Written Answers Nos. 1-34
Dáil Éireann Debate
Written Answers Nos. 1-34
Flood Relief Schemes Funding
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): The River Suck is the main tributary of the River Shannon. It meets the Shannon a few kilometres north of the village of Shannonbridge. The River Suck forms part of the River Suck Joint Drainage District. As such, responsibility for maintenance of the channel rests with Galway and Roscommon County Councils. The maintenance work is undertaken through the River Suck Joint Drainage District Committee.
13. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of Supplementary Estimates he expects to be introduced in 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29676/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Managing the delivery of public services within agreed budgetary allocations is a key responsibility of each Minister and Department, and several measures are in place to help ensure that these budgetary targets continue to be met. My Department is in regular communication with all Departments and Offices to ensure that expenditure is being managed within agreed allocations and we monitor their drawdown of funds from the Exchequer against published expenditure profiles. Where necessary, my Department also meets line Departments to review financial and budgetary management. I report to Government regularly on spending trends, and we publish information each month as part of the Exchequer Statement.
This effective management of spending by Departments is continuing in 2014 with the latest data on expenditure to end-June 2014 showing that, in overall terms, spending is on track with 49% of the gross voted allocation (49.6% of the net allocation) spent at the half-way point through the year. Overall spending was in accordance with profiles - gross voted spending was just 0.4% under profile (€95m) and net spending was 0.6% (€119m) under profile.
One supplementary estimate for the amount of €2 million has been voted by the Dáil to date this year; this was required to set up a new service under the Department of an Taoiseach for a Commission of Investigation. I expect that some further supplementary estimates will be required in connection with the additional Exchequer investment I announced in May as a further round of Stimulus investment from the proceeds of the disposal of State assets. These supplementary estimates will be progressed later in the year when we have more detailed information about the actual level of funding that the projects involved have needed to draw down in the year. The Government decided in February of this year to make additional funding available for infrastructure repair and restoration works associated with winter storms. The necessity for supplementary estimates in relation to this work will be considered later in the year taking into account the scale of works completed.
My Department will continue to monitor all current and capital Departmental expenditure on a monthly basis and will work with Departments to ensure they adhere to the expenditure ceilings set for them. At this point, the performance for the year to date is encouraging and it is too early in the year to give any reliable indication on the potential requirements for any further supplementary estimates by year-end.
Public Procurement Contracts
14. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he expects outside consultants appointed by the State to carry out work on its behalf to take account of the Government's official pay ceiling in remunerating employees engaged directly in work on State contracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29680/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): The conditions governing the appointment of consultants by the State are governed by national and EU rules in relation to public procurement. The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money.
Public procurement procedures require all applicants to meet certain standards when applying for public contracts. As part of the standard terms and conditions of a contract for service, the contractor is required to provide the services with good industry practice and comply with all applicable laws including employment legislation. The contractor is responsible for compliance with all the statutory requirements of an employer and is solely responsible in law for the employment, remuneration, taxes, immigration and work permits of all personnel retained for the purposes of complying with the contract agreement. The contractual relationship is between the public body and the main contractor for the provision of services. The public body procuring services has no role in the employment relationship between a contractor, awarded a public contract, and their employees. Any conditions of employment are exclusively a matter between the two parties.
My colleague, Mr Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has overall policy responsibility for employment rights. The National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) is responsible for enforcing minimum statutory employment rights and entitlements in the State and, in undertaking that role, carries out a range of functions including the provision of employment rights information and the inspection of employment related records. NERA operates a system of risk based inspections in sectors where there are identifiable risks. Inspections are also carried out in response to complaints received and routine inspections are undertaken as a control measure.
Public Procurement Contracts
15. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the options local authorities have when tendering for construction projects to ensure locally-based businesses can compete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29621/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Public Procurement is governed by EU and National rules. The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money. It would be a breach of the EU rules for a public body to favour or discriminate against particular candidates on grounds such as nationality, organisational size, etc. and there are legal remedies which may be used against any public body infringing these rules.
Civil Service Accountability
16. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the timetable he envisages for implementing the report of the independent panel on strengthening Civil Service accountability and performance; the actions he has taken to commence its implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29681/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): In January last, I established the Independent Panel on Strengthening Civil Service Accountability and Performance. This followed the publication of the consultation paper on the Programme for Government commitments: 'Strengthening Civil Service Accountability and Performance'. The Independent Panel oversaw an extensive public consultation process on these issues, reviewed submissions received, met with a large number of stakeholders, and undertook their own analysis and assessment. The Independent Panel furnished their report to me by end May, and I subsequently published it on 12 June 2014.
