Thursday, 27 June 2013
Decentralisation Programme Office Accommodation
I thank Senator Whelan for raising this issue and for his good wishes. I also thank the Cathaoirleach for his good wishes. I started off in this House many years ago and I am delighted to be back. I never dreamt I would be back answering queries as a Minister in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Some 470 Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine staff are housed between several different locations in Portlaoise. This situation, which is a legacy of the decentralisation project, presents many operational difficulties and is making it more challenging for the Department to carry out its functions in Portlaoise. Moreover, the fragmentation of staff and facilities is sub-optimal from the point of view of efficiencies and cost-effectiveness.
The temporary location of staff in small numbers in different locations - initially done to facilitate the decentralisation of the Department to Portlaoise - was undertaken on the basis that, in a relatively short period, all would be located in a new purpose-built headquarters. The different locations of offices which results in the spreading of single functions over several locations seriously impairs opportunities to gain operational efficiencies.
In this context, the Department has been working for some time with the Office of Public Works in reviewing its accommodation needs with a view to rationalising its property footprint in Portlaoise. From the Department's perspective, the principal priority in this consolidation is the redeployment of staff to reintegrate business areas split between different locations and, as far as possible, the co-location of different business areas that have cross-over functions or can exploit any existing operational synergies from such co-location.
Following on from this review, the Department and the Office of Public Works are examining the possibility of the construction of an extension to Government offices on Old Abbeyleix Road. These offices are State-owned. The extension, when taken together with the existing space, which would also be reconfigured, would result in all of the Department's staff being accommodated at that one location.
The extension when taken together with the existing space, which would also be reconfigured, would result in all of the Department's staff being accommodated at that one location. At least two years would be required to deliver the new building. Savings would commence upon completion as leases that currently cost over €1 million per annum could then be surrendered. Subject to a tendering process, full payback would be realised within a relatively short period of time after completion and occupation. A detailed proposal is being finalised by the Department and the Commissioners for Public Works and this will shortly be submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for its consideration.
The consolidation of Department staff will derive many benefits both to the Exchequer and to the Department itself. As previously stated, the cost of providing temporary accommodation for staff in Portlaoise is in excess of €1 million per annum. Value enhancements will also be derived by the Department in terms of improved utilisation of resources and operational effectiveness and efficiency.
The public service reform plan provides that the Government will deliver greater value for money through efficient management of the Government estate owing to a smaller physical footprint meeting the needs of a reformed public service. The situation in Portlaoise represents a unique opportunity in terms of delivering on this commitment. It could be argued that the current situation in the location represents a microcosm of the issues that the reform of property asset management in the wider public service will attempt to address.
A recent review of the State's property asset management portfolio states that the cost of office accommodation, after salaries, represents the largest portion of central government's administrative overheads. In this context, economies must be found by Departments in their use of office space to contribute to the budgetary consolidation that must be found in the area of public service property. The review includes several key potential strategies to assist in exploiting savings and efficiencies in property. There is to be a reduction in expenditure on rent within the leasehold portfolio through lease surrenders. Existing accommodation must be consolidated through more intensive utilisation of space by way of standardisation of space allocation, space norms and accommodation fit out. Investing in the modernisation of owned buildings to realise efficiencies benefits over the longer term. The proposals outlined for rationalisation of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine accommodation in Portlaoise ticks all those boxes. Rationalisation will lead to surrendered leases, consolidation of existing space and modernising of owned property will ultimately contribute considerably to budgetary consolidation in the medium to long-term. The Portlaoise project, if brought to fruition, has the potential to be exemplary for property rationalisation and set the benchmark for future projects of a similar nature. From dealings I have with those in Portlaoise, I know they are excellent staff and they need what will be delivered to them in the future.