Thursday, 10 October 2019
Financial Resolutions 2019 - Financial Resolution No. 9: General (Resumed)
I am sharing time with Deputy McGuinness.
I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on budget 2020 which was unprecedented and unusual in its nature. It was essentially a no-policy-change budget, mostly uneventful, with little for anybody to be enthused about. It was, as the Minister for Finance outlined, a Brexit budget, meaning that there would be no significant changes to taxation and a modest welfare package, with some minor tweaks elsewhere.
Brexit continues to loom large over the country. As a small open economy, we stand to be severely and significantly affected in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit, which appears to be the most likely outcome. Talks continue today, but the mood music is more sombre. The enthusiasm and optimism displayed among all of the negotiating partners seem to be wearing thin. We are relying on there being a Brexit extension after 31 October. While there may very well be an extension of perhaps three or six months, what then? We may have no agreement, with a no-deal Brexit on the horizon. We appear to be playing a high stakes game and gambling on the outcome of the next British general election. It is a gamble which risks people's jobs and opportunities. It is one that makes me deeply uncomfortable and all of us seriously concerned.
Considering the grave risk the country faces and the extreme challenges facing the economy, it is only right and proper that the budget for next year was framed in that context. It is right that we try as best we can to make provision in the State finances to protect jobs and help the most vulnerable sectors, namely, agriculture and tourism. I note, however, that much of the Brexit support funding announced in budget 2020 will be borrowed. It will not come from the available fiscal space. The borrowing will be in the region of €650 million. Accordingly, instead of running a surplus of 1.4%, we are looking at running a deficit of 0.5% next year. This is despite the fact that the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council advised the Government that Brexit support funding should come from the available fiscal space. This advice has been completely ignored.
The council also gave evidence at the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight that surpluses should have been run within the State finances since 2015. When the money was available, we should have put some more aside to leave the State in a better position to deal with the challenges of Brexit and other shocks to the economy.
Unfortunately, the State finances are not in as good a position as they could have been. This is not Fianna Fáil saying it; the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council said it. The €40 million that is to be made available to the tourism sector will not be enough to protect the 10,000 jobs that have been identified by Tourism Ireland as being at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In agrifood, we are looking at potential job losses in the region of 12,500. What is being made available needs to be targeted at those vulnerable sectors and loan schemes, while they have their place, will not be enough. There must be grant aid to smaller operators as they will not be able to afford to borrow to save their business. Across both sectors mentioned, agrifood and tourism, we are facing the prospect of 22,500 job losses, and these are the two biggest employers in rural areas. Agrifood and tourism sustain rural communities right across the country and job losses on this scale would devastate rural areas, in particular the west and north-west region. I see nothing in this budget that focuses on the west and north west, which is worrying and disappointing given that this is the most disadvantaged region in the country.
Leaving Brexit aside, there are a couple of key issues I wish to address in the context of budget 2020. The first is the Defence Forces. The Government only saw fit to allocate €34 million to the Defence budget. This is despite all of the Government rhetoric about its commitment to the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann. This amount is paltry and an insult to those who are serving. It is deeply offensive and the reaction from the defence community reflects that. The Minister of State at the Department of Defence has yet again, for another year running, failed to do his job and advocate for the Defence Forces. The Defence Forces is in crisis and is haemorrhaging its best talent at an alarming rate, and this is all the Government could manage. "Disappointing" does not even begin to cover it and until we have a change in government, we can expect little else.
Carbon tax remains a contentious issue in this budget. It is the first time we have seen an increase in the carbon tax in many years. People are genuinely concerned about the impact this will have on those vulnerable to fuel poverty. It must be acknowledged that carbon tax is particularly impactful in rural areas. There is not public transport in rural communities and people need their cars to get around. Electric vehicles are nice if one can afford one but they are out of the reach of most people for now and there is not a second hand market to avail of. We need to see transparency in how this tax is collected and in how it is spent. Government policy, forced by Fianna Fáil, is that it must be ring-fenced for green initiatives. People will need to see in their communities where that carbon tax is spent, be it on retrofitting homes, on helping people to make the changes to a low-carbon economy and on green initiatives, such as greenways, across those communities. People will need to see that to know that funding is being well spent. We also need to protect people at risk of fuel poverty. I welcome the €2 increase per week in the fuel allowance. Hopefully, this will go some way towards protecting those at risk of falling into fuel poverty.
We also need to see Government investment in rural transport. We see lots of investment in metro north and in the Luas, lots of funding for transport in the urban centres but nothing in rural areas. People in rural communities want transport too and if we are looking for them to change from using their cars, there needs to be something to change to.
I acknowledge the work done by my colleagues, Deputies Cowen and Michael McGrath, in ensuring that there is a just transition fund for the Bord na Móna workers in the midlands and west. With funding of €6 million for next year amounting to €30 million overall, it should help those communities that will be most affected. Job losses in the thousands for a region like that are a significant threat to the region and the local economy and that was a key focus for Fianna Fáil in this budget.
One of the small positives to take out of this, which again was a key Fianna Fáil policy, was the increase in home help hours of 1 million hours. That sounds like a lot of hours and sounds like significant progress that will go some way towards addressing the genuine hardship being faced by people, it is worth putting in context. With over 7,000 people waiting to get home-help hours, if one divides out the 1 million extra home-help hours being made available next year it works out at merely three hours per person per week. While it is some help, it will not solve the problems we are facing. Those who need and are getting some home help hours are not getting enough. I have seen at first hand people who have had their home help hours taken from them in order that they can be divvied out among others who are waiting. Home help hours allow people to stay in their homes longer. What we do not want is a situation where elderly people who are able to stay in their own homes and in their communities feel as though they are forced into nursing home care before they are ready to go and when they do not need to. Nursing home care costs the State far more. It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to force people towards nursing home care when a few hours per week could be all that is needed to help them stay in their homes. What we are seeing now is people getting half an hour or, perhaps, three quarters of an hour a day, enough barely to get somebody out of bed and make him or her a cup of tea before the home help person has to go. It is such a level of cuts to home help and the small divisions of hours available that create the hardship many face.
I also welcome the increase in Garda numbers, also a key Fianna Fáil policy. We focus on this because crime is becoming an increasing problem in our communities and people see that a visible increase in police presence is the only way that we can tackle this and make people feel safer. The 700 new gardaí announced will go some way towards that. It will not be enough but it is a start. It was a key focus of Fianna Fáil in this budget to deal with community policing and having more police on the street. I note An Garda Síochána appreciates the extra allocation.
There are many other issues to discuss but my time has run out. I focus on this as being a Brexit budget. It was quite a sombre budget, and one with which we all identified and realise that there is a difficult year facing the country ahead.
No doubt the focus of the budget was on Brexit and fairly large amounts were allocated to the various areas that will be affected directly by Brexit. Given the Brexit argument, which was used by Government to scare people and focus their mind on something that will happen generally to the economy while not addressing what is already happening in the economy, the Government probably has to that extent succeeded. If the cat had kittens, the Government would blame it on Brexit. That is the way people feel about it. The Government has used it as a cover.
In examining the budget expenditure, one must look at what else is happening in the economy to the people who we represent. Today, for example, is World Mental Health Day. Around this time, in Windgap, in County Kilkenny, a young 23 year old, who was in the care of the department of psychiatry, is being buried. There was another one yesterday in Kilkenny. I ask that the HSE, in the context of that €1 billion expenditure on the mental health system and the delivery of mental health services, investigate the department of psychiatry in Kilkenny and examine why the services are not being delivered in the way that they should to the people who need them today. There should be no more waiting lists in the context of mental health services. We do not have the personnel. We seemingly do not have the infrastructure to deal with the issues arising on a regular basis in this area and funding and investment in infrastructure is needed now. I would like to see the Government respond more adequately to these issues. Some €1 billion in a budget is simply not enough.
The general issue in the budget is that the system has not changed. The Minister allocates the same large amounts to the various Departments but the manner in which that funding is spent has not changed. We should be debating in this House - it would be a challenge for the Government to arrange this - the 900-page report of the Comptroller and Auditor General pointing out the failures of the State in terms of saving money, making money go further, getting value for money and reforming the systems of the State that allow so much overspending to go on unchecked.
We have a responsibility in the House to give leadership in respect of that reform. Instead of giving leadership through the various budgets the Minister was responsible for over the past ten years, he has simply funded the status quo, throwing money into the deep holes that exist across the economic structure of Departments representing the activities in this State. As long as that is the case, he will always have increased funding in every Department with very little outcome of which to be proud. That still goes on.
For example, it is reported that the Supplementary Estimate for health was approximately €350 million. The reality, as the Minister of State knows, is that it was far in excess of that and that services were cut back so radically in recent months, we had no occupational therapy services in Kilkenny and Carlow. People have been written to asking if they are still in need of the service. Having been referred to the service by the various medical people, it simply is not available. Where are the home help hours we were promised in the 2019 budget? All of those hours and services, and the overspend, will have to be caught up through the 2020 spend and the Government seems to have no bother telling people who need a service today that they will have to wait for six months or two years.
In the context of the budget, excluding the Brexit element, the Minister for Finance has failed miserably to provide what is necessary for the care of people up and down the country. He should be ashamed of some of the decisions he has made. For example, he refused to tax the vulture funds enough to take substantial money from them. He refused to tax the banks. He can give them a ceiling on their losses brought forward but the banks should be taxed. He should have considered that option. If he had and had taxed them, how much more could he have delivered then to the people? Would the building programme for education be affected the way it was if he had to tax those who have the most money and who can afford to pay?
The way the Minister treated the elderly, those who are on pensions, those in fuel poverty and those who have major issues in their homes was shameful. He refused to acknowledge all the debate that has taken place in this House not just last year but since Fine Gael first came into office nearly ten years ago. He ignored it. He refused to address the issues that were brought to his attention by various Members and he turned a deaf ear to them. That is not just foolish of the Minister but it shows disrespect for the fact that on this side of the House we have supported, against the wishes of some supporters and certainly mine, the confidence and supply arrangement. I believe that arrangement has given the Minister the flexibility to provide cover for the inadequacies and inefficiencies of some Ministers and certainly the Government as a whole.
The overspend on the children's hospital is talked about up and down the country. It is blamed for everything, but there are overspends in other areas and other things that happen in the economy where value for the taxpayer has not been secured. In this budget, the Minister heaped further costs on the haulage industry, increasing the cost of diesel and fuel. That means that when their costs increase at some stage, that will be passed on to the consumer again.
The Minister has done nothing to look at issues differently in that area. He has done nothing to prepare small businesses for the significant challenge that Brexit will bring to their door. He has added cost to everything. I acknowledge he increased the carbon tax but, as Deputy Lisa Chambers rightly pointed out, in rural Ireland that means there will still be no bus service and, therefore, people will still have to use their cars at a greater cost. There is an insufficient number of electrical points across the country to help people transition to a different type of vehicle.
In the context of cost, the V6 engine operating in most of the trucks hauliers use is cleaner than clean yet there is no recognition of that. Going the whole hog with this would mean that the truck would double in price. If we look at the small vehicles used by couriers and so on, we will see the same trend. There has been a doubling of the price with no real infrastructure to carry on the transition that all of us want to see. The Minister has not put a plan in place. He has not put the means in place for those hauliers. He has simply pushed down on the people who pay their taxes and on the people who cannot afford to opt for public transport because there is no public transport. He has done nothing in real terms to assist them to get out of the trap they are in.
I refer again to the older people in our society, those who rely on their pensions and those in poverty who were hoping for an increase. It is shameful that the Minister has not dealt with that issue because those same people are on hospital waiting lists. They are waiting for services that they need today, not tomorrow, and he has done nothing for them. The country's hospital infrastructure across is creaking and under pressure, and there has been no system change in that regard.
I urge the Minister to look at the system that is spending his money - the taxpayers' money - and to do something to ensure that we get greater transparency and accountability with value for the tax man.
I am supposed to be sharing time but we will see if the Deputy turns up.
Whether we like it or not, Brexit will affect everyone on this island of Ireland, everybody in the UK and everybody in Europe. This process has been going on for the past three years. It has been part of every conversation in every household in the country. Tuesday's budget was preparation for a no-deal Brexit but it was also preparation for the next general election. I agree that Brexit will pose a major risk to the economy in Ireland. It will also create a problem with employment.
I welcome the €1.2 billion response to Brexit. I commend the recruitment of 750 additional staff in key areas and the availability of €650 million to support the agriculture, enterprise and tourism sectors. However, I am disappointed with one aspect concerning the tourism sector. The Minister had an opportunity to reinstate the 9% VAT rate. When there was trouble in the tourism sector, the Government reduced the rate from 13.5% to 9% but with the uncertainty of Brexit and the possibility of a no-deal outcome, and with 275,000 employed in that sector and more than 10 million tourists coming here per year, it is an area that the Government has let down. We took our eye off that market. I appeal to the Minister of State to talk to the Minister for Finance to see if we can get the 9% rate reinstated.
I support the carbon tax on auto fuel, which is a step in the right direction in terms of climate change, but, again, the Government seems to be targeting the same people all the time.
The Government has targeted pensioners who were hoping to get a €5 increase in their pension benefit. It has also targeted childcare recipients who were also hopeful they would get an increase in benefit. It always seems to hit the wrong people.
I come from Dundalk, County Louth. If one drew a line from Omeath to Cullaville, there would be 50 Border crossings in what is a small area. We are very concerned about what will happen post Brexit. We welcome the €81 million the Government has given to recruit 700 new gardaí, but the new recruits will not be ready to be deployed for a while. The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland stated the PSNI would not patrol the Border. The Garda Commissioner has stated he does not have enough resources to do so. While I welcome the €81 million increase in the budget of An Garda Síochána, there is a big hole in the resources needed to police the area stretching from Dundalk to County Donegal. It is important something be done quickly to address that issue.
