Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Ceisteanna — Questions
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach the level of expenditure by his Department during the first half of 2008; the way in which it compares with the forecast in the Estimates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29494/08]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, together.
Expenditure by my Department from January to the end of June 2008 was €16,813,000. At the end of October, total expenditure was €26,986,000 compared to a total Revised Estimates provision for the year of €42,240,000.
While fluctuations in spending occur from month to month and some expenditures do not fall due until the end of the year, I am satisfied that overall spending by my Department for 2008 will remain within the agreed Revised Estimates for the year, as adjusted in line with the recent Government decision of 8 July 2008.
I did not catch all those figures given by the Taoiseach, but in budget 2009 the summary of gross expenditure stated that the 2008 Estimate for the Taoiseach's Department was €199.9 million and the forecast was for an end of year outturn of €191.8 million, namely, that the Taoiseach's Department would come under budget by 4%, which was setting an example for all his other ministerial colleagues. Is that the case at the moment?
The expenditure in the Taoiseach's Department on consultancy in first six months of 2008 came to €385,896. By the end of August the figure had jumped to €639,000, which is an increase of 66% in only two months.
For consultancy. In the first six months of 2008, it was €385,000 and by the end of August the figure had jumped to €639,000, an increase of 66% in two months. That may have been because some payment was due for work already done. In announcing his package of savings of €440 million in July, the Minister for Finance said all expenditure by Departments and agencies on consultancies, advertising and public relations would be significantly reduced for the remainder of this year and by at least 50% in 2009. Can the Taoiseach explain the reason for the major jump of 66% in his expenditure on consultancy in just two months?
I am not sure where the Deputy is obtaining those figures, but on the specific question of expenditure on consultancies, there has been no spend in my Department's administrative budget on PR between January and October 2008. However, the National Forum on Europe spent €108,182 on public relations as at 31 October 2008. Expenditure on consultancy services by my Department as at the end of October 2008 was €195,323. That relates to the spend under subheads A7 and A10. In addition, the following amounts were spent on consultancies by programmes under my Department's Vote between the period January 2008 and October 2008. The spend by the National Forum on Europe was €6,939. The spend of the Ireland-Newfoundland Partnership was €1,028.
Further to the Department of Finance requirements, the Department has reduced the budget allocation for consultancy by 50% in 2008 and we will continue to monitor spend in this area closely. In addition, a total of €393,401 was spent by the Department of Finance through the change management fund. Every effort is made by the Department to minimise expenditure on consultancy services, however, where it is necessary to engage consultants in order to avail of their particular expertise or experience the procurement of consultancy services is subject to public procurement guidelines and, where applicable, EU procurement rules and guidelines with selection criteria geared to select the most economically advantageous tender.
It is also our policy that skills transfer from consultants to departmental staff takes place as an integral part of all consultancy engagements. The purpose of that is to increase the knowledge and expertise of departmental staff and to reduce and, if possible, eliminate further dependence on consultants in the areas concerned.
What I was interested in was the fact that consultancy expenditure in the Taoiseach's Department had jumped to €639,000 by the end of August. I understand €100,000 of that was for the National Forum on Europe and the task force on active citizenship, including expenditure on PR. What was the other €500,000 spent on? For the first two months the Taoiseach's expenditure on consultancy came to €386,000 but it more than doubled up to August. A total of €100,000 of that was for the National Forum on Europe and the task force on active citizenship. Does the Taoiseach have information on how the other €500,000 was spent?
I am not sure from where the Deputy is getting those figures. I will have to come back to him in a written reply because the subhead in regard to that matter is A7 and I do not agree with the figures he is quoting. The Revised Estimates provision under A7 for 2008 is €275,000. The expenditure to 31 October 2008 under that heading is €103,000, which is 37.5% compared to the amended Revised Estimates volume, as of 31 October. The figures Deputy Kenny is quoting are not the figures I have before me.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about a matter of policy, namely, the business of awarding consultancy payments in the first instance. In recent years I find the public service has been sidelined to a great extent by the Government conducting so many consultancy reports. Is it a matter of course that the public service in any Department is asked whether it has the capacity to do a report on a particular issue before a decision is made by a Minister or by Government to request an outside consultancy report into some aspect of Government? If one considers the range of reports published, at a very expensive cost, in all Departments over the past ten years, one will note that many could have been produced and agreed by the public service itself. In that regard, the quality of the public service has been undermined by the prevalent practice of running for consultancy reports at every moment.
If a report is required in the Department of the Taoiseach, is it a matter of policy that the Taoiseach asks the Secretary General and the staff whether they can produce it themselves or whether it is necessary to spend more public money on further consultancy reports? It is a question of policy in terms of the quality of the personnel working for the Taoiseach and their capacity to produce reports as distinct from running to outside agencies for consultancy reports at public cost at every turn of the road.
The allocation for the Moriarty tribunal last year was €10 million and that has been reduced to €7.5 million for 2009. Does the Taoiseach not accept that if the report is to be published before the end of the year, a significant proportion of the costs will become payable next year? Does he, therefore, expect to have to introduce a Supplementary Estimate to cover these costs?
Did the Taoiseach see the reports in the newspapers that The Irish Times apparently had to junk approximately 20,000 copies because of approaches from the tribunal in respect of matters pertaining to the tribunal. Similarly, The Sunday Business Post had to address matters raised by the tribunal. Has the Government obtained additional legal advice on the possible findings of the tribunal and possible press reports on adverse findings or potentially adverse comments, perhaps in regard to public servants? Would the Taoiseach care to comment on that?
Last July, the Government announced a number of cost-saving measures to be applied in each Department. Will the Taoiseach give us an understanding of the steps undertaken in his Department under the various headings? I ask him to focus specifically on the steps taken in respect of "savings in administrative spending", "economising on the services we buy" and, last but not least, "squeezing consultancy and PR spending".
As I stated, the total saving resulting from the July decisions is approximately €740,000. I have already answered the question on consultancy; the budget has been reduced by 50%. I gave a detailed reply to specific questions on that matter asked by Deputy Kenny.
Up to the end of October 2008, the Moriarty tribunal has spent €3.302 million. While it is expected the second and final report of the tribunal may be published by the end of this year, the latest information suggests it may be published early next year. It is not anticipated that third party costs of award will be finalised in time for payment this year. It is estimated that there will be savings of at least €3 million on the total allocation for this year. Additional costs that may arise at the end of the year include those for the concluding briefs for legal teams. That is the latest information on the matter. I do not comment on media reports when a very important process is still ongoing.