Seanad debates

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Commencement Matters

Government Economic and Evaluation Service

2:30 pm

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I have tabled this matter because the work of the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service is most valuable. It is an essential part of the work being done by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Harris. It is the expenditure equivalent of the work the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council does on the tax side. It is vital that public money is not spent on expenditures that are ineffective and that do not create a flow of benefits that exceed the costs and it is not desirable to have expenditures which add to the national debt problem. The Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service has a seven-member oversight committee and I commend them. They include Professors Dave Madden and Kevin Denny of UCD, as well as Professor Frances Ruane. The chair is Ms Deirdre Hanlon, assistant secretary at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There also is a 15-member management group. They have a strong view that the service needs to extend its work to include the Departments of Education and Skills and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and they want those Departments to join in the Government Economic and Evaluation Service by the end of 2015. I would say, "Why not today?" That is approximately €9 billion of expenditure, out of €53 billion overall or 18%, that is not covered by this valuable work that we all must do. The first set of graduates recruited will have joined by the first quarter of this year. They have masters degrees and the object is a programme of continuous professional development to assist both the Government and the Oireachtas in providing an evaluation service.

The constitutional officer to oversee value for money is the Comptroller and Auditor General and perhaps this new body should liaise with him because sometimes the Comptroller and Auditor General only turns up after the mishap has happened. Members need to have early warnings, as events such as the banking crisis illustrate for them. Moreover, there are parallels, such as the Congressional Budget Office in the United States and so on. The problem with this evaluation exercise is it undoubtedly will have powerful enemies. Lobby groups, not just bankers, think they have the right to Exchequer funds, notoriously on 29 September 2008. There are also enemies within as described in the work of the US economist, William Niskanen, whereby in many bureaucracies, promotion depends on expanding the budget and therefore, they maximise the budget rather than even asking the question as to whether those budgets led to any useful outputs. More cost-benefit analyses and more studies are needed in advance.

There have been three cases of late about which I am worried. A single page was all that appeared in the Oireachtas Library about the sale of Aer Lingus. While I expressed strong views on the other point of view regarding the sale of the Government's stake, this is inadequate. In addition, I raised at the relevant Oireachtas committee last week the issue of postcodes, involving €27 million for a seven-digit non-sequential address for every house in the country but I note the time the President had to consider such a proposal, on which I have seen no cost-benefit analysis, was reduced when the Government invoked Article 25.2 2° of the Constitution to require that legislation to be signed on a date earlier than the fifth day after the Bill was presented to the President.

The third case that has arisen in the transport committee, which I believe also affects the Minister of State's part of the country and it concerns the question of whether it is the correct solution to generate electricity for Northern Ireland within that territory, for example, in Derry or in Larne or is it correct to generate it in the South? How much does one lose if the transmission is overhead on pylons or underground? I believe that numbers in this regard would help.

This is a message that is of use to evaluation. We should have a lot more of it as it is valuable and this House will always support progress towards better evaluation of public expenditure. All knowledge that can help the better governance of Ireland should be promoted. Moves in that regard would certainly would have the support of this House. This is why I asked for this item to be considered. The initiative is important, will have powerful enemies and people will try to avoid it but it is in the interests of Parliament and, as the Government has stated, it is in its own interest to have full evaluations and full discussion. The recruitment of all these young people with those qualifications and the involvement of the senior academics is most welcome and I wish the initiative well.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt don Seanadóir as ucht an Ghaeilge a úsáid ar dtús fosta. Gabhaim míle buíochas leis. I thank Senator Barrett for raising this issue, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, who is not available this afternoon due to Government business.

The Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, was established in 2012. The introduction of the new service was part of the broader expenditure reform agenda launched by the Minister, Deputy Howlin. It is an integrated cross-Government service to enhance the role of economics and value-for-money analysis in policy making and demonstrates a strong commitment to a high and consistent standard of policy evaluation and policy analysis throughout the Civil Service. The purpose of IGEES is to enhance the evaluation and economic capacity of the Civil Service. Its first objective is to develop a professional service that will provide good quality analysis to assist Government, its second objective is that it aims to support better policy design and its third objective is that it works towards more open policy dialogue with expert stakeholders.