Dundalk has done really well since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but like ever other town in Ireland, it seeks more teachers, special needs assistants, houses, therapists and so on We have Louth County Hospital which is called the "Gen". It has been open since the 1950s, but its emergency department was closed suddenly in 2010. There are capacity pressures in hospitals, with many patients being treated on trolleys, but we have a fantastic hospital in Dundalk which is open 12 hours a day, seven days a week. It is time the Government considered restoring acute services in it. Since the Government took office, we have been promised a primary care unit and the provision of more therapists. We seem to have been promised a great deal. We have a hospital in Dundalk that is crying out to provide services and there is no reason it cannot be open 24 hours a day. The Government should seriously consider this.
Many constituents who come to my office raise serious issues about their children who may be autistic or have a disability and need assistance. In fairness, the Government has done a good enough job, especially in introducing an investment of €1.9 billion in special needs education in schools. I welcome the provision for the employment of an additional 400 special needs teachers and 1,000 special needs assistants. It will definitely help families. However, I hope it will not stop the building of new schools and the upgrading of existing schools as education is the way to forward. It is very important that children be properly educated.
The health budget of €17.4 billion, the largest we have ever had, is being increased by €1 billion. I hope the money will be spent in the right areas. We know about the trolley crisis, the waiting times for treatment, the shortage of occupational therapists, consultants and doctors. There is not a day that passes without a constituent coming into my office to complain about the health service. It is said we have one of the biggest health spends per head of population in the world, but there still seems to be a problem in looking after the health needs of the people. Therefore, we have a serious problem. Throwing more and more money at health services will not help to solve the problem. It is time we sat down with all of the professionals to sort out the problems which have been ongoing for far to long. There are solutions and it is must a matter of getting them right. The money is available to do so.
I was very disappointed by the overspend on the national children's hospital project. We are not talking about an overspend of hundreds of thousands of euro but billions of euro. A few good opportunities were presented, including the offering of a free site to build the hospital on the grounds of Connolly Hospital, but that offer was not taken up. There was no good reason not to take it up and that it was not does not make sense. Those involved in the health service are business people, but I do not think they understand what they are doing. A site for the hospital was offered just off the M50. There are 32 counties in Ireland. Having the national children's hospital located on a site just off the M50 would make much more sense. I have spoken to doctors and nurses who work in St. James’s Hospital and they have told me that they cannot park their cars anywhere in the vicinity of the hospital. They have to get a taxi or take the train to get to work. I cannot understand how the national children's hospital has ended up being located on the St. James’s Hospital campus, especially given the free offer of a site at Connolly Hospital. I ask that those in government talk to professional people to get some advice. I welcome the provision of the GP card for children aged under eight years and the medical card for those aged over 70, including couples and single people. That is good. However, it is important that we communicate with people. I ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to engage with professionals who know how to run a business and do things right, even if it means bringing in professionals to give him advice. There is no point in throwing €17.4 million at the health service next year and then seeking a Supplementary Estimate, or saying this, that or the other. We have an opportunity to do something right in the sector.
The Government has spent €6.6 billion during the past four years in dealing with the housing issue. Budget 2019 was all based on addressing it, but it is the worse it has ever been. More than 10,000 people are homeless, of whom 4,000 are children. The Government has promised that there will be 11,000 new homes in 2020 and 12,000 in 2021. Where did the €6.6 billion go? In the budget announced on Tuesday there was a promise of a further €2.5 billion for housing, of which €1.5 billion would be for social housing. They are great figures, but no progress is being made. What annoys me is that the middle class are being caught. A professional couple, both of whom are working, would have to earn approximately €95,000 a year to buy a three-bedroom standard house in Dublin. What chance do they have with the way the Government is dealing with the issue? There is no way they can afford to buy a house. I know people who are caught in the middle. They are earning good money, €60,000 to €70,000 a year, but they are paying between €1,200 and €1,500 a month in rent. They cannot get a mortgage and the reason they cannot is they have been told that they cannot afford it. If one gets a mortgage from a bank or a building society for €300,000 or €400,000, one pays less per month in mortgage repayments than in rent. Therefore, it does not make sense to rent. The Government will have to help the people concerned.
Many of the people to whom I refer are not entitled to be placed on a council housing waiting list. The reason for this is the Government or whatever is provided for in legislation specifies that one must earn below €34,000 or €35,000 a year. The people concerned are caught in the middle with two, three or four children. It is time the Government spoke to the local authorities to give them an opportunity. As the Taoiseach said, they are the people who get up early in the morning to go to work. They are the people who are entitled to receive something. They are not looking for handouts and want to work. What is happening makes no sense.
More than €21 billion is being spent on social welfare payments. In 2011 16% of the population were unemployed. In fairness, the percentage unemployed has fallen to 5.3%, but we need to keep the figure at that percentage. We, therefore, need to encourage people to work. The Government needs to help the working person by helping him or her to find a house.
The Government seems to target the wrong people. I refer to elderly people. A recipient of the contributory State pension in 2019 receives €248.30 per week. He or she will receive the same amount in 2020. A recipient of non-contributory pension in 2019 receives €237 per week. He or she will receive the same amount in 2020. A recipient of the farm assist payment receives €203 per week in 2019. He or she will receive the same amount in 2020. In fairness, a recipient of the living alone allowance will receive a €5 increase in 2020. Carers do a fantastic job, be it in looking after an elderly person or a person with disabilities. They save the State a fortune. They receive a benefit payment of €220 per week in 2019. They will receive the same amount in 2020. Recipients of disability benefit receive €234 in 2019. They will receive the same amount in 2020. Recipients of jobseeker's benefit and maternity benefit will receive the same payment in 2020 as they do in 2019. The back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance for each qualified child between the ages of four and 11 years will be €150. For those who cannot afford to send their children to school, the Government is not giving them anything. The allowance for children over the age of 12 years is €275 in 2019. The amount will be the same in 2020.
This country has done a fantastic job in recent years and every household has been affected by what has happened. However, Brexit has taken over. In fairness, there has been a cross-party effort and we have to thank Fianna Fáil, in particular Deputy Micheál Martin, and others for working together. I hope today's meeting of the Taoiseach with the UK Prime Minister goes well. If they look for an extension, they should be given an extension. However, it is going to have to come to a halt at some stage.
If things go well with Brexit, it is very important that we have a supplementary budget in the new year to give the people what they are entitled to. We did not do too much with regard to climate change and that is something we will have to do as we go forward. We are all working together and we all want Ireland to prosper. It is very important that we all go the same way.
As the Minister for Finance outlined, this budget has been framed in a particularly unusual situation, with the threat of Brexit, on the one hand, but also the threat that I am responsible for, which is the imminent threat we are all facing of climate change, and the climate action we need to take. I will deal with this second issue.
This budget marks a significant watershed in respect of our approach to climate. It implements the approach, on which there has been wide agreement in the House, that we should have carbon pricing. It is starting with the €6 increase and the intention is that there will be a steady increase over the period such that we get to €80 per tonne in 2030. The reason for a steady increase is so those who face difficulty in making the adjustment are not hit with a sudden jolt and have an opportunity to plan.
The other significant element is that every cent being raised from the carbon tax will be given back to people. The Minister for Finance rightly view three categories as important. The first is that we must protect those most exposed, in particular those like the Bord na Móna workers or others who are directly affected, and who rightly expect that there should be a just transition for them.
