Thursday, 9 October 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Budget Consultation Process
4. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will publish the comprehensive review of expenditure prior to budget day to allow for a more informed debate on expenditure priorities and provision of front-line services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38318/14]
Will the Minister publish the comprehensive review of expenditure prior to budget day to allow for a more informed debate on expenditure priorities and provision of front-line services? He announced on 23 July that there would be a public consultation on the comprehensive review. In the meantime, Opposition Deputies are operating in a vacuum and will not see sight of it until it is printed and delivered on the floor of the House next week.
The primary purpose of this year's comprehensive review of expenditure, which involved every Department, was to provide an evidence base for Government decisions on ministerial expenditure ceilings for current expenditure for the next three years. These ceilings will be finalised in the coming days and announced as part of the budget next Tuesday. They will also be presented, in detail, in the comprehensive expenditure report 2015 to 2017, which will be published on budget day also.
As was the case with the previous comprehensive expenditure review, which was carried out in 2011 and which informed budget decisions for the following three years, this year's process has provided the Government with a basis for making decisions on how best to realign spending with the priorities set out in the programme for Government and to meet overall fiscal objectives for the next several years.
In addition to the analysis carried out by each Department, submissions were invited as part of a public consultation. More than 60 proposals from individuals and representative organisations were received and considered as part of the review. The final step in the process is for the Government to decide on its priorities for the period ahead. When these decisions are made and announced next Tuesday, there will be plenty of opportunity through the various Oireachtas sectoral committees to discuss and examine them in detail.
Part of the Minister’s political reform agenda was that there would be discussions at committee level in advance of the budget. He is not facilitating this because he is not providing any information to allow it to happen. We have talk about a greater role for Oireachtas scrutiny but it can only happen after the Budget Statement is delivered.
I also hope there will be more transparency when the Estimates are published this year than there was last year. The Government produced an invalid health Estimate on the floor of the House on last year’s budget day which was made clear within 24 hours by the Health Service Executive. It was announced there would be a medical card probity review and everyone knew the Government would require a Supplementary Estimate as a result.
A footnote in the review last year stated savings from additional resources and other services would achieve €600 million. No details of this were contained in any of the budget documents delivered on budget day. We were only able to get the details of some of this by way of parliamentary questions. Although the Government does publish budgetary information, it keeps quite a lot back at the same time.
By public acknowledgment, the volume of information published on budget day is unprecedented. The comprehensive review of expenditure process is an innovation introduced by the Government. We publish the horizons for expenditure up to the end of this year. Accordingly, it is up to committees to invigilate these but they have not for the past three years. We will be publishing another three-year horizon next week which committees can invigilate for the next three years.
My experience is that in times of difficulty, Deputies opposite are not prone to evaluating priorities, never saying spend on that but not on this. They are always willing to give the recommendation to spend on everything.
The Minister knows that is not the case. Every party on this side of the House has produced its pre-budget alternatives, albeit in a vacuum, relying on what we read in the newspapers as to where the Government is heading and the amount of funding available. We do not get adequate information.
The Government has made matters worse over the past two years. Prior to coming into office, the draft Estimates dealing with taxation measures were published in advance of the Budget Statement. People could see from this how much tax was required on budget day. The Government, since coming into office, has published both of these on the one day. While I accept it is earlier in the year because of the European semester commitment, publishing them on the one day does not allow separate scrutiny as happened before this Government came into office.
The Deputy is correct that the new European semester requires the early publication of this information. Obviously, we have to dovetail taxation and expenditure. It is challenging to do this because one needs the data which only come in during September. It is tight enough to have a proper snapshot of resources that might be available in the subsequent year. There is an opportunity between the publication of the draft Estimates on budget day and the publication of the Revised Estimates for people to review particular expenditure issues and raise matters accordingly. The detailed scrutiny has to happen at committee level. We would like to facilitate that before the end of the year when expenditure begins. That is the whole idea of having the earlier budget.
I have not seen Fianna Fáil's budget proposals yet. If the Deputy wishes to impact on budgetary thinking, publishing them a day or two before the budget is announced is not of assistance.