee of that. Where a PPP proceeds, it proceeds on the basis that it beats those benchmarks.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Is the Minister saying he has not reviewed and will not review?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We reviewed it ad nauseam. While Deputy Ó Caoláin wants to go off and have a chat about it at the Committee of Public Accounts my intention is to be a member of a Government that will get things done for people. Deputy Ó Caoláin can go off and have a chat about it.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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When did the Minister review it?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is my answer to the question.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I asked the Minister a question.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I answered the Deputy's question twice. We disagree on this issue as I set out in my first point, and I do not expect the Deputy to agree with me on it.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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We know that.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is my position and when Deputy Ó Caoláin's party has 84 seats he can come over and do whatever he wants.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister is not prepared to look into the matter.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to what Deputy Burton stated, the Minister for Health and Children will keep our capital programme under review. We need to implement our capital programme and with regard to this matter the Minister will report to Government in due course on the state of progress in any given area.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We will move on to Question No. 82.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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May I receive the reply to Question No. 82 as a written reply and move on to Question No. 83?

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Tánaiste; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am always anxious to accommodate.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Agreed.