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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 17-25
 Header Item Sale of State Assets
 Header Item Public Procurement Contracts
 Header Item Public Sector Staff Remuneration
 Header Item Public Service Reform Plan Measures
 Header Item Public Expenditure Statistics
 Header Item Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale
 Header Item Budget Measures

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 804 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 70 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 17-25

Sale of State Assets

 17. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin if he will outline the full extent of the anticipated disposal of any State assets in the context of public expenditure reform and the targets set in the context of the Troika agreement by his predecessors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24673/13]

 19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin if he will provide a progress report on the consideration of State asset disposals such as Coillte and other State assets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24624/13]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 19 together.

  The House will be aware from my announcement in February of last year of the overall shape and scale of the State asset disposal programme that is being pursued. In brief, the disposal programme that the Government has agreed consists of:

  The sale of Bord Gáis Éireann’s energy business (but not including BGÉ’s gas transmission or distribution systems or the two gas interconnectors, which will remain in State ownership);

  The sale of some of ESB’s non-strategic power generation capacity;

  Disposal of the State’s remaining shareholding in Aer Lingus, when market conditions are favourable in circumstances that accord with Government transport policy and at an acceptable price to Government;

  After further consideration, and having ruled out the sale of Coillte’s land holdings, the Government has also determined that a concession for the harvesting rights to Coillte forests would be proposed for sale.

  I am pleased to report that significant progress has been made to-date: Bord Gáis Éireann formally launched the sale process for its energy business on 3rd May last and I expect that the sale will be concluded by the end of this year. ESB is also about to commence the sale of some of its non-strategic power generation assets, as announced last October. I expect that the sale of two of ESB’s overseas assets – at Marchwood in the UK and   Amorbieta in Spain – will complete in 2013.

  In regard to Aer Lingus, the European Commission’s recently completed investigation of Ryanair’s bid for the company has been a complicating factor in the disposal of the State’s stake. The UK’s Competition Commission has now also reopened its investigation into Ryanair’s holding in its rival. Until this and possible appeals processes are exhausted, it is unlikely that optimal conditions will exist for a sale of the Government’s remaining shareholding. Nevertheless, the Government remains open to considering opportunities to dispose of its shareholding and will, in the meantime, continue to manage the holding in a responsible manner in order to protect the State's interests and with the aim of maximising its value.

In regard to Coillte, on foot of the Government’s decision last year that a concession for the harvesting rights to the company’s forests be considered for sale, an Inter-Departmental Steering Group was established, comprising representatives of my Department, the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and NewERA, to progress the proposed transaction and advise on how it should be implemented.

  The Steering Group has worked closely with Coillte to analyse the various financial, policy and technical issues that arise in the context of a sale of harvesting rights. These covered all of the concerns that have been raised by various interest groups, including, amongst others, the issue of public access to the forests, replanting obligations to ensure the continued existence of our forests, harvesting policy, the issue of supply of timber to sawmills, as well as the implications for a post-transaction Coillte. In this context, the Steering Group also met with representatives of the Coillte Board and management, representatives of the Coillte Group of Unions, and the Chairman and members of the Irish Timber Council.

  A number of detailed financial, technical and other specialist reports were also prepared for Coillte in late 2012 by external specialist consultancy bodies, in full consultation with the Board of Coillte and its executive management, which have also been considered by the Steering Group.

  The Steering Group has now reported to the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine and myself in relation to its work to date. It is our intention to bring a memorandum to Government on this matter in the near future.

Public Procurement Contracts

 18. Deputy Billy Kelleher Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin his view on fears expressed by the Small Firms Association that plans to centralise the way in which it buys goods and services threaten to cut small businesses out of State contracts and lead to job losses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24655/13]

 28. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin the feedback he has received from the small and medium enterprise and micro-business sectors with regards to collaborative procurement. [24629/13]

 32. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin his views on reports that his plans to centralise procurement will exclude many small businesses from the tendering process, resulting in business closures and job losses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24623/13]

 35. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin if he will provide a progress update on the work of the new National Procurement Office. [24630/13]

 36. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin the collaborative procurement training he intends to provide for business tendering for public procurement contracts. [24632/13]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I propose to take Questions Nos. 18, 28, 32, 35 and 36 together.