The second group are the people who are least well equipped to make changes in this transition. This has been a central feature of the budget. Not only are 22% protected with the €2 per week fuel allowance increased, but even more significant is the allocation of €53 million this year, double what we had last year, for the warmer homes scheme, with which many Deputies will be familiar. That scheme means those on fuel schemes can get permanent improvements made to their home. On average, those permanent improvements will deliver €1,200 in savings per year in the energy bills of those directly affected. We are, therefore, providing €56 per week under the fuel allowance scheme to protect people but those who participate in the warmer homes scheme will also receive a €1,200 per year improvement. This shows we have to make structural changes to help people who are in fuel poverty.
The third element is to maintain the momentum that we are beginning to see in the context of getting people to retrofit their homes and to buy electric vehicles, and getting the electricity system to switch to renewable power. In 2020, the spend on retrofitting will be four times what it was in 2016. There will be a significant ramp-up in the investment we make, which is a significant part of the journey. The purchase of electric vehicles this year and next year will be 12 times what it was in 2016. We are beginning to see a serious penetration of electric vehicles and we are building out a charging network with the resources being made available. What is also significant next year is that we will have an auction for renewable energy on the grid and this will represent a 60% increase in the amount of renewable energy on the grid in one auction, which is a significant expansion. This is providing momentum behind the climate action plan.
I want to conclude by addressing the issue of just transition. We face serious threats in respect of the midlands. I thank the Minister for Finance for the constructive way in which he has approached this. We are in a position to plan between the special aggregated model of retrofitting that we will have in the midlands and the additional allocation of funds to allow the National Parks and Wildlife Service to restore bogs and create employment opportunities, while there is also Bord na Mona itself and its capacity to diversify. With the just transition fund of €6 million, we will, through a just transition commissioner, work with communities in the midlands to ensure that we respond in appropriate ways. I would also draw attention to the fact that in the national development plan we set aside €1 billion for an urban fund, €1 billion for a rural fund and €500 million for a climate action fund. All of these funds are dedicated to the journey to a low-carbon economy. I believe that by working with interests in the midlands, we can exploit those funds.
Budget 2020 represents another significant and visible commitment to children and families by this Government and I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I welcome the budget, the fourth I have been involved in as Minister and the fourth that is progressive, where the poorest have gained proportionately more than the richest.
We continue to provide additional resources to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people. I particularly welcome the increases in the expansion of the one-parent family payment and jobseekers' transition payments, and the increase to the living alone allowance. These changes, and other measures, will improve the lives of many of our citizens, even while we are making every effort to ready ourselves for a potential no-deal Brexit and the difficulties this would cause for so many people and businesses.
I now turn to the budget 2020 provisions for my own Department. I am especially pleased to advise the House that the gross funding being made available to my Department in 2020 will be €1.604 billion, which represents an increase of 6% over its allocation for 2019. Approximately half of that funding is targeted at public services to protect our children and to provide for their welfare, and the other significant portion is to continue the journey to build an accessible, affordable and high quality childcare system.
In a few weeks, we will launch the new national childcare scheme, sometimes referred to as the NCS. In March, I signalled a target timeframe of 29 October for the launch. The IT system has been built and is being piloted at the moment. It is the objective of any pilot to identify any snags and a minor snag has been identified, which means the scheme will now open for applications in November. Payments to parents, as I have previously advised, will still flow from November.
The introduction of the NCS is a landmark moment for making high quality childcare more affordable and more accessible to families. As many in this House will be aware, since I became Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, my ambition has been to move Ireland from being one of the most expensive countries in the world for childcare to being one of the best. This ambition has focused on three strands - quality, affordability and accessibility - and budget 2020 moves us another step on that journey.
I have allocated an additional €54.5 million to childcare for 2020. This brings the budget to €628 million per annum and represents a 9.3% increase over the 2019 allocation and a 138% increase since 2014. It is a substantive investment that will deliver significant changes. Taking time to pick up and drop off children while commuting to work, and then doing a day's work, is stressful and this is especially true in a lone-parent family. From September 2020, therefore, all parents will be able to avail of an additional five hours of subsidised childcare, whether working or studying.
Budget 2020 has also allowed me to increase by 25% the funding available for preschool access for children who need targeted supports under the access and inclusion model, AIM. This is an incredibly important programme. It provides a range of measures to support children with disabilities to take part in the ECCE free preschool programme in mainstream settings and to help make preschool services more inclusive, benefiting all children in those services.
Another key area of my Department's responsibility is Tusla. I strongly support Tusla's important work in protecting some of the most vulnerable children and families in our increasingly complex and diverse society. These additional resources secured are necessary to deliver on a significant programme of service reform and have also allowed for targeted development of key service areas.
I was delighted yesterday morning to meet some of the young protestors from Extinction Rebellion on Merrion Square. We have a long way to go to reduce Ireland's emissions, but the increase in carbon tax, to which the Minister, Deputy Bruton, referred, will allow us invest more in our just transition agenda. Every budget from now on must focus on climate justice, and our young protestors, and all of society, must be involved in contributing to a just transition to a low-carbon future.
Budget negotiations are by their nature tough and there are many competing demands, but I welcome the recognition that the measures I have put forward to reduce poverty, protect and support the vulnerable and support families must be addressed. I commend budget 2020 to the House.
In May 2016, I had the great honour of being appointed Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, the first such Minister of State to sit at the Cabinet table. Not only did I consider it an honour but I also viewed it as a challenge. I set myself three goals: to reform, to invest and to put the person with the disability at the centre of our thinking and planning.
I wish to take the opportunity to highlight one of those areas, namely investment, without which we will struggle to reform. In my three years as Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, I have secured additional funding of more than €500 million for disability issues. This is a figure one will not hear from the Opposition or in our national media. This has not been easy in the context of many other competing priorities across government. The Government is committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities that will empower them to live independent lives, provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. I am pleased to have been able both to build on significant existing resources and to obtain additional funding for disability services in the 2020 budget. With these additional moneys, the overall budget for disability services in 2020 will be in excess of €2 billion. The increased level of funding in 2020 will enable us to continue to provide residential services to more than 8,600 people with disabilities at more than 1,240 locations.
On taking office, one of my priorities was to ensure that all young adults leaving school or Rehab training would have access to supports and services that met their needs at one of the most crucial transition points in their lives. Additional funding of €13 million will provide supports and day services to approximately 1,600 young people with disabilities who leave school and training programmes next year. I recognise the critical importance of respite for the loved ones and families of those with a disability. I am pleased to confirm that an additional €5 million will be provided in 2020 to build the capacity of our respite services in order that we can better respond to the changing needs of service users and their families. In the coming weeks, I will open our 12th respite house in Naas, County Kildare. Specifically, this funding will provide intensive support packages for children and young people in response to the changing needs of service users and their families. This initiative will include intensive in-home visiting support, planned overnight, specialist behavioural support and extended day-weekend and day-based activities for families. Sláintecare is centred on providing services and supports at the lowest level of complexity. An additional €5 million in this budget is provided for emergency protocols to support people with disabilities who have high support needs. This includes funding for emergency placements and the provision of intensive in-home support and respite packages, which are intended to delay the need for residential care for vulnerable service users.
