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National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 983 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy] Neither the Minister nor the Government was keen to improve the standard of transport in County Tipperary. Of course, the situation is very similar throughout the rest of rural Ireland.

County Tipperary was also excluded from the regional jobs plans, which are effectively part of this programme. Ten towns across the country were earmarked for development and the provision of advance factories and office facilities by IDA Ireland. Not one of these ten towns is located in County Tipperary. That is what these jobs plans mean for County Tipperary. Towns in the county are at a huge disadvantage when compared with the other ten towns that have been earmarked and with all the cities.

There is no doubt that the huge cost overruns relating to the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan will impact on various projects across the country, including those in County Tipperary. I refer, for example, to the reopening of inpatient psychiatric beds in Tipperary that were closed by the previous Government. This is now in the balance because of these overruns. There is the phase 2 development of South Tipperary General Hospital and the construction of a 50-bed ward. There is Our Lady's hospital in Cashel, which has had €14 million spent on it and is vacant and unopened. That project has also been put on the back-burner. We are not at all sure of the position regarding the development of the 100-bed unit at St. Patrick's Hospital for the elderly in Cashel and there is no news at all of the development of the Dean Maxwell home in Roscrea. Many of these projects will be affected by the lack of funding because of the overruns relating to the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan.

Bizarrely, the plan refers to promoting and improving town centres but the Government recently allowed An Post to move its post office from the square in Thurles. The local authority is going to spend something of the order of €8 million or €9 million on improving that square. The Government is allowing An Post to pull the carpet from under that development and is continuing a situation whereby there are significant retail closures and vacancies on the high streets in towns, not just in County Tipperary but across the country.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe It is worthwhile reflecting on the journey public infrastructure investment has made in recent times. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, public investment management assessment, PIMA, mission to Ireland in 2017 found that while Ireland had a reasonable stock of public capital assets, there were signs of infrastructure needs. Consequently, the Government has significantly accelerated public capital investment in line with national and international analysis, which concurs that Ireland's public capital infrastructure needs to be substantially strengthened in order to build the resilience of the economy in response to risks such as Brexit. As stated in the national development plan, public capital investment will increase to about 4% of modified gross national income, GNI*, and will be maintained at that level for the duration of the plan.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform recently completed an analysis of how Exchequer capital funding has been allocated and spent in the past 15 years. Gross capital expenditure increased by over 53% between the years 2005 and 2008, peaking at €9 billion. Significant cuts were applied to capital expenditure between 2009 and 2013 as public financial constraints took hold. Capital allocations were reduced by 62%, falling to a total capital allocation of €3.4 billion in 2013. Allocations have steadily increased since the low point in 2013. The overall 2019 capital provision of €7.3 billion is over double that allocated in 2013. Capital spend exceeded 5% of GNI* from 2008 to 2010. However, this was a result of the general economy contracting rather than capital spend increasing. The proportion of national income devoted to public capital fell to 2.3% in 2015. In 2019, at 3.5%, public investment is still below the level that obtained between 2005 and 2007. Clearly, however, the recovery of spend must match the capacity of the construction sector to deliver.

Exchequer capital allocations cover a wide range of expenditure items, including infrastructure projects, infrastructure programmes and investment programmes. Capital expenditure is varied and can include items such as: the purchase of IT equipment and software for Government administration; the purchase, construction and management of buildings; the roads programme; the school building programme; the housing programme; the purchase of vehicles and grants to industry delivered through the enterprise agencies; and forestry premia. The multi-annual Exchequer capital allocations agreed under the national development plan underpin each Department's capital planning process for a five-year period, initially from 2018 to 2022. Capital spend is concentrated in four sectors, which account for over 70% of total spend over the whole period. These are the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Housing, Planning and Local Government; Education and Skills; and Health. With the exception of transport, all the main sectors received their highest ever nominal allocations in 2019. As the overall level of capital funding is approaching an all-time high, with a commitment to further increases over the lifetime of the national development plan, the focus needs to be on efficient application of this funding and ensuring the capacity of the construction sector to deliver in respect of the increased demand.

In that regard, an important element of the progress that has been made in the past year relates to the work being undertaken to increase the capacity of the construction sector to deliver the investments under Project Ireland 2040. The Government and the construction sector group are actively working on increasing growth and productivity in the construction sector, and a number of actions have been included as part of Future Jobs Ireland. Modernising the sector through greater use of technology presents an opportunity to alleviate some of these pressures. The Office of Government Procurement has produced a strategy to increase the use of digital technology in public works projects. Building information modelling is now the norm in the private sector, particularly for foreign direct investments relating to data centres or complex manufacturing facilities. We are now focused on bringing this to the public sector. For example, the upcoming Dunkettle interchange in Cork will be delivered with building information modelling. Furthermore, the Office of Government Procurement has recently commenced the review of the capital works management framework. This has the potential to produce greater efficiencies and value for money for the taxpayer and for the industry. During the past year, engagement between the construction industry and Government assessed sectoral issues such as costs, labour supply, productivity and waste management. The group is working to secure the sustainability and vitality of the construction industry.

Various initiatives are under way to promote the capacity of the construction sector. The Government's expert group on future skills needs is working to assess demand in the sector and to come up with some new actions. Furthermore, the industry members of the construction sector group are working on a campaign to improve the attractiveness of construction sector careers, including selling the sector as modern, technology-centric and environmentally sustainable. In addition, we continue to drive growth in apprenticeships and changes to the work permit regime. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is leading an extensive analysis of construction sector productivity and the development of a strategy to drive improvement. This is likely to have implications for Departments and agencies as well as industry. This will also take forward actions on the development of a construction centre of excellence.

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