Thursday, 20 June 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
12. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the Votes from current expenditure profiles of the Departmental Vote groups that may require Supplementary Estimates later in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25629/19]
At the end of the first quarter of this year the Minister told me that most of the Votes were showing an underspend. Our excellent Parliamentary Budget Office reported on the figures at the end of May, which again showed underspending. What is the situation at the moment? There seems to be common alarm between Government and Fianna Fáil regarding the level of expenditure in the Department of Health in particular. They seem to be doing a sort of double act with regard to constraining the health Vote.
As set out in the most recent fiscal monitor, total gross voted expenditure at the end of May was just over €26 billion. This is €145 million, or 0.6%, below profile. Gross voted current expenditure is €65 million below profile. Of the 17 ministerial Vote groups, 12 are below profile on current expenditure. Gross voted capital expenditure was also below profile at the end of May. At the moment, the figures for both current and capital expenditure are below profile but it should be said that this still represents a very large increase in overall Government expenditure for the year, much of which is driven by our increased investment in capital expenditure, including expenditure on schools, hospitals, roads, and buses. I have already acknowledged, as has the Minister, Deputy Harris, that the key area that changed in May was that of health expenditure. While it is still below profile, there was a significant change in that single month.
The public will find this hard to understand. Spending is below profile but the Minister seems to be referring to the health spend as compared to last year. Has he taken on board the very serious criticism, for the second year running, from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, with regard to expenditure generally? The Minister's colleague, one of his predecessors, Deputy Noonan, said at a party meeting that there is no point in having a dog if it does not bark. Of course when he was a Minister during an earlier crisis years ago, Deputy Noonan said that the dogs bark but the caravan moves on. I am therefore not sure what Fine Gael's view of IFAC or of its prescription is. With regard to the three-year expenditure ceilings and the spending speed limits in respect of net policy spending, does the Minister intend to respond to the council's criticisms? Is he able to show that the budget he framed back in October was adequate to fund all of our Departments?
It is precisely because I am responding to the points made by IFAC that, even though spending is below profile both from the point of view of Government as a whole and of many of our Government Departments, I am still acknowledging that a change in health expenditure occurred in May. The fact that we are still below profile is important but I have to signal to the House, the Oireachtas, and Government that the big shift seen in May will need careful examination, particularly as we move into June. That is what I am doing. I will work within Government and with the Minister, Deputy Harris, to respond to the issue if it develops further.