An additional €2 million will be provided in 2020 to support implementation of the autism plan, which includes a range of measures to improve services for people with autism and their families. A 100% Christmas bonus will be paid to those on invalidity pension, blind pension, disability allowance, carer's allowance, carer's benefit and domiciliary care allowance, to name but a few. The carer's support grant of €1,700, which we restored, will be paid in 2020 to more than 126,000 users. In addition, the number of hours per week that carers can work outside the home will be increased from 15 to 18.5 from January 2020. More than 1,200 carers are expected to benefit from this. The blind welfare allowance will be exempt from the means assessment for social welfare schemes. Some 12,000 housing adaptation grants will be provided at a cost of €59 million to help people with disabilities.
The budget is about being person-centred, ensuring that the person with the disability and, where appropriate, his or her carer are to the forefront of our thinking and planning. This budget, the fourth in which I have been involved as Minister of State, has demonstrated my commitment in this regard.
Against the background of Brexit uncertainty, it was vital that the Government framed a prudent budget for 2020. I will focus on the key areas of my responsibility, namely forestry, horticulture, organics and the greyhound sector.
The continued support for the development of forestry in Ireland is reinforced with an allocation of €103 million, including a capital carryover, for 2020. This allocation reflects our commitment to planting 8,000 ha in 2020, an ambitious target contained in the climate action plan. This level of planting will be challenging and will require shared action from the private sector, public bodies and local communities, but the Government is committed to achieving it. The budget also provides funding for the direct implementation of a number of other actions under the climate action plan, including the mobilisation of the private timber resource in Ireland, a substantial investment in forest roads, continued support for knowledge transfer groups and the promotion of timber products.
In 2019, funding for capital investment in the commercial horticulture sector was increased by €1 million to €6 million. In response to continuing strong demand for investment by the sector, budget 2020 has maintained this allocation. Ireland's horticulture faces a number of challenges in the context of Brexit; however, the sector still has significant potential for development. Budget 2020 continues to provide significant resources to maximise the industry's competitiveness.
The greyhound sector has undergone a series of reforms in recent times, including the enactment of the Greyhound Racing Act 2019. This legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry, with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision for greyhound traceability. I am pleased to announce the Government's commitment to the Horse and Greyhound Fund for 2020, which will maintain expenditure at €16.8 million next year for Bord na gCon. This sector is an important contributor to the economy and provides employment in both rural and urban areas. A significant portion of the fund will be spent on care and welfare. Bord na gCon has put in place a range of such initiatives for greyhounds in recent months. I welcome the establishment of the care fund to fund programmes and initiatives for the care and welfare of racing greyhounds. The fund will support a variety of initiatives in the area of rehoming, welfare, traceability and a greyhound injury support scheme. I have received assurances from the board of Bord na gCon that it remains committed to the protection of the integrity of the industry and to promoting the welfare of greyhounds. With this new legislation in place, together with the maintenance of the funding, I am confident that Bord na gCon will have the tools to reform and strengthen the industry.
Funding for the organic farming scheme has been increased this year to €12 million, with a further €1.2 million provided for development of the organic sector.
The €1 million increase in the organic scheme budget for 2020 highlights the Government’s ongoing commitment to the development of the organic sector. The higher targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, budget for 2020 will also directly benefit organic farmers as they are direct beneficiaries under this scheme for organic investments. This will help build on the record volume of Irish land under organic production, which we have delivered under the current rural development programme. This higher investment is key to the implementation of the strategy for the organic food sector for 2019 to 2025.
I welcome the provision of an additional €1 million to bring the 2020 allocation for Horse Sport Ireland to €4 million to assist with the strategic development of the sector. It is an area in which I have a personal interest. This extra funding will assist in providing further incentives for breeding high-quality young horses and developing a structure for producers and breeders towards producing a horse from the foal stage to competing at high-level competition. I am delighted that the €850,000 under the equine infrastructures grant scheme could be maintained.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about the budget, delivered by Fine Gael and supported by its colleagues in Fianna Fáil, which has failed again to ease the burden on working families. It is a takeaway budget rather than a giveaway.
The budget could have been so much better for the people of rural Ireland and across this State by putting money back in people's pockets but it has failed to deliver. It has failed to improve public services. The Government failed to tackle the rip-off practices in childcare and car insurance, and it is still like the wild west in the rental sector. Families in rural Ireland will face increased charges as a result. The Government has decided to go against the poorest workers in the State by not providing even one cent of an increase in the national minimum wage. Everyone expected something to be done for those on the minimum wage but that has not happened and action is being deferred until after Brexit. I wonder who requested that? There was no deferral of corporation tax or multimillionaires' income tax breaks until after Brexit. Why are the Government and Fianna Fáil only choosing to punish the lowest paid workers in our society?
Some have called this a nothing budget but is more cruel than that. Perhaps the meanest and most harmful decision made by the Government was the increase in the carbon tax. That decision will hurt the poorest and most rural constituents. It is not just Sinn Féin saying it, as many organisations that have analysed the budget have come to that conclusion. That will push more people over the poverty line having to put up with the cold this winter. The Government has said in its defence that the increase in carbon tax is on the grounds of climate action. That does not hold up when we crunch the numbers as we have had a carbon tax for the past nine years and it has not had an impact on climate action. Despite the fact that the Government has taken the decision to increase the carbon tax by an additional €6 to a total of €26 per tonne, only a fraction of this will be reinvested in climate action.
The carbon tax is expected to bring in approximately €540 million to €550 million next year, based on budget figures, and yet only €6 million has been allocated for a Bord na Móna transition plan. If we ever needed proof of Fine Gael greenwashing, that is it. What the Government intends to deliver to the people of the midlands in particular falls well short of anything substantial. It is meagre and there is no vision. I have not seen anything about creating a biomass supply chain industry required to supply the three midlands power stations or anything relating to biogas or microgeneration. A miserly €6 million has been allocated for bog rehabilitation while the greyhound industry got €16 million. Rural bogs have the potential to serve as carbon sinks, as well as educational and tourism resources, but that has been overlooked. The current afforestation grant scheme is a joke and unfit for purpose. It is also underfunded.
There is nothing in the budget for rural transport. How can one expect people to use less fuel if we do not provide alternatives? Are the people in counties Laois and Offaly meant to buy electric cars and install their own charging points? Sinn Féin argued for almost a doubling of the rural transport budget. We are trying to provide solutions but the reality is that this was not a giveaway budget but a takeaway budget. Ordinary people, particularly those in rural Ireland, will be worse off after this budget. We advocated measures to tackle rip-off insurance costs, increasing the minimum wage and €10 million for the retraining of Bord na Móna workers, with funding to support the agriculture sector, especially in the face of Brexit. As I mentioned, we would almost double the funding for local bus services but we would not have increased the carbon tax. Ultimately, this budget will not work for working families or rural Ireland. It will increase pressure on low-income families and people living in rural Ireland. It is a missed opportunity by the Government.
