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Presentation and Circulation of Further Revised Estimates 2019: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton]  The Taoiseach claims that the additional €100 million in expenditure allocated to health in 2019 will not lead to any projects being cut or delayed. This is possible if the Government increases the allocation to capital spending from €7.3 billion to €7.4 billion, but the opening part of the Minister's speech does not indicate this. This is not what is proposed. The Taoiseach is using smoke and mirrors to claim that as the Government is spending €7.3 billion this year, which is €20 million per day, €100 million is only five days' worth of spending and the figures can therefore be massaged in such a way that we do not need to look too closely at where the €100 million will come from. However, we do need to look closely at where the Government is spending money and we need clarity as to where it will cut money that it had promised to spend on other projects.

We see in the Further Revised Estimates some indication as to where the extra €100 million for the children's hospital will come from. Health is being allocated a net additional €65 million. This means that the Department will have to cut €35 million from other investments to make up the extra €100 million that must be spent on the children's hospital this year. I think the Minister can confirm that we are right about this. Where will this €35 million come from? The briefing note we have received does not make this clear, and the Government must provide this information before we can endorse these Further Revised Estimates. I know that it is €1.5 million in respect of the Department of Finance capital Vote and minus €1.5 million on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Vote, plus the €3 million referred to in respect of the Office of Public Works and flood risk management. Where will the Government cut €65 million in allocations across other Departments? The Government claims it will reschedule the A5 motorway to save €27 million. Let us call a spade a spade: the A5 motorway is being delayed. The national forensic science laboratory will also be delayed, saving €10 million. Money to be spent on Project Ireland 2040 regeneration funds will be drawn down in 2020 rather than 2019, saving €16 million in 2019, as referred to by the Minister. To be clear, though, this will add €16 million to the capital budget in 2020. While there might be no delay to delivery in 2019 by simply postponing the payment, this does not conjure money out of thin air. Any delayed payments from 2019 will displace other capital spending in 2020, so when that €16 million is spent in 2020, some other project will be delayed or cut by €16 million to make up for that. This is why we need these Further Revised Estimates - in order that we can call a spade a spade and be clear as to what is being delayed and what is being cut in order to cover the cost overruns on the children's hospital and the shambles the project has become.

I will acknowledge that on page 6 of the Minister's script, he pretty much makes an apology. It is not couched as an apology because his Government does not do apologies or acknowledgements. The spin is that "New procedures are being developed in the context of the ongoing review" and so on. The Minister wants to draw our attention in his nice little speech to the revisions in the public spending code and procurement practices. This is the Department of Finance's polite way of saying, "Lads, we got it wrong, and this is what we are changing." What is the Department changing then? The Government will not pre-commit to major bespoke projects "until there is clarity on final cost", after tenders have been received and evaluated. This is not what the Government did the first time. The script continues: "Two stage procurement with parallel working will be avoided in most cases - preliminary works will not commence until there is full approval of the project." The Minister, with two or three Ministers working alongside him, is saying his Department, over which he has responsibility and oversight, is not doing the blatantly obvious. The script continues: "The budgets for large bespoke projects will include a significant premium for risks so that these indicative costings more adequately reflect the holistic total for the entire project over its lifecycle." I have heard about adding and subtracting but I have not heard about "holistic totals" before. Is this some kind of new karma that Fine Gael has found, that instead of simple adding and subtracting, which gives people the right figures, we are into "holistic totalling"? It also states "Consideration is also being given to carrying out external expert review to rigorously test cost estimates and linking Advisory firm payments to performance." Whatever civil servant came up with this page-long quasi-apology for making a total mess of things, the Department of Finance needs some kind of group discussion, group hug or whatever it is the Department is doing these days and it needs to try to get its act together.

I think the public has caught up with the Government. Right around the country, wherever I go, people are talking about the disaster of the children's hospital. The Government is now viewed as not being competent in spending money. The Minister of State sitting beside the Minister gets on the radio every couple of days to explain why he cannot really do much about insurance costs. He just wings his way through various interviews telling us that whatever he thinks he is doing is working, while the rest of the country knows it is not.

When the Minister comes before the committee - tomorrow, I think - will he actually deal with the figures honestly? We know the children's hospital is a shambles and we know he has made plans to continue it as is. On page 6 of his script, he has offered this four-point change of policy, which is just finance gobbledygook. It is meant not to be understood by ordinary people. What ordinary people do understand, however, is that they and their children cannot buy houses, cannot afford rents if they are in the rental market and are often in precarious work on very low pay. In the meantime, the Government is throwing around significant sums on a mismanaged project on an historic scale. It does not even have the grace to apologise to people who faithfully pay their taxes and to businesses that pay their taxes and make their contributions. They do not pay these taxes or contributions in order that the Government can mess up and then produce a litany of gobbledygook here that is unworthy of both the Department of Finance and those who have the honour to serve as its Ministers.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I asked at the Business Committee, of which I am a member, for this debate on the Revised Estimates, which were going to be just pushed straight to the individual committees. This was according to the Government's proposed schedule of business. I objected to this for the same reasons that the Government very much needs to be held to account for what has happened with the children's hospital. I was not willing to let these Estimates go through on the nod down to the committees, but that is what the Government wanted. It could be argued that the individual line items would be dealt with in the committees but so doing is only one aspect of this process. It was wrong for the Government to propose that Members not debate how it would handle the overspend in the context of the whole picture for this year. The Government should not have proposed this, and I wonder why it did. It wanted discussion to go down to the line items because it would potentially be embarrassing for the Government to talk about how it would manage the overspend in the context of this year's budget.

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