IGEES is spread across the central Government sector. It operates within a large number of Government Departments, each of which have specific units or sections that are focused on economic and/or evaluation work. In some Departments, evaluation or economic units were already in place prior to the establishment of IGEES. These have typically either been expanded or are planned to be expanded as part of developing the new service. In other Departments, new units have been set up. Building on existing specialised expertise in Government Departments, there have already been three successful recruitment campaigns since 2012 to augment this capacity. There will also be annual recruitment campaigns to sustain and develop the service. These intakes of qualified economists and evaluators will help ensure the service meets its long-term objectives. There are now approximately 90 IGEES members working across the Civil Service.

IGEES members work on core areas of government, including the budget and macroeconomic forecasting. IGEES members developed the public spending code - the value-for-money standards for public expenditure - and are actively involved in promoting the code. IGEES units in Departments across the Civil Service are already delivering a range of analytical and statistical outputs. The entire range of different analyses is published by individual Departments and also on the IGEES website at . These analyses include: programme evaluations: cross-cutting reviews: economic analysis: tax expenditure reviews; and sectoral trend analysis. Some examples of recently published papers include: A Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport - Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; A Fact Sheet on Irish Agriculture - Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Behavioural Economics - Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Expenditure Implications of Demographic Change in the Primary and Post-Primary Sectors - Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Departments which are involved in IGEES follow shared approaches to recruitment, promotion and mobility for their IGEES staff. Under the leadership of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, they have also jointly developed a standardised professional development framework and a strong programme of training and development opportunities. In addition, the IGEES network and annual conference provide important opportunities for members to present and discuss their work with colleagues from other Government Departments, as well as academics and specialists.

IGEES is particularly important to support programme evaluation across the Civil Service. The growing capacity of IGEES will play a central role in delivering a new series of expenditure evaluations under the value-for-money review initiative as the previous round comes to a close. The initiative is a long-standing feature of the evaluation landscape in Ireland. It requires Departments to systematically examine and review spending programmes to ensure that they are working efficiently and effectively. The overall objective of the reviews is to inform spending decisions. Value-for-money reviews are regularly published by Departments and laid before the Oireachtas. During the next three years, a new programme of reviews covering well over 30 different programme areas will be carried out. The results of these reviews will help underpin the next comprehensive review of expenditure.

The recent such review built on the work of IGEES staff across Departments and in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. A range of background analyses and papers that were undertaken by IGEES as part of that review were published. The output of IGEES is available to inform policy makers, public debate and Parliament. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, introduced the whole-of-year budgetary process so that the Oireachtas could engage in constructive dialogue with Ministers and their officials about spending plans and priorities. To do this, it is important that the Oireachtas has timely, coherent and relevant information. A significant volume of information has been made available to committees through the performance budgeting initiative.In addition, the range of evaluations undertaken and published by Departments, often using their IGEES resources, provide further evidence to help the Oireachtas assess public policy options.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive and wide-ranging reply. The open policy dialogue he mentioned is a credit to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and his Department. It is also vitally necessary that it is not in any way subverted by people with favourite projects who try to get them through without evaluation. It is more welcome that the skills deficits noted in the Wright report are being addressed. I hope these new evaluation experts will be fully incorporated into the public service. It is the kind of expertise we need and it is part of the reforms we all came into the House in 2011 to implement. It is good to hear about the progress that is being made. The Minister will have support for that momentum on this side of the House. It is important and valuable work and this House will not be found wanting because it is essential that we never drift back to where we were between 2005 and 2008. It is important that every item of public expenditure is fully accounted for and value for money is assured to taxpayers.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is important to keep this conversation going but I would like to acknowledge that every Department has bought into, and is contributing to, this process and there is an input. We always have to be conscious that it is a three-way conversation between the citizens, the Legislature and the experts. When I was a Member of this House in 2005, I quoted my father who said: "If we do not watch what is going on this country whereby people are paying up to €600,000 for two-bedroom apartments, they will have millstones around their necks for the rest of their lives." We have to be conscious of the fact that this House has a role and there should be better trigger mechanisms. We have a second arm of the Legislature here and there should be trigger mechanisms when a politician raises a point in this House in order that it is followed through. I recall making that point at the time and that was as far as it went. I appreciate the Senator's contribution. I am a big advocate of the man on the street and he was talking about a property bubble bursting and crashing long before it became trendy within the appropriate field of expertise.