This budget has been a major disappointment for the vast majority of people who are struggling and are working hard to pay their mortgage or rent. They may face an occasional crisis in life, whether it is a car or washing machine breaking down, but there is nothing in the budget for them. The difficulty is there is no effort to recognise that a large section of people simply cannot survive in the system, as it stands.
I will focus mainly on my portfolio of justice. There was an exchange today in the Chamber about people extorting money by intimidating people working on building sites in Dublin. Deputy Ó Snodaigh wrote to Ministers informing them of it but nothing was done. Apart from the clear and obvious problem, it struck me that a Fine Gael Government that prides itself on being tough on crime did nothing when it was told about it. Now we have a scandal. I am sure the Minister of State knows that very many people who are victims of crime do not go to the Garda because they do not trust the Garda to solve those problems. Why did the contractor in this case not go to the Garda and why did senior officials in Dublin City Council consider it appropriate to advise the contractor to co-operate with the criminal rather than go to the Garda and get it sorted out? People clearly believe the Garda is not up for the job. It is the experience of very many people the length and breadth of the country, including in my constituency.
Walking on the streets of Dublin any night of a weekend after midnight, one might search high and low without finding a garda. They are not walking the streets or protecting people. When people come out of pubs and try to get a taxi home, they are afraid of their lives if they have to hang around for very long. I spoke to a woman the other day who told me she got off a bus in the north inner city one evening last week at approximately 7.30 p.m. and a car was doing doughnuts. That was near Ballybough, where around the corner Fitzgibbon Street Garda station has been closed, with a hoarding around it, for the past four years. Leinster House is 300 years old and there was a commitment to have it renovated; it was done in less time than was originally envisaged because of that commitment. However, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, went to the north inner city and promised to do something, but what happened? Fitzgibbon Street Garda station is still closed with the hoarding around it because there was no commitment to refurbish it. It is the reality for many people around the country.
It is a similar position in my constituency. There are small rural towns with small gangs of people involved in the drug trade are attacking their neighbours and intimidating them. The Garda simply is not up for the job. I have seen this myself and spoken to people about it. They found that when they went to the Garda, there was sympathy and the Garda members took a note before they were sent away. No other effort was made because the Garda does not have the required resources unless there is a crisis. An armed response unit has recently been placed in Cavan and now there are three of them in the Border region, which is welcome. They are meant to respond to a crisis. The problem is the resources are not there to avoid that crisis developing in the first place. It is the major factor in discussing justice and so many other issues in the budget. The resources have not been put in place to deal with problems.
The Government has told us this is about making the right choice. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has said, he only has so much money. The problem is the Government is prepared to make choices to benefit the people at the very top.
We still have tax breaks for executives from abroad living in Dublin. We still have tax breaks for some people at some of the major international corporations here. We still have a major tax breaks for the banks. AIB and Bank of Ireland are making more than €1 billion per year but are paying no tax. The Minister of State should tell publicans in rural Ireland that they can pay no tax because they have made no money in recent years. That is the excuse the banks make. Would that wash? Bloody sure it would not wash, but this Government allowed it to happen for the banks. These same banks have absolutely persecuted people throughout the country. They are driving people to the road in many cases and evicting them, yet we are doing this.
Some weeks ago, I picked up a book I read many years ago called The Republic, which was written by Plato 2,000 years ago. It states that three things are vital for a state to survive, namely, an adequate justice system, an adequate health system and an adequate education system. If we think of it, all the other things we have are subsidiaries of those three things, yet we are not dealing with those central issues in our society in this day and age. It is a scandal that this Government continues to hide behind numbers by saying Brexit is coming or that it only has so much money. There is every excuse but there is no excuse for the unfortunate people who feel afraid in their homes because of the situation in this city and throughout rural Ireland.
As the party spokesperson on children and youth affairs, I will focus on that area of the budget initially and then will raise some other points.
While some of the parts of the children and youth affairs budget are welcome, unfortunately it was lacking in many other areas, especially in the detail on the early years and childcare sector. We need a radical new approach for the early years childcare sector. The current system is broken and completely unsustainable for staff. It is also financially crippling for thousands of parents. Families are being squeezed every which way through unaffordable rents and mortgages. We have a high cost of living and childcare costs that amount to a second mortgage or a second rent in some instances.
In our alternative budget, which was published on 1 October, one of the points we made was that we would commence a five-year programme of reform to ensure that early years and childcare staff are properly paid. That is absolutely crucial to the sector. We also need to see a slashing of fees for parents, which also was part of our proposal. It would cost €28 million in the first year and the full-year cost would be €85 million. Our proposals would reduce fees throughout the State for parents significantly over a five-year period, starting with a reduction of 13%. The reduction would increase to 66% by the end of the fifth year. The initial 13% reduction would amount to approximately €100 per month on a monthly crèche fee of €800.
We would also introduce a proper pay scale for all workers in the sector, staring with the current living wage of €12.30. This would increase year upon year over a five-year period for all staff across the entire childcare and early years sector. This is something we have long advocated. It is an issue about which I feel especially passionate. In 2017 I was involved in a report at committee level. We brought forward a motion about the wages and the terms and conditions in the sector. It is frustrating that although Deputies and Senators from all parties, as well as Independent Members and everyone else, recently were getting their picture taken at a launch by SIPTU about the terms and conditions for workers and their wages, we have a budget that completely failed to deliver on that commitment. Workers need to be financially supported and encouraged to upskill and remain in the sector. At the moment we are seeing burnout and people are not staying in the sector. That is causing major issues because there will be a staffing crisis. As with everything in this country, it has to get to a crisis before anyone starts to pay attention.
As it stands, the market model that we have for the childcare and early years sector risks being reduced to businesses designed solely for profit. We have all seen the revelations over the summer relating to the Hyde and Seek crèche reported by the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. We all know how horrifying that was and how horrible it was to watch. The reality is that if we do not address the issue of fees for parents, as well as terms and conditions and proper decent wages for workers, then the problem is basically going to continue. There is no point in saying anything different.
I wish to touch on the allocation for Tusla. No detail has been given on the number of social workers, aftercare workers or administrative workers will be put into place to relieve the administrative burden on social workers. There are no numbers whatsoever. A Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, report was published last week specifically relating to the Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary areas. It showed a major percentage of children who had no social workers. HIQA did an investigation on the issue. Many children were only appointed a social worker one or two months prior to the investigation. There are major issues in that part of the country, yet the budget does not say how many new social workers will be appointed. That makes me think the money they are talking about simply will go to plug the current gaps in the system and is not actual new money.
I wish to mention an issue about housing. It is one of the biggest issues that almost all Deputies deal with in their constituencies. We have become totally desensitised to the homeless situation. It has become normal. That is the only conclusion that I can come to in respect of homelessness. We talk about it so often here, yet absolutely nothing constructive is being done. The Good Shepherd Centre for the homeless in Kilkenny announced yesterday that there was no new money in this budget for the centre. It is doing fantastic work, as do other places both in my constituency and throughout the country, but no additional help is being given to it.