  Reform of public procurement is one of the major projects of key strategic importance in the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan, which was published in November 2011. Procurement of supplies and services accounts for around €9 billion of current spending by the State per annum. This represents a very significant portion of overall spending and it is, therefore, essential that the Public Service achieves maximum value for money and operational efficiency in its approach to public procurement.

  Progress has been made on several of the actions for procurement reform contained in the Public Service Reform Plan. The Government agreed on 12 June, 2012 to implement mandatory arrangements in respect of the centralised purchasing frameworks organised by the National Procurement Service (NPS).

  The National Procurement Service (NPS) has put in place a number of national arrangements designed to secure better value for money from leveraging the public service’s buying power in relation to a range of goods and services that are commonly purchased across the public service. These national arrangements have benefits that include:

 - cash savings;

 - administrative savings from reduced duplication of tendering;

 - greater purchasing expertise;

 - improved consistency; and,

 - enhanced service levels.

  Last year my Department issued Circular 06/12 which implements the Government decision by making it a mandatory requirement that public service bodies avail of specified national arrangements put in place by the NPS. These national arrangements will secure best value for money and facilitate contracting authorities to deliver services within their budgetary constraints.

  While the key purpose of Circular 6/12 is to enable the State to do more with less by aggregating procurement to secure better value for money, it is worth noting that such aggregation arrangements can be implemented in a manner that achieves value for money with a minimal negative impact, or indeed a positive impact, on SMEs. While a number of the categories of goods and services mandated under the Circular are suited to single supplier national arrangements, these need not be accepted as the norm. The greater use, where appropriate, of multi-supplier frameworks can address local supplier issues while also ensuring on-going cost competitiveness of the framework itself. Such multi-supplier frameworks may also offer SMEs the opportunity to participate in national level contracts, thereby offering valuable reference work when competing for public procurement contracts in other jurisdictions.

  In order to encourage greater SME participation the NPS, over the past three years, has conducted a targeted programme of education for suppliers who wish to learn more about doing business with the Irish Public Service. This programme consists of seminars, workshops and large scale 'meet the buyer' events hosted nationwide. To date the NPS has facilitated workshops and presented at seminars to over 4,500 SMEs nationwide. Parallel with these events the NPS also works closely with business representative bodies such as ISME and IBEC to provide briefings for their members.

  Larger enterprises were also encouraged to consider the practical ways that SMEs could be included in their proposals to maximise the social and economic benefits of the contracts that result from these tenders. For example, the indigenous company, which won the Stationery contract, with an estimated value of €10m per annum, is sourcing up to 60% of their products using 136 local agents and manufacturers.

  In addition, an external review of the central procurement function was commissioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The report of the review, which was published in September, found that significant savings can be achieved through the implementation of a transformational change to the central procurement model.

  In December 2012, arising out of recommendations in the report of the review of the central procurement function the Minister announced the appointment of a Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) to lead a key element of the Government’s Public Service Reform agenda. The new approach to public procurement will involve:

-   integrating procurement policy, strategy and sourcing in one office;

-   strengthening spend analytics and data management;

-   much greater aggregation of purchasing across public bodies to achieve better value for money;

-   examining the specifications set out for goods and services;

-   evaluating demand levels to assess how demand and volume can be reduced; and

-   strengthening supplier and category management.

  Since the appointment of Paul Quinn, CPO, on 28 January 2013, he has initiated and completed a series of engagements (workshops and one-to-one meetings) with key stakeholders within the public sector and their representatives in relation to the development of the proposed governance structures, implementation plan, transition arrangements and savings targets for the procurement function. The following sectors were engaged in workshops / meetings: Health, Education, Local Government, Defence, Justice, and other Central Government Departments.

