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Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] It would be odd to set a ceiling by statutory instrument and then alter it a month later. All the budgetary arithmetic happens on the night of the budget. We lay out the fiscal parameters and both the expenditure and taxation sides are done.

  With regard to regulation, the multi-annual ceiling expenditure will be set out as part of the expenditure report, which will be placed before the House alongside the budget. This will happen this year and in every year going forward. It is not proposed to set ceilings through the use of a statutory instrument for the reasons I have just outlined. The departmental expenditure ceilings are decided by the Government and will be laid before the House and published, as is normal. Reconciliation tables will also be published alongside any revision of the ceilings to show details of any and all changes.

  In discussing the previous amendment, I have already referred to the new approach to whole-of-year budgeting, which we have tried to bring in. This will facilitate a much greater ex-ante discussion of expenditure, including all the matters the Deputy is talking about. Regularly examining expenditure ceilings and how we are going can all be encompassed in the committee system working more effectively. That is something we will see in future.

  The approach we are proposing in this legislation is analogous to that used for capital ceilings, which has been shown to work successfully. The multi-annual capital ceilings have been in place for a number of years. They do not require the use of regulations to set ceilings. In essence, it is a balance between proper oversight and transparency and practical administrative purposes. That is what we aim to achieve with our proposals. In that regard, therefore, I do not think that Deputy Fleming's proposals are practical or helpful, although I understand entirely what he is seeking to achieve.

  The Deputy referred to the overspend last year. If one thinks of Ireland Inc. providing services for 5 million people on a 24-hour demand-led basis, the growth outturn was 0.2% last year. Therefore, the excess spend was 0.2% or one fifth of 1%. That puts it into some context.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I am not sure of the percentages. Taxation probably came in in terms of the overall output.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Yes. PRSI was part of the net figures.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming On the expenditure side, there was €1 billion but we will not go there again. The Minister might clarify one small item. He said that the expenditure ceiling will be laid before the House, but can he explain what he means by that? If something is laid before the House, is it just put in the Oireachtas Library?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is part of the budgetary documentation which is given on the day of the budget, as is normal.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming So it is just part of the documentation.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Yes.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming When the Minister said it was laid before the House, I thought we could see everything.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is given to every Deputy as the budgetary process is unfolding, so they can have a comprehensive view of it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Is the amendment being pressed?

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming No.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Amendment No. 20 has already been discussed with amendment No. 15.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I move amendment No. 20:

  Amendment put and declared lost.

  Amendment No. 21 not moved.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Amendment No. 22 has already been discussed with amendment No. 15.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I move amendment No. 22:

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Amendment No. 23 has already been discussed with amendment No. 19.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I move amendment No. 23:

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I move amendment No. 24:

We had a brief discussion on this topic on Committee Stage. This amendment states that "Any Government stimulus package or infrastructure programme that involves current or capital expenditure shall be set out by way of regulations by the Minister". The Minister will probably say that it is not helpful and will tie his hands. We regularly have announcements of capital expenditure and that we might have a reduction in capital expenditure, yet the following month we see a press release on a stimulus package of €150 million. People think it is new money, while it is part of the capital expenditure. I know the Minister would say the last €150 million was new, but-----

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It was new.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming It was new money but less money is being spent on capital expenditure purposes compared to the previous year. In the way these things come out, however, one often thinks otherwise. The Minister may make a big cut in capital expenditure of €600 million or €700 million and then he announces an extra €100 million in March and another €100 million in July. People then say that he is great to spend an additional €200 million but he is actually spending €500 million less than last year. The amendment seeks to provide an overall framework for that in the interests of transparency if there is a stimulus package or infrastructural programme that involves current or capital expenditure.

We did not get a full reply to the current versus capital expenditure issue, so perhaps the Minister can spell out the differences between those two areas. He might give some thought to how best that could be done because people are confused. I still do not know about the retrofit scheme in local authorities, including how different finance officers will record it in their local authority accounts, or will they all do the same thing? It would be useful if we knew whether these retrofit schemes will be considered as maintenance or refurbishment. I am not quite sure.

As regards that issue, stimulus packages should be done by way of regulation. Sometimes we get the public relations announcement but it could be three years later before anything happens. Some of the projects that were intended to be covered by the stimulus package might never happen. The amendment might be one way of ensuring that whatever is announced has a legal standing. It might force some of them to happen sooner rather than falling by the wayside.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin We discussed this matter on Committee Stage. The Bill is ultimately concerned with the technical rules for setting multi-annual limits on expenditure. It is a short and discrete Bill in that regard. I do not propose that sub-components of expenditure should be set out by way of regulation within these departmental ceilings. I understand why Deputy Fleming would make a point concerning capital expenditure.

The €150 million I announced was an allocation of €50 million to three different Government Departments. Obviously, that has to be accounted for and voted upon in the normal way. Assuming that they spend everything that has already been voted, there will be an additional €50 million to be dealt with by way of supplementary Estimate. That is the way it will happen. If they make substantial savings, it might not be required, but on the capital side I do not want them to make savings in those areas. We have tried to strike a balance between what is affordable in terms of capital expenditure and maintaining as much State expenditure to a depressed sector of the economy. I wish we could spend more and hopefully through our interaction with the European Investment Bank and other lending agencies we will be able to get more available capital in construction and other sides of the economy including, for example, money for the SME sector.

I am not quite sure whether the Deputy is serious about this or is making a point. However, I do not think it is appropriate to the technical Bill before us.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming The Minister might be able to help me as this is the third time I have asked this question. If he does not have the answer, perhaps he can send it on. We are talking about current versus capital expenditure concerning the amendment. The recent stimulus package was very current when we discussed it on Committee Stage because the Minister had just announced it. Does the Minister or the Department know how much of that €150 million is current expenditure versus capital expenditure? I would expect that the part for new schools in the Department of Education and Skills is capital expenditure. That is agreed but I do not know if the bit for roads is capital or current expenditure. The Minister might be able to give me a straight reply as to whether it is current or capital expenditure. The other bit was for insulating local authority houses, but is that considered maintenance or refurbishment? Will it be considered in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's Estimates as a current or capital item? I am not quite sure and felt it could be either, so that is why I am asking.


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