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Estimates for Public Services 2015 (Continued)

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 870 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] I refer to Table 7, which shows that the proportion of GNP to be spent on housing is the same this year as last year and the three years before that, 0.2%. There is no change. The macro economic figure is borne out at local level when someone goes to the local authority, in my case Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and tries to find out how many council houses will be built this year in the aftermath of the much trumpeted announcement. The council does not have a clue. The number at the moment is 19, which is replicated across the country. Some 19 extra council houses will be built when 1,200 people have joined the list in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in the past year and we are now at 5,200 people on the list. People are waiting for 15 years and the much trumpeted new housing strategy involves 19 houses. It is a joke. Where is the money? Where is the much trumpeted housing programme? It is a fantasy. The fact that it is fantasy is reflected in the figures because there is no increase in the proportion of public spending on housing.

I have not got my head around the full extent of the jiggery-pokery of replacing central funding for the local government fund with the local property tax, which will be used to fund the housing programme. In fact, there is no extra money going in as a result of the local property tax. Money that used to come from central taxation is being replaced with the local property tax but the overall amount available to build social housing is pretty much the same as it was last year, and the two years before that. This translates into virtually no actual council housing, just a lot of nonsense.

A large proportion of the money is still earmarked to go into the pockets of private landlords in the hugely wasteful leasing arrangements, rental allowance arrangements and the new housing assistance programme, HAP. I will oppose this because it is part of a failed philosophy and an attempt to hoodwink people about what the Government is doing.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I thank the two Deputies who contributed to the debate and I will try to deal with the issues raised. Having raised the issue with the Tánaiste earlier, Deputy Sean Fleming makes much of this being the first debate on the Estimates. However, on the day of the budget, 14 October 2014, we published the comprehensive expenditure report, which laid out the expenditure allocation to every Department. We had an extensive debate on it with anyone who wished to contribute to the budget debate and many did so. The Revised Estimates were published subsequently and involve technical adjustments to it. Allocation choices were, by and large, determined and announced by me on budget day and debated extensively in the days following the announcement of the budget.

Subsequent to that, detailed Estimates were discussed line by line in committees. I agree strongly with the Tánaiste that it is a much better way of doing it. Having a general debate, with every Member talking about different things and the Minister trying to respond to 1,000 issues in a debate in the full Chamber, is not an effective way of doing the business. We changed the whole budgetary situation. We do it earlier than the time when Estimates were discussed well into the year, with most of the money spent. This was certainly true throughout the reign of Fianna Fáil. Most of the money was spent before people got around to voting on it and that is why we fundamentally changed the way we do budgeting. We do it earlier, according to the new European semester, and we do the Estimates earlier. The Estimates are sent to the committee and we have outcomes as part of the budgetary process so that Members can look into what they are getting for their money rather than simply seeing whether the money is spent.

Two points were made by Deputies Sean Fleming and Richard Boyd Barrett. With regard to health, we were able to provide additionality to health for the first time this year in the base Estimate because we had a growing economy with greater income for the State. When I introduced a large Supplementary Estimate, which caused Deputy Sean Fleming some agitation last year, I explained that we had the capacity to meet real demand. We did not have that capacity when we went into government because of the catastrophic state of the finances that the Government inherited from Deputy Sean Fleming's party. When we had the capacity last year, we reallocated money to those core issues. It is instructive how we spend the money on health services. Since 2011, administrative staff have fallen by 2%, core staff, like consultants, have increased by 7% and non-consultant hospital doctors have increased by 4%. We have tried our best to reprioritise, even where resources are constrained.

With regard to homelessness and housing, we regard social housing as a critical issue, which is why it was the most important focus of my budget speech in October. We allocated €2.2 billion into the housing area and we can go through it in some detail. I am sure the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government would be happy to do so.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett We would love to do so but we never get the chance.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I do not know whether Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett attended the meeting of the Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government where members forensically examined the intentions of the Minister. We have allocated €1.3 billion in Exchequer funding over the coming three years. In addition, private financing will be sourced for a PPP package of €300 million and a further €400 million from the resources of the sale of State assets. We specifically created a new general purpose vehicle to provide housing. Local authorities, including the one in the constituency of Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, are involved in discussions about how it should be rolled out.

I strongly refute the notion that we have not made the right choices. We have addressed social need as we saw it and protected social welfare as best we could, during a catastrophic time for our finances. It is difficult to take lessons about expenditure reductions from the party opposite, which caused the crisis that ruined our country. Thankfully, we have put things back together again.

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