  To summarise: we in government want better value for money for our substantial procurement spend and we want Irish SMEs, where necessary, to form alliances and networks to ensure they can tender on a competitive basis for this work. To ensure the reform process take account of the needs of stakeholders further consultations will be undertaken with employees and workers’ representatives as the new Office for Government Procurement is established. We are committed to ensuring that SMEs are fully engaged in the process and will be encouraged, where necessary, to form alliances and networks to ensure they can tender on a competitive basis for this work.

  Question No. 19 answered with Question No. 17.

Public Sector Staff Remuneration

 20. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin his plans to implement a more streamlined process of negotiating pay and conditions for public sector employees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24647/13]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The public service currently employs some 290,000 employees across individual Sectors, Departments and Agencies each with a diversity of terms and conditions of employment, skills, professional backgrounds and expertise. They are represented by a wide variety of individual representative associations and unions. Accordingly public service wide negotiations on pay and conditions are inevitably complex and challenging.

However, as they reflect the diversity of the workforce I am satisfied with the consultative and representative structure which applies in each sector and deals with day to day matters concerning the terms and conditions of employment of public servants. That is underpinned by the industrial relations machinery of the State, including the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission, or internal conciliation and arbitration mechanisms in specific sectors.

Public Service Reform Plan Measures

 21. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin if he has considered expanding the State's eGovernance capacity by following the Norwegian Altinn model of online service provision (details supplied); if the platform used by the Revenue service at present could be adapted to cover a much wider range of citizen interactions with the State, thereby potentially reducing costs significantly; if any cost benefit analysis has been conducted on this topic; if not, if he will commit to investigating the potential for the State offered by such a system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24518/13]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin My Department’s eGovernment Policy Unit is responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of eGovernment policy. The Government’s overarching approach to eGovernment is set out in the eGovernment Strategy which is available online (egovstrategy.gov.ie  ).

The eGovernment Policy Unit also fulfils an important role researching and investigating international best practices in eGovernment. The Unit is aware of the Norwegian Altinn portal for businesses, as well as one-stop-shop approaches adopted by other countries. Ireland’s gov.ie   portal received generally positive comment in the student case study provided by the Deputy.

  The Revenue Online Services are regularly enhanced to improve the quality of services to citizens and businesses taking account a of number of factors including costs and benefits. Revenue already cooperates with a range of public bodies, including the Motor Tax Office, the Companies Registration Office and the Valuation Office to enhance their service delivery.

  In addition, the Public Service CIO Council examines potential improvements to online service delivery. This includes analysis of national and international best practice. The one-stop-shop model is already applied within specific sectors. For example, the Companies Registration Office CORE system is a one-stop-shop for business registration activities. Revenue’s online services are considered as best practice internationally.

  Easy access to a wide range of information and services is provided via gov.ie and the Citizen’s Information Board website.

Public Expenditure Statistics

 22. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin if he will indicate his targets on public expenditure for budget 2014; the extent to which these targets are influenced by the EU Two-Pack regulations; his current views on the mix of strategies he intends to pursue to meet those targets.  [24520/13]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Departmental current expenditure ceilings for 2014 were set out in the Comprehensive Expenditure Report 2012-2014  , published in December 2011, which first set out Departmental expenditure ceilings on a three year basis. Updated 2014 ceilings, taking account of pressures and adjustments, were set out in the Expenditure Report 2013 (published in December 2012) together with an aggregate current expenditure ceiling for 2015. It is intended that the Departmental expenditure ceilings for the period 2014-2016 will be agreed by Government as part of the Budget and published at that time.

  The “two-pack” is a set of two EU regulations which recently finalised, and which introduces a common budgetary timeline across all euro area Member States. It requires that all Member States must publish their draft budget for central government and the main parameters of all other General Government sub-sectors no later than 15 October each year and that the final budget should be adopted or fixed upon annually by 31 December. To summarise, the “two-pack” focuses on the harmonisation of budgetary processes across Euro member states.

  As regards fiscal planning, a common set of EU rules have been set out in the Fiscal Compact Treaty and the so-called “six-pack” of EU regulations and one directive. Ireland’s reformed domestic fiscal arrangements including the recently enacted Fiscal Responsibility Act and the published Ministers & Secretaries (Amendment) Bill   are set within the context of these new EU rules.

