Thursday, 24 January 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
National Broadband Plan Implementation
We have talked at length today about the national broadband plan, but there has been conflicting information coming from different sections of government on the costs associated with the roll-out of the national broadband plan. The Minister will appreciate that there is considerable concern, particularly in the light of what has happened in the building of the national children's hospital and the serious escalation in prices. Will he outline for us any information he can on the cost of rolling out the national broadband plan?
As indicated in our earlier discussion with Deputies, until there is a finalisation of the process of examination, there are no costs I can indicate to the Deputy. The approach has been entirely different. We are now at the end of a tendering process in which a very detailed examination of every element of the cost, right down to the number of poles required and the footage of fibre to be rolled out, is taking place. It is at that level of detail and not at an initial stage. Costs identified now will be very robust and have been subject to very close scrutiny by the State. There is a distinction to be made in the stage of the process we are at. We are at the stage where finalised tenders are being submitted.
The Minister will have read the detail in his Department that when the State originally sought to develop a process to appoint contractors, the advice available to the Government at the time - in a PwC or KPMG report - identified the necessity or opportunity to leverage the use of existing infrastructure that resided with the ESB and Eir. The best value for the State could be provided on the basis of using that infrastructure. Is the Minister concerned, in the light of the structures and tender process deployed, that following the consultative process we have ended up with a process where the two main players with all of the infrastructure are no longer able to participate because they do not see value in it for them? We are left with one contractor who is not really involved in the business. It is effectively a private investment fund in Boston with access to some sub-contractors here. This contractor is effectively the only player left in the race. Does the Minister have concerns about its capacity to deliver best value for the State?
In light of what the Minister has seen since he has arrived at the Department and knowing what he now knows, would he still stand over the consultative dialogue process deployed?
The proposal which has emerged has a list of subcontractors. That list closely mirrors the list of subcontractors which would have been included by any other bidder. They are experienced subcontractors. The whole pre-qualification process required the evaluation committee to go through the experience, competence and record of work of the various players in the contract. All these elements of competence, capacity and compliance have been examined in great detail by all those involved. They are leveraging State infrastructure and private infrastructure, wherever that may be possible. That has been a key element of the process.
The approach of having a competitive tender has been supported by several decisions by the Government. I believe it was the right approach. This is an area in which the State did not and does not have a preconceived approach as to the ideal model to deliver best value. It had an ambition. The competitive tender process allowed that ambition to be filled by people experienced in the field who came forward with what they believed was the best way to achieve the plan’s high ambition.