Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Appropriation Bill 2015: Second and Subsequent Stages
The Appropriation Bill 2015 is an essential element of financial housekeeping that, as Members of the Seanad are aware, must be concluded by both Houses of the Oireachtas this year. The Bill serves two primary purposes. First, it is necessary to authorise in law all the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2015 on the basis of the Estimates that already have been agreed during the year. The amounts included in section 1 and Schedule 1 to be appropriated for supply services all relate to amounts included in the Estimates set out in the Revised Estimates Volume 2015 of €41.7 billion in aggregate, as well as the Supplementary Estimates of €1.4 billion. Second, the passage of the Appropriation Bill 2015 is essential to provide a legal basis for all existing voted expenditure to continue into 2016 in the period before the Dáil votes on the 2016 Estimates.
Under the rolling multi-annual capital envelopes introduced in budget 2004, Departments may carry over from the current year to the following year unspent capital up to a maximum of 10% of voted capital. The multi-annual system is designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the management by Departments and agencies of capital programmes and projects. It recognises the difficulties inherent in the planning and profiling of capital expenditure and acknowledges that capital projects may be subject to delay. The carryover facility allows for a portion of unspent moneys, which would have been lost to the capital programmes and projects concerned under the annual system of allocating capital, to be made available for spending on programme priorities in the subsequent year. The Appropriation Act determines definitively the capital amounts that may be carried over to the following year.The aggregate amount of proposed capital carryover is just under €112 million, which represents less than 3% of the total capital programme of €3.8 billion. The proposed amounts to be carried over by Vote are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill. The 2016 Revised Estimates volume, to be published in the coming days, will set out detailed financial and key performance information for Departments and offices. In Part II of the Estimates, for each Vote availing of the capital carryover facility, a table will be included listing the amounts to be deferred by subhead.
The first payroll payments of 2016 are to be paid to staff and pensioners on 1 and 4 January 2016. Departments and offices must have the funds for these payments in their commercial bank accounts before the end of this year to ensure that staff and pensioners have access to their money by the due dates. In addition, An Post makes certain payments on an agency basis on behalf of the Department of Social Protection. To disburse payments to social welfare recipients in the first week of January 2016, An Post needs to be pre-funded before the end of 2015 to be in a position to convert electronic fund transfer payments from the Department of Social Protection into real cash and physically transfer it to its network of post offices throughout the country. These Exchequer pay and pension and social welfare payments will form part of the supply services for 2016 and, consequently, the funds to cover these costs will be included in amounts disbursed from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account as part of the 2016 supply issues and will come under moneys voted by the Dáil in 2016, in respect of which the usual processes and mechanisms for voted moneys in 2016 will apply. However, as the funds need to be available in the Paymaster General's supply account before the end of the year to facilitate timely payment, section 3 of the Appropriation Bill includes a specific provision to allow for an advance from the Central Fund to the Paymaster General's supply account of the appropriate amounts of money. Any amounts advanced to the supply account will be repaid to the Central Fund in January.
The signed Act is required by the Comptroller and Auditor General for clearance of the end-of-year issues from the Exchequer. Under Article 25.2.1° of the Constitution, the President may not sign a Bill earlier than the fifth day after the date upon which the Bill is presented to him. However, there is provision in Article 25.2.2° whereby, at the request of the Government and with the prior concurrence of Seanad Éireann, the President may sign a Bill on an earlier date. In view of the urgency of this Bill, the provision in Article 25.2.2° is sought and a motion to this effect is placed before the Seanad. Such an earlier signature motion has been sought in relation to the Appropriation Bill in previous years.
I remarked at the outset that the Appropriation Bill is an essential element of housekeeping which those of us in both Houses of the Oireachtas are required to undertake. The passing of the Bill will authorise in law all of the expenditure that has been undertaken in 2015 on the basis of the Estimates debate and voted on by the Dáil during the year. Of fundamental importance to those who depend on our essential public services, and to those on public sector pay, pensions and social welfare payments, the passage of the Appropriation Bill will allow the payments required to deliver these public services to continue into 2016 in the period before the Dáil approves the 2016 Estimates. I commend the Bill to the House.