The school completion programme also falls within the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It specifically focuses on the needs of the child. It is in place in certain schools and not every school has it. It provides counselling, play therapy, homework clubs and many services for children who are seen to be potentially at risk of dropping out of school. There is no new money for the programme. Its funding has been cut since 2008 and it operates on a shoestring budget. Those involved operate a great service, yet in a few years' time when it closes down because of the lack of money, everyone will be here throwing their hands up and asking how we let that happen. We let it happen because we are not putting the money into the services. That is what happens. It is as my colleague has said: it is about political choice and whether we want to help people who are currently struggling or whether we want to keep rewarding the people at the top. I think we have seen this Government for enough years to know exactly where its priorities lie.
That last point I want to make relates to the carbon tax. There obviously are urban areas where I live but we have many rural areas and there is no public transport. I drive here every day because that is the only choice I have. The last train that goes to my home town is at 6.25 p.m. As we all know, the House often sits far longer than that. People do not have the choice to use public transport. The Government cannot penalise them with a carbon tax if they do not have that choice. It is fine if they have the choice of public transport but we do not have that choice in so many areas. It is cruel. A significant number of people are already panicking over the carbon tax. People do not know how they are going to pay for coal and oil.
They do not have the option of changing to newer heating systems. They do not have the money. Currently, they barely make ends meet. Many families every week must choose between paying the heating bill or the electricity bill. That is the reality. If the Minister of State does not believe that is the reality, he should go out to some of the constituencies and talk to people. Their reaction since Tuesday and the announcement of the carbon tax is telling. People say they will cut back on this or that or something else in order that they can afford the heating as we come into winter. It is totally unacceptable that we are allowing that to happen in this day and age. We are being told that everyone needs to upgrade to electric cars. That is great. Is the Government going to subsidise all these cars for people? That is not the reality for most people. They cannot afford to make those changes. We cannot penalise someone who does not have the option. That is exactly what this tax is doing. It is a fast revenue-raising measure. It is not anything to do with the environment or climate change. That is the last point I will make.
I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, Deputy Canney, the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, and Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.
Deputy Boyd Barrett knows there was never any problem with him.
I am pleased to inform the House that I have secured €2.7 billion to fund projects and programmes throughout the transport, tourism and sports sectors in 2020. It is a measure of the Government's commitment to capital investment that the capital budget for my Department has increased by €357 million despite the difficult challenges created by Brexit. It will allow my Department to continue to finance core priorities and address short and long-term needs that fall within its remit.
Beyond the immediate impacts of Brexit, one of the most important challenges facing us is reducing excess carbon dioxide emissions which are the main cause of climate change. One of the keys to tackling excess emissions is the development of sustainable public transport to provide the option, wherever possible, for car users to leave their cars at home. As a result, 37% of the budget this year is devoted to public transport, an increase of €235 million on the figure for last year. It brings total investment in public transport in both current and capital expenditure to over €1 billion for the first time. We will commence building the national train control centre, continue to invest heavily in rail maintenance to improve intercity rail services, station accessibility and invest €80 million to support enhanced walking and cycling facilities across all major urban centres. We will continue to support fleet operators via the PSO system, incentivising passengers to switch to public transport by ensuring fares remain competitive. We will support continued investment in greenways, with a 21% increase in funding. In Dublin the budget will support progress on two major infrastructural projects, namely, BusConnects and MetroLink. It will also allow us to commence the transition to hybrid vehicles in the Dublin Bus fleet and assist in delivering on the commitment to provide 200 km of mostly segregated cycle lanes as part of the BusConnects project.
I recognise that transitioning to a low carbon economy will take time as it is the biggest industrial transformation in our lifetime. I do not want to lose sight of the vital and traditional importance of the road network in the daily lives of citizens and commuters, particularly outside urban areas. As a result, we will invest €1.12 billion in roads, including the N5, Westport to Turlough, road; the N22, Ballyvourney to Macroom, road; the Dunkettle interchange and the Listowel and Moycullen bypasses. Additionally, my Department is investing €1.5 million in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with funds ring fenced from carbon tax revenues.
In 2020 we will invest €125 million in sport and €186 million in tourism. We have secured funding to support the qualifying teams for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, the hosting of four matches in the Euro 2020 championships next June and commence preparations to host the Ryder Cup in 2026. As the full impacts of Brexit are likely to make themselves felt in 2020, we have secured a commitment to a significant package of up to €40 million to support a wide range of measures that will be undertaken by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. It will help to ensure we continue to have a strong and positive presence in international tourism markets.
Since the formation of the Government in May 2016, the overall departmental budget has increased from €1.7 billion to €2.7 billion, with 87% of the increase represented by Project Ireland 2040 investment. It enhances the value of capital stock in the country and addresses vital infrastructure requirements, improving our standard of living and international competitiveness. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is proud of the fact that the portfolio has been given such prominence and priority by the Government.
The Independent Alliance supports the prudent approach taken to the budget. However, this approach does not mean that those who are more vulnerable have been neglected. It is welcome that many more people will be eligible for medical cards as a result of measures taken in the budget, at the encouragement and urging of the Independent Alliance. I also acknowledge the willingness of the Minister for Finance to increase the threshold for inheritance tax by €15,000 for the second year in a row. This is part of a trend linked with a pledge in the programme for Government which holds that people, particularly those on modest incomes, should be able to leave their houses to their children in certain circumstances. We are not talking about particularly affluent people, with the amount in question increasing to approximately €335,000. Inheritance tax is something that adversely affects people with various assets, particularly those whose sole asset is the family home. They will now be relieved of some of the burden borne heretofore.
In the area of local government the funding announced in the budget on Tuesday amounts to €156 million paid directly by the local government section into the local authority structure throughout the country, in which there are 31 local authorities. The local government fund supports a range of local government initiatives and services across the country, with which Members of this House will be familiar. I am delighted with the increase in support of €12.5 million for capital investment in fire and emergency services. This money will be used to provide vital new fire service vehicles and refurbish existing fire stations. I also welcome the increased capital funding of €2.4 million for the Valuation Office which will go towards its 2020 IT systems upgrade project. The Government has made €17 million available to Ordnance Survey Ireland for 2020, an increase of €2 million on the figure for last year. It will allow the office to develop geo-spatial activities in support of Government policy and strategy, thus allowing it to take on additional public sector tasks in 2021 and 2022. Thanks to these important supports, I am confident that the local government sector and the Tailte Éireann group of agencies will be strongly resourced into 2020.
Taking account of the variation decisions made by local authorities recently, the 2020 LPT allocations amount to €516.8 million, compared to €503 million in 2019. A total of 19 local authorities varied their LPT rates upwards for 2020, providing €19.7 million in additional LPT income for their own use. This compares to a gain of €3.4 million in 2019 for the same authorities. This trend illustrates that the majority of local authorities are now prepared to use the LPT variation mechanism to generate additional funding locally for critical and strategic programmes and services.
In 2018 the commercial rates collected by each local authority across the country amounted to just short of €1.4 billion, a very significant sum which is the largest funding stream for local authorities across the country. Income raised in 2018 by local authorities through development levies amounted to €222 million. I have already given the figure for LPT income.
