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Estimates for Public Services 2020 (Continued)

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 995 No. 5

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  2 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan] The variation in expenditure from year to year is primarily driven by the number of individuals who will opt to retire before reaching their compulsory retirement age and whose age, service, grade or pay level are variable and uncertain. The Estimate being proposed today involves a gross provision of €640.1 million, representing an increase of €25 million, or 4.1%, on the gross figure for superannuation. This reflects an increase in the number of pensioners on the payroll and the number of civil servants reaching retirement age this year. The increase in gross expenditure is mitigated by an increase in contributions from the single public service pension scheme.

A modest increase to the State Laboratory's 2020 Estimate under Vote 14 will allow for investment in specialised laboratory equipment enabling the lab to respond to increases in the number of samples to be tested for veterinary drug residues following the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

The National Shared Services Office, NSSO - Vote 18 - has played an important role in the reform of public services in recent years through the delivery of human resources services, payroll services and shared services to clients in the Civil Service and the public service. The increase of the NSSO's gross budget by 10% in 2020 reflects the continued need for investment to save, in other words, to deliver more efficient standardised services.

The Estimate providing for the Office of the Ombudsman, Vote 19, will allow the various constituent offices to deal with their increased workload, continue investment in ICT modernisation and meet the challenge of delivering essential services to the public remotely at this time.

The 2020 Estimate provides a gross allocation of €505.427 million for the Office Public of Works, OPW, which is my responsibility. This supports the ongoing and widely respected work of the OPW and the provision of vital services to people across the areas of flood risk management and estate management, including our much-valued heritage estate. Our programme for Government recognises that climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing our country. The OPW has a significant role to play in climate action in two specific areas, namely, ensuring the energy-efficiency of the State's building stock and implementing a holistic approach to flood risk management.

At the core of the OPW's flood risk management work is the objective of reducing the flood risk to people, property, infrastructure and the environment to the greatest extent possible. In the context of this role, the OPW delivers services in four key areas. These include: strategic planning to manage future flood risk, including the co-ordination on behalf of the Government of cross-sectoral policies that mitigate flood risk; a programme of capital investment delivered in partnership with local authorities; programme maintenance of 11,500 km of river channels, including 800 km of embankments, and of arterial drainage; and advising the State and the general public on preparation for and response to flooding events.

The OPW has completed the largest study of flood risk ever undertaken in the history of the State, the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme, CFRAM. This study included an analysis of significant flood risks throughout 300 designated communities that are home to more than 3 million people. It provided 29 flood risk management plans which prioritise feasible measures to manage the assessed flood risk. As Deputies will be aware, the Government launched a €1 billion flood risk management investment programme under the National Development Plan 2018-2027 as part of Project Ireland 2040. Since the launch of the flood risk management plan in May 2018, the OPW has almost tripled the number of major flood relief schemes at design and construction stage, increasing the number from 33 to 92 by the end of 2019. This investment will provide protection to 95% of the homes identified under CFRAM as being at significant risk of flooding. It will also deliver sustainable benefits to our communities.

The OPW has incorporated assessments of the potential impacts of climate change into the CFRAM programme to identify potential future risks. It takes account of the need for adaption in the design and implementation of each flood relief scheme. In addition to this, the OPW has prepared a climate change sectoral adaptation plan for flood risk management which runs from 2019 to 2024. This is in line with the requirements of the national adaptation framework and the climate action plan of 2019. The plan was approved by the Government in October 2019 and includes a range of actions to adapt our flood risk management practice to effectively manage the potential impacts of climate change on future flood risk. Managing Ireland's flood risk is a long-term commitment requiring a multisectoral approach involving both capital infrastructural measures and non-infrastructural measures. The OPW co-ordinates an integrated whole-of-Government approach to flood risk management and an allocation of €126.219 million has been provided for within the Estimate to deliver this essential service.

The OPW's second significant programme, estate management, has been allocated a gross sum of €379.208 million. This allocation supports essential work in the management, design, maintenance and conservation of State properties, including Civil Service office accommodation and our internationally recognised heritage sites and monuments. In all, the OPW manages 2,500 properties on behalf of the State. The OPW continues to focus on optimising and sustaining modern, flexible and energy-efficient working environments for Departments and their employees. Like all public bodies, the OPW is in the process of responding to the immediate challenge arising from Covid-19 and will have a key role to play in designing the workplace of the future for the Civil Service. The OPW is working with other Departments to address this issue and to ensure new and agile ways of working are developed to meet the changing requirements for our office accommodation.

The OPW is also responsible for the management and conservation of some of Ireland's most significant heritage properties, monuments, gardens and arboreta. The management role includes the curation and presentation of 30 major historical properties, gardens and arboreta and significant collections of art, artefacts, plants and trees. It also ensures public well-being and enjoyment of these estates. Heritage continues to play a pivotal role in our tourism sector, which, like many other business activities, has been sorely affected by the current pandemic. It is important, therefore, that we adequately fund this area in order to ensure we are all well positioned to support the recovery of the sector and the wider economy.

I have only made reference to a small section of the work of the OPW and I have not gone into the detail of how it can contribute widely to the economic stimulus. However, it goes without saying that investment in the work programme of the OPW reaches into every county and community in the country, providing support and significant public benefits.

The Minister of State with responsibility for public procurement and eGovernment, Deputy Ossian Smyth, will address the issue of the Votes in his own areas of responsibility.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Ossian Smyth): Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth As Minister of State with responsibility for public procurement and eGovernment, I am very pleased to introduce the 2020 Estimates for the Votes for the Office of Government Procurement and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, OGCIO.

  The Vote for the OGCIO, Vote 43, is new and has only been established this year. As Minister of State with responsibility for eGovernment, I am pleased to lead the continued digital transformation across government and the implementation of associated strategies through the OGCIO. It is important that the State matches the productivity gains which 21st century technology is bringing to industry. As a result, it is essential to have a dedicated Minister and a public body to champion, innovate with and harness automation and technology. This can enable public service employees to give their best, provide greater value for money for the taxpayer and improve services for the citizen. The establishment of the Vote for the OGCIO will enable an even wider adoption of its full range of build-to-share services, which in turn will drive digital transformation in government at a faster pace by freeing up Departments and bodies to focus on transformation initiatives rather than simply keeping the lights on.

  Building on our recent experiences of digitally enabled large-scale remote working, there is much we can learn to introduce more long-term improvements in how we work throughout the Civil Service and the public service and how we serve our stakeholders. The impact of the OGCIO Vote will be seen on two fronts. It will enable more bodies to avail of the OGCIO's common ICT services and it will provide increased scope for the OGCIO to drive the Government's digital agenda through further strategic investment, thus ensuring digital transformation is a high priority across all sectors of Government.

  In the current situation, it is even more critical that the public service continues to develop digital services that are consistently easy and convenient to use. In recent months we have seen the value of our public service portal in providing the single source for information for citizens about the pandemic itself and the Government response. Use of the platform has increased by 760% from 2019. The key to progress in providing digital public services is having people with the right skills in the right roles to develop the services. We have been working with Civil Service HR departments to progress a range of initiatives relating to ICT professionalisation in the Civil Service. I am very pleased with the progress of our pilot. An apprentice ICT specialist programme has been designed and more than 30 apprentices have already been placed with 11 Departments and offices. I look forward to seeing our apprentices qualify and join the Civil Service ICT cohort in the coming year. I am also looking into a similar programme for retraining people whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic and the related growth in digitisation and automation.

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