  While the structural economic and budgetary reforms that the Government is delivering will bring a return to prosperity and growth over the medium term, the current international economic position combined with the high levels of uncertainty across the world’s financial market will require Ireland to maintain fiscal discipline into 2014. In this regard, the Expenditure Report 2013, published on 5 December 2012, includes further well-specified expenditure savings measures across every area of Government spending. These will be developed further in Budget 2014.   

Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale

 23. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin if he will report on his deliberations on the proposed sale of the harvesting rights of Coillte; the recommendation he will be making in relation to this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24626/13]

 25. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin if he will provide an update regarding the sale of Coillte's harvesting rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24622/13]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I propose to take Questions Nos. 23 and 25 together.

On foot of the Government’s decision last year that a concession for the harvesting rights to Coillte’s forests be considered for sale, an inter-Departmental Steering Group was established, comprising representatives of my Department, the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and NewERA, to progress the proposed transaction and advise on how it should be implemented.

The Steering Group has worked closely with Coillte to analyse the various financial, policy and technical issues that arise in the context of a sale of harvesting rights. These covered all of the concerns that have been raised by various interest groups, including, amongst others, the issue of public access to the forests, replanting obligations to ensure the continued existence of our forests, harvesting policy, the issue of supply of timber to sawmills, as well as the implications for a post-transaction Coillte. In this context, the Steering Group also met with representatives of the Coillte Board and management, representatives of the Coillte Group of Unions, and the Chairman and members of the Irish Timber Council.

A number of detailed financial, technical and other specialist reports were also prepared for Coillte in late 2012 by external specialist consultancy bodies, in full consultation with the Board of Coillte and its executive management, which have also been considered by the Steering Group.

The Steering Group has now reported to the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine and myself in relation to its work to date. It is our intention to bring a memorandum to Government on this matter in the near future.

Budget Measures

 24. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin the consideration he has given to the Scottish model of equality budgeting. [24634/13]

 29. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin in the context of the current changes to the annual budgetary process if he will consider the inclusion of equality budgeting within the new framework. [24633/13]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 29 together.

  With regard to budgetary matters, when focusing on the primary objectives of reducing the deficit and returning sustainability to the public finances, it has been of vital importance to the Government to spread the burden of the adjustments in as fair and equitable a manner as possible, while also seeking to minimise their negative impact on economic growth. The Government must also try to ensure that the available resources are spent carefully and that critical services continue to be delivered.

I would note that the Scottish model of Equality Budgeting has similar parallels to a number of recent reforms we have implemented. Most notably the Scottish budgetary process involves the publication of a draft budget, which allows for public consultation and debate on the particulars of the budget before it is finalised. As you know, the new ‘whole-of-year-budgeting’ reform, announced in the Comprehensive Expenditure Report 2012-2014 enhances the role and the policy relevance of the Oireachtas in particular with regard to the role of Committees in ex ante   consideration of resource allocation priorities in each area. This provides a forum in which Oireachtas Committees and Departments can assess and discuss the equality implications of any policy proposal in advance of the final Estimates.

  A recent OECD report, published on 15 May, found that income distribution among Irish households was more equal than the average across the rest of all other OECD nations. In addition to this, the most recent Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2011 illustrates the strong performance of social transfers in protecting those on the lowest incomes. In 2011, social transfers (including pensions) reduced the at-risk-of-poverty rate from 50.7 per cent to 16 per cent.

  The Programme for Government contains a clear commitment that all public bodies would take due note of equality and human rights in carrying out their functions. The State and its bodies must, of course, comply with all provisions of equality legislation in the development and delivery of policies and services.

  Finally, Cabinet procedures require that proposals put to Government indicate clearly whether there is any impact of the proposal on, amongst other things, gender equality, persons experiencing or at risk of poverty or social exclusion and people with disabilities and these considerations are taken into account when taking Government decisions on Budget matters.

  Question No. 25 answered with Question No. 23.


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