The Independent Panel's recommendations are aimed at enabling the development of a stronger performing and more accountable Civil Service. These include establishing an Accountability Board for the Civil Service, appointing a Head of the Civil Service, introducing a performance management system for Secretaries General, and publishing who does what and to whom they are answerable in the Civil Service.
The Independent Panel's report and its recommendations are currently being considered in the context of determining the agreed actions to be implemented under the Civil Service Renewal Programme. The Civil Service Renewal Plan is currently being finalised and I expect to be in a position to bring it to Government in due course.
Public Procurement Contracts
17. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the criteria and guidelines for the tendering of contracts by public bodies; his views on whether they are sufficiently robust to ensure such contracts contribute to the imperative to create jobs and more generally contribute to the growth of the Irish economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29620/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Contracts are awarded following a competitive process conducted in compliance with the National and EU rules. The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money. Public bodies cannot favour or discriminate against particular candidates on grounds of nationality and there are legal remedies which may be used against any public body infringing these rules. It is the responsibility of each contracting authority to ensure that tenderers comply with all the requirements of the process.
The State has immense purchasing power, spending in the region of €13 billion per annum on goods, services and works. This level of expenditure affords significant business opportunities for firms that can supply the products and services that are required by public bodies. The Office of Government Procurement estimates that approximately 95% of this annual procurement spend goes to Irish suppliers. It is clear therefore that public procurement activity is already a significant driver of employment opportunities and economic growth within the State.
As the Deputy is aware, my Department issued new procurement guidelines and procedures in April of this year to ensure that engaging with government procurement is easy and low cost. The initiatives announced in Circular 10/14 will open up opportunities for small businesses to bid for State business. It will also help to simplify and streamline the public procurement process, and reduce the administrative burden on businesses that want to tender for public contracts.
Businesses who are successful in winning public contracts often win repeat business and given the consistent nature of public procurement processes, are often well placed to win public business abroad. (The public procurement market in the EU is estimated to be valued in excess of €2.4 trillion annually.) As a Government we want to see Irish business being competitive and winning business both here and abroad.
Appointments to State Boards
18. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the number of appointments to State boards under the remit of his Department that do not go through the Public Appointments Service; his plans to review the manner in which appointments to State boards are made to ensure the most suitably qualified persons fill vacancies that arise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29679/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): As the Deputy is aware in 2011 the Government introduced new arrangements for the appointment of State board members. Under the new arrangements Departments now invite expressions of interest on their websites from the public in vacancies on the boards of bodies under their aegis. It is open to all members of the public regardless of gender, political affiliations or geographical location to apply for appointment to these vacancies. I am satisfied that the new arrangements introduced by the Government in 2011 have significantly improved transparency in the making of appointments to State Boards compared with the making of appointments in previous years.
Public Sector Reform Implementation
19. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the progress of the Government reform unit of his Department; if he will outline the composition of the unit and its operation, including the number of meetings held and areas of scrutiny; the way the progress of the unit is measured and monitored and if this includes external organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29594/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): The Government Reform Unit in my Department is responsible for progressing the Government Reform Programme as set out in the Programme for Government, and the Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016. This Unit is headed by a Assistant Secretary General on a 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) basis. It includes three Principal Officers (2.8 FTEs) who manage a staff of 12.2 FTEs who are responsible for legislative measures such as the Freedom of Information legislation, legal framework for the protection of whistleblowers, providing statutory powers of inquiry to the Houses of the Oireachtas, creating a statutory register of lobbying, data-sharing and governance legislation, and further developing the ethics framework.
Public Sector Staff Sick Leave
20. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason he decided to include absence due to pregnancy-related illness as sick leave under the public service sick leave scheme; and his views on the discriminatory impact this will have on women workers and their health. [29516/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): As I set out in detail in my responses to other questions on this specific issue, the need to protect women during pregnancy and ensure that they are not discriminated against is a priority that has been strongly reflected in the design of the new sick leave scheme. The new scheme operates its provisions for pregnancy-related illness in accordance with the principles of European law in relation to non-discrimination against pregnant workers. Furthermore, additional protections are in place through the less restricted use of the extended sick pay awarded under the Critical illness Protocol in cases of pregnancy related illness.
21. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he anticipates any further use of financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation; and the purpose or purposes for which he would be prepared to consider its future use. [29615/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): In the absence of any unforeseen significant economic shocks that would undermine the necessary but extremely difficult fiscal consolidation path which this Government has been required to pursue since 2011, I do not foresee any requirement for the enactment of further Financial Emergency Measures legislation. The Financial Emergency Measures legislation was enacted to provide significant and immediate reductions in overall Government expenditure to meet the catastrