Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Ceisteanna - Questions

Decentralisation Programme.

2:30 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department who have applied for relocation under the decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8786/10]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department, broken down by grade, who have applied for relocation under the decentralisation programme; the number of such persons who have been relocated; the number that he expects will be relocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11247/10]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach the position regarding the decentralisation programme in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11528/10]

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

Of the 164 civil servants serving in my Department, 31 have applied through the Central Applications Facility to relocate under the decentralisation programme. The breakdown by grade is, assistant principal, seven; higher executive officer, four; administrative officer, three; executive officer, five; staff officer, one; and clerical officer, 11. Some 31 former members of staff have already been assigned to decentralised posts. There are no proposals to decentralise my Department or any of the bodies under its aegis. It is a matter for those Departments to which staff from my Department have decentralised to assign such staff to locations outside Dublin.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Does the Taoiseach have information on the 31 people who have applied to the Central Applications Facility to move from his Department? Does he know what Departments they have expressed a preference for in their applications?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No, I do not have that information.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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What is the status of the 35 locations which are to be reviewed next year? The Taoiseach is aware that on foot of a Decentralisation Implementation Group report, authorisation was given for decentralisation to go ahead at certain locations, with other locations to be reviewed in 2011. What is the status of that review?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Detailed questions on policy positions and issues regarding individual locations should be referred to the Department of Finance, which handles this matter. The general position is as outlined by Deputy Kenny. There are locations which are being proceeded with. It has been announced that other locations will be reviewed in 2011.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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In light of the manner in which the categories and numbers may stack up, does the Taoiseach believe that the 2011 review will result in any of these locations being approved? Given the current constraints on spending, does he believe decentralisation will go ahead at those locations? I would like to bring a symptom of this botched decentralisation plan to his attention. The Office of Public Works has been relocated to Trim, County Meath. I fully respect that. Every weekday, a bus leaves Dublin Castle to bring OPW staff to work in Trim. It brings them back to Dublin Castle in the evening.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot go into such detail.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That adds two hours to the daily travel of staff. The total cost of the development of the Trim site was €37.5 million. The site cost €5 million and the construction of the OPW facility cost €32 million. The OPW office in St. Stephen's Green has not yet been vacated because a large cohort of staff, including four of the six principal architects, do not want to relocate. It was intended that a further 180 staff would move to Kanturk and Claremorris, although a final decision on the matter has been deferred until next year.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The matter being discussed by the Deputy would be more appropriate for the Minister for Finance.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Some staff from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will move into the OPW building in 2010, which will save €1.5 million. At a time when we are all talking about environmental savings, etc., is that Taoiseach happy that a bus leaves Dublin Castle every morning to go up and down to Trim? Does the Taoiseach consider that to be satisfactory?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should really submit a question on this matter to the Minister for Finance.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Does the Ceann Comhairle want to give me guidance on the kind of questions I should be asking?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are getting into detail.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should ask about matters that are relevant to the Taoiseach.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are on Taoiseach's questions.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am asking the Head of Government about the status of the 2011 review. I have mentioned a symptom of bad planning in respect of decentralisation to County Meath. I respect the staff of the Office of Public Works, who do a very good job in the work that they do. I will mention another example. The former Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, agreed that the Department should be relocated to Knock Airport. Planning went ahead and was agreed. An objection was made by An Bord Pleanála but it was knocked. Knock, knock. As a sort of medium-term solution, the Minister transferred the staff in question to Tubbercurry, in a warehouse that is unsuitable according to today's standards. It then agreed that they should go to Charlestown.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Could we have a question, please?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Nothing has happened there. There is a vacant building in Kiltimagh which was built for office purposes, where there are considerable savings to be made. These are issues which we rarely have time to articulate in the House. It seems as if the implementation review group needs to do a lot of work. There are major anomalies and ill-thought out situations now becoming very obvious under the decentralisation programme. In respect of that kind of situation, is the implementation group hearing observations about how things are not working and how they may be able to work better?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I cannot comment on specific cases. Before the decentralisation programme, a substantial amount of commuting was done by people who travelled long distances. It is now very much offset by the fact that there are decentralised offices in other parts of the country. People who have to come to Dublin or live here can now return to and work from home. That greatly offsets any examples the Deputy may be able to provide about people who may have to travel in the other direction. It has been a reality for many people in the public service, regardless of whether it is decentralised.

I again point out that the property costs have been offset by savings and reallocations of property by the Office of Public Works to other schemes. I understand, from the previous replies which have been given, that has been more than offset. The Department of Finance can outline the exact information on all schemes.

The Western Development Commission did a study on the beneficial impact of decentralised offices in various parts of the country, in particular the west. It noted the economic impact of relocation of the jobs to the western region as being positive and significant. Public sector employees have taken up opportunities to relocate to the western region for quality of life issues, in particular the many benefits realised by easier commuting to work. The western region offers many advantages in terms of cost savings and benefits from living within in a close community, being closer to family and living in a rural location.

The wider impacts in Tubbercurry were also deemed to be significant and the relocation of that Department has raised the profile of the area and encouraged new business. Those who work in the general community development area would not agree with the Deputy.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I have a final point. While I respect the findings of that report, without being parochial is a decision likely to be made in respect of the Charlestown position? The former Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs made a decision to move the Department to Knock. It was refused by the planning appeals board. He did send them to Tubbercurry. There is a limbo operating at the moment. If the Taoiseach does not have the information now he might send it on to me. Is a decision likely to be made in respect of the commitment given by the former Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in respect of the location in Charlestown? Will it now go into the 2011 review? The numbers-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, you can submit a parliamentary question.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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-----and statistics stacked up for that location but it was not his fault that it did not go ahead at the location he had intended. It was knocked by An Bord Pleanála in the same way it knocked the N26.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is a detailed question and the specifics will have to come from the Department of Finance.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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On the last occasion we had this round of questions I asked the Taoiseach if he could give any breakdown for the total number of people who have been decentralised to date, compared to those who had moved from Dublin to a location outside it, and those who had moved from one location outside Dublin to another. On that occasion the Taoiseach undertook to make some inquiries. Is he in a position to tell the House the breakdown of those two categories?

In his reply to Deputy Kenny the Taoiseach indicated that savings were made as a result of the decentralisation process. Has an overall assessment been made of the total cost of decentralisation to date and the total savings that have been made? Can he provide that information to the House?

Who pays for the bus that leaves Dublin Castle every day at 8 a.m. for Trim and returns at 5 p.m., while apparently also doing a trip in between for staff who have to attend meetings in Dublin in the course of their work, which was referred to by Deputy Kenny?

How much vacant property in the State has been earmarked for decentralisation-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is going into detail and a parliamentary question will elicit the information.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I am asking a parliamentary question of the Taoiseach.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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To the line Minister, which is the Minister for Finance.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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He is the Head of Government. How much vacant property in the country is awaiting decanted staff and decentralised offices? There is no sign of them and we are awaiting the review in 2011. I would like a general, ball park figure, not the exact number of square metres.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is an experienced parliamentarian. The questions on decentralisation tabled to my Department relate to my Department. The Department with responsibility and with all the information and wider detail on this, as he knows, is the Department of Finance. I recall when I was in that Department the Deputy had many questions to ask when I had the information in front of me. The fact that one is Taoiseach does not mean one is involved in the running of every Department.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Charlie did.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No, he did not, in fairness to him.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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What about the cost of the bus?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The cost of the bus is not covered in the supplementary information either. The ability to anticipate goes way beyond my expectations.

It has been a feature of how the service has been, is and probably will be organised in the future where people commute long distances to hold down jobs in the public service. Decentralisation has provided a welcome opportunity for many people, both those from Dublin who wished to return to the city or those who wished to go to part of the country they had not inhabited in the past. Everyone I have met at various times in whatever capacity has been happy with the relocations that took place. The OPW has provided workplace environments comparable to any one would expect anywhere and it has, in many cases, improved the work environment for staff who had to operate in less suitable surroundings in the past, which is one of the reasons the decentralisation process was undertaken.

In this phase of the programme, approximately 4,000 people will be relocated with 3,100 having been relocated so far. Due to the change in the financial situation, a review is to take place regarding the remaining staff who were not in the process of being moved in this phase. The review will take place in 2011. Decentralisation has taken place to almost 40 locations to date. Full completion of the projects under way and approved will result in approximately 4,000 moves overall. The moves to Buncrana, County Donegal, and Trim, County Meath, are under way.

The Wexford building for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has been finished and the transfer of staff from the existing advance office in Wexford has commenced. During this month, staff based in Dublin moved to Wexford. It is expected that the Newbridge building for the Department of Defence will be completed by the end of May or early June and staff moves will commence shortly thereafter. The project in Roscommon town has just commenced and it is hoped projects in Tipperary town, where a preferred tender has been selected, and Portlaoise will commence this year. The total expenditure on the property aspects of the programme to the end of December last year was €338 million. That amount is comprised of the cost of the sites, property acquisition, fit-out works and rent of approximately €330 million expended by the Office of Public Works, OPW, together with €7 million incurred directly in respect of property costs by other organisations. Approximately €17.7 million has been spent to the end of last year on the cost of renting and fitting out properties in advance party locations. Staff in such locations will remain in place or move to permanent accommodation under the programme.

The property costs have been offset by savings in the reallocation of property by the OPW to other schemes at the end of 2008 valued in the region of €550 million. Of that amount more than €350 million relates to the disposal of high-value sites at the height of the property market. The potential for future receipts is more limited. In addition, property valued at €75 million was transferred to the affordable homes partnership. The OPW has also agreed joint venture development schemes with a value of approximately €125 million subject to volatility in the property market.

As expected, non-property costs are being provided as more advance accommodation is in place, staff training is increased and the moves have taken place. Total expenditure on non-property costs at the end of September 2009 for all decentralising organisations was approximately €15 million. The spend to date on staffing costs according to the OPW on the property aspects of the programme was €12.6 million. That is as much information as I have on that aspect of the matter.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I thank the Taoiseach for providing the House with information on the total cost of decentralisation. I was trying to follow the figures as he outlined them. If I am correct, a ballpark figure for total cost to date is somewhere between €700 million and €750 million but perhaps I missed something. The supplementary I asked was whether the Taoiseach could give a figure for total costs to date.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy submitted the parliamentary question to the Minister for Finance the information could be provided.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The Taoiseach has just provided it.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, but in much more detail. The Minister could have given a much more refined answer.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I am sorry I was not as quick with my sums as you would have liked, a Cheann Comhairle. I was asking the Taoiseach to help by providing the total figure if he has it.

If I understand correctly, the Taoiseach informed us that a total number of approximately 4,000 staff have been decentralised to date. How many of them have moved from Dublin to a non-Dublin location and how many moved from one non-Dublin location to another non-Dublin location? My original inquiry is what is the breakdown in that regard?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have that sort of information. The purpose of the decentralisation programme was to provide people with opportunities. For some, it involves a change of location. For others, it involves a change of Department. In some cases it will involve moving from one Department to another within the city while others might have availed of promotional opportunities and moved down the country. The bottom line is that over the period in question, 4,000 people will be relocated under the first phase of the decentralisation programme. Currently, approximately 3,100 staff are in situ.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Noting that a review of the decentralisation programme is scheduled for next year, 2011, has there been an overall assessment of the success or otherwise of the relocations that have taken place since the programme was first announced by the then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy? If I recall correctly, there were two particular pillars behind the proposition; one was to aid the objective of offering a boost or an impetus to local economies in towns and cities elsewhere in the State than Dublin and, second, by the transfer of a significant number of public servants that there would be some impact in terms of congestion in the city of Dublin. By transferring a significant number of public servants, there was to be some impact on congestion in the city of Dublin.

With regard to the success or otherwise under either measure, or any other measures that may have been highlighted but which I cannot recall, has there been any assessment made over the period in question? If I interpreted the Taoiseach's reply correctly, he indicated that in the order of 4,000 relocations have taken place. Have there been any relocations associated directly with his Department over the period in question?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to relocations pertaining to any area of my Department under the programme, there are 31 staff with applications in the Central Applications Facility who are available to relocate, subject to the usual criteria. There have been a number of reports. The Decentralisation Implementation Group has provided a series of reports updating the information on the progress being made, the issues that arise and the constraints and difficulties that have been encountered. As the Deputy is aware, industrial relations issues arose that deferred the speedy implementation of the programme. It was always a voluntary programme and issues must be dealt with as they arise.

As a result of the deteriorating financial situation generally in the country, a review was announced in terms of proceeding with the existing phase involving 4,000 relocations and considering the situation thereafter. That review, to be conducted by the Department of Finance, will give us an opportunity in 2011 to determine the position at that stage.

The original programme was highly ambitious and included State agencies. Industrial relations problems arose but the State agency issues have been deferred until the review takes place. There are many things happening.

When talking about the benefits of the programme, one should note decentralisation can provide good-quality jobs for the regions. Existing civil servants who wish to leave Dublin are facilitated to do so if they want to do so for career or other reasons. There is a wider range of work and career opportunities for civil servants already working outside Dublin as a result of the programme. Thus, there is greater choice and greater opportunities for promotion. Present and future civil servants who aspire to senior management positions will no longer have to migrate necessarily to the capital although many will continue to do so.

The dispersal of jobs has obvious advantages in terms of securing a better regional balance. It helps the economic and social development of chosen centres and their catchment areas and provides a further boost in the provision of infrastructure in the regions. It can also attract other investments and services and act as an incentive to entrepreneurs to develop businesses in the regions, thus creating a positive domino effect. Public service decentralisation offers some distinct benefits that other similarly sized investment projects might not deliver, such as the potential to become a national policy-making location.

12:00 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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With regard to the decentralisation programme over the past couple of years, particularly over the past 18 months, one detects there is a slowing up in the roll-out of the proposals across the various Departments and State agencies. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether there are actual proposals, announced previously in this Chamber and elsewhere, that are currently suspended because of the current economic difficulties we are all facing? If he is in a position to answer this, will he state whether there is a timeframe within which any of those suspended or deferred proposals may be considered for reassessment, re-introduction or reactivation?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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As I said earlier, moves to Buncrana and Trim are under way at present. I have given the update on the Wexford situation and Newbridge, and the projects in Roscommon town, Tipperary town and Portlaoise are ongoing. Advance teams were sent to two locations where the buildings were not yet ready. Such advance teams are, in themselves, viable and may be augmented in the future as required if there is a demand or if this suits the manner in which the programme should be rolled out.

State agencies account for about 2,300 or 20% of the programme in terms of numbers. The pace has been slow here, with a number of inter-related factors serving to frustrate progress. However, much progress has been made and many creative solutions have been found to ensure that decentralisation can proceed, and indeed to meet staff demand in terms of those who wish to relocate as soon as possible and are prepared to look positively at interim solutions pending the full programme being rolled out in their particular location.