In terms of other provisions made by the local government section for local authorities across the country, €9 million has been allocated under what are termed miscellaneous schemes, including funding for European Committee of the Regions membership, which comprises eight full members and eight substitute members. These are county councillors from all across the country who sit on that EU-wide body. Funding is also provided for the National Oversight and Audit Committee which was established in 2014 to ensure the efficient application of resources by each local authority across the country. There is also an allocation for local partnership initiatives and local government development initiatives. In recent years we have also made allocations related to the participation of women in public office at local government level and those funds are derived from the miscellaneous schemes.
On the matter of the broader budget, we live in extremely interesting times. We are still awaiting clarity on the outcome of the Brexit process, but the position in which the Government found itself in drafting a budget was such that prudence was deemed to be the most appropriate course in the allocation of resources. However, I particularly welcome the increased funding for home help hours, an issue every Member of this House has come across in the course of his or her constituency work. Home help support is crucial in ensuring older people can remain in their homes and communities for longer. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, on the extra allocation in that regard.
I want to speak about the budget from the perspective of an independent rural Deputy. I begin by speaking about my role in the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I welcome the allocation of €190 million for the national broadband plan in 2020. This is a clear indication of the Government's intention to get the plan in place.
It will get the 1.1 million people, including farmers and small businesses, who do not have broadband back on track and bring them into the digital age, ensuring no one is left behind. The €8 million fund for the digital skills initiative will provide for 25,000 citizens and SMEs to be upskilled to ensure they are ready for digitalisation. As a rural Deputy, I am aware of the sporadic roll-out of broadband in rural areas and how some people are left behind or left out for no apparent reason. The private sector has failed to provide for such people. The national broadband plan is the only way it will be done.
On climate action, the biggest measure is the €146 million, an increase of €29 million, made available to upgrade 24,000 homes and businesses. There are several positive aspects to this initiative, foremost among which is the fact that it will lead to people living in comfortable houses and having to spend less on energy. The average saving per household will be in the region of €1,200 per annum once the upgrades are completed. It is important that it is carried out. A new retrofitting model will deliver upgrades to a large number of houses at the same time such that we create economies of scale to reduce costs and get more for the money we spend. Another important measure is that those in fuel poverty or in receipt of fuel allowance will receive a grant to cover 100% of the cost of the upgrades, which is vital.
On rural and community development, the increase of €17 million in funding has been a major success, as €10 million of it will be added to the LEADER fund. Every Deputy is aware of the importance of the LEADER programme, its impact on community facilities and engagement and that it creates spaces where people can live, work, enjoy life and have an equal opportunity to that enjoyed by those who live in more updated urban areas. The allocation is to be welcomed. In addition, there is a €3 million package of targeted supports for the community and voluntary sector. As Members are aware, the voluntary sector is vital and we need to continue to support it. I look forward to the publication of the volunteering strategy on which we are working to supplement that. Another significant measure for towns and villages in rural Ireland is the investment of an additional €1 million in library services. These supports are very important to rural Ireland and, most importantly, will reach every citizen.
It is important to point out that we have had to protect our most vulnerable in the context of the budget. We are facing our biggest challenge since the founding of the State. It is important that young people are being looked after and that care hours are being increased such that we can care for our most vulnerable people, who made the country what it is. We must show respect for the elderly and provide care hours for them.
I welcome the extension of the help to buy scheme, which assists young people who are trying to save to buy a home. It is challenging to try to save a deposit while renting. The help-to-buy scheme is vital for such people and I am delighted that it has been extended for two years.
On education, I welcome that small rural schools will receive additional supports, including a better capitation grant, while those with four classrooms or fewer will be allocated a lower pupil-teacher ratio, which will help them in the fight to get additional teachers.
I commend the budget to the House. I am delighted and proud of what we have achieved in the prevailing difficult circumstances.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on budget 2020. For some time, Deputies have been aware of the Government's plan for a budget premised on a hard Brexit. There has been much criticism of this approach but I believe it reinforces that Fine Gael takes a prudent approach to the public finances. The twin themes of the budget, namely, Brexit and climate action, were well flagged in recent weeks.
The budget delivered for Offaly and the midlands. Although there has been some negativity regarding the increase in the carbon tax, I am delighted that the funds it raises will be ring-fenced to protect the most vulnerable and invested in agri-environmental schemes and our low-carbon future. I am pleased that my Government colleagues recognised the uniquely challenging impact of the country's decarbonisation transition on Offaly in the context of Bord na Móna's transition away from the harvesting of peat in order to generate power for the ESB. I have had intense discussions with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, over the 12 months since Bord na Móna announced its decarbonisation strategy from brown to green. I thank and acknowledge the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in particular for his accessibility and responsiveness at all times, especially in recent months following the decision of An Bord Pleanála on Shannonbridge and the uncertainty created as a result. I emphasised the immediate need for the Government to respond with concrete measures and am delighted with the announcement that a just transition commissioner will be appointed shortly. Engagement with all stakeholders, workers, companies, communities and local authorities, particularly Offaly County Council, will be vital to ensure correct usage of the €6 million just transition fund targeted at the midlands to support retraining and reskilling of workers and to assist local communities and businesses adjust to the low-carbon transition. Consultation with the structures in place in the midlands, including the midlands transition team, must take place on the best approach to target the funding.
The €5 million for bog restoration and rehabilitation which will restore bogs to their natural habitat is particularly welcome. Bord na Móna workers I recently visited were adamant they could carry out this work. Although I understand that the programme will support the National Parks and Wildlife Service, I sincerely hope a role will be found for these workers, especially those who are not at retirement age but are not young enough to wish to retrain or go into further education. The recently announced forestry planting collaboration by Bord na Móna and Coillte will provides further opportunity for Bord na Móna workers and I hope that is explored.
The allocation of €20 million to deliver group housing retrofitting as set out in the climate action plan is a welcome development. I understand it is to be targeted at the midlands. I suggest, as I previously suggested to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the House, that Offaly be prioritised as it is the county that will be impacted on most by decarbonisation. These measures will make a significant difference in my constituency by generating economic activity and creating environmentally sustainable jobs to replace those lost in the short term at Bord na Móna. I welcome the fact that people in fuel poverty will be taken into consideration and that funding from the carbon tax will be used to increase the fuel allowance by €2 per week. I also welcome the additional €13 million which will be ring fenced from that money to support the warmer homes scheme and will be targeted at energy-efficient upgrades for those at risk of fuel poverty.
The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is not and never has been sufficiently funded. Even though its funding was increased in the budget, it is still not sufficient. We use the arts to sell the country around the globe. The work being done by the Heritage Council is brilliant and should have received more funding. That said, I welcome the much-needed increase of €1 million for special areas of conservation or special protection areas. Farmers are operating under significant constraints in my area. It is a start.
The provision of an additional 1 million home help hours is a start and will be a tremendous asset to carers and others in that role. I acknowledge the additional funding for tourism and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I recognise the fantastic work being done by the Department of Rural and Community Development. The allocation of €15 million to the Department will enable further investment in town and village renewal. It is great news for rural Ireland. I refer to the E-hive in Edenderry, County Offaly. Is a new, modern co-working hub owned by Offaly County Council. The project is at the centre of the town and is an illustration of how correctly-directed funding can be of significant benefit to rural Ireland.