Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Capital Expenditure Programme

11:40 am

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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119. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the total underspend of capital across all Departments, including capital allocations deferred to 2023; the steps that he intends on taking to ensure that the total capital allocation in this year’s Revised Estimates Volume is expended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1372/23]

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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This question relates to the underspend of capital across all Departments. I want included in the figure capital allocations deferred to 2023. It is important once money is provided that it is spent. If it is not spent, it means that houses, transport infrastructure and roads, hospitals and whatever are not built. The Minister might give me the details of it and tell me which Departments are the worst offenders.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy will be aware, my Department is responsible for the allocation of public funds across each area of government spending and seeks to ensure that expenditure is managed by Departments in line with these allocations. Those allocations are laid out in the NDP.

To answer the Deputy's questions, the Fiscal Monitor for December 2022 recorded gross capital expenditure of more than €10.9 billion, which was €569 million behind the full 2022 capital expenditure allocation of almost €11.5 billion, including Supplementary Estimates. The answer to the Deputy's question overall is that it was €569 million below planned spending.

The expenditure figure of €10.9 billion includes a capital carryover into 2023 of €687 million, which was the second part of the Deputy’s question. If we were to exclude that and include the carryover of €789 million from 2021 that was spent in 2022, the gross total spend in 2022 was just over €11 billion. I will check when the Deputy responds with his next question whether I have the figures by Department as well.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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If I understand correctly, between deferred capital at the end of the year, when the Minister allocated the money in 2021 for 2022 and 2023, he knew about the carryovers in each case. He is telling me, in fact, if I understand correctly, that the total is approximately €1.2 billion between carryovers and underspend at the Department.

I keep thinking of all the services urgently needed in this country that have not happened. This is my question. From the global perspective of the Minister's Department, what is he going to do to make sure this does not happen repeatedly? It seems crazy to allocate money and not spend it. That suggests three possibilities. The first is to allow more projects into the pipeline because they take longer now than they used to, the second is to examine the public procurement process and the third is to examine the public spending guidelines to see if the Minister could apply the same due diligence with less time, fewer steps and more parallel steps.

11:50 am

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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They are options I am willing to look at. We have capital carryovers in place every year. I take the Deputy's point that when the need for new homes and Garda stations to be built and more investment is so great, it is frustrating for Deputies to see significant capital underspends in Departments.

The Deputy has asked for the overall figures. The vast majority of Departments have capital spend drawdown for the year of between 95% and 100%. There are a number of Departments in which that is not the case. The reasons for that is well known. It is because of challenges that are there. Housing is at 93% and social protection is at 93%. Those figures are the drawdown of the total capital budget. The finance group is at 90% and foreign affairs is at 69%. The reason for much of that is the difficulties with delivery of capital projects in an inflationary environment and the changes and difficulties we have had in the aftermath of Covid. I will look at the options the Deputy raised because, given the level of social need, I want to see every cent of capital budgets being spent in any given year.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I remember when carryovers were introduced. I had serious reservations because I felt they would become endemic in the system. In the public sector system, once a thing like that is opened up, they think that is part of what you do. You only spend a certain amount and carry over up to 20% or whatever you are allowed to carry over. One of my colleagues is smiling because the older heads around here know that is the sort of thing that happens in the system.

I accept the difficulties with planning and delays. My attitude has always been to put more projects on the conveyor belt, put them on earlier, anticipate these things and make sure at the end. The Minister knows it is easy to control capital - it is not like current - and ensure a full spend without overspending or bursting the budget. Will the Minister look at allowing more into the pipeline, reforming public procurement and reforming the public spending code, which has too many linear steps in it, rather than parallel steps?

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I cannot give an indication that I will agree to more projects coming into the pipeline because that would be an overall Government decision of significance. I am not yet confident that our capital ceilings for the year will allow that to happen but I will look at it in relation to the other two issues the Deputy raised. There are issues with public procurement and the public spending code related to the underspends we have.

I know the Deputy will be aware, given his huge experience, that the absence of carryovers meant Departments unable to spend their capital projects for good reasons sometimes lost all their funding and were not in a position to carry over and continue with projects year by year. Capital carryovers play a valuable role but I accept the general point that we need to look at why underspends are happening and see what we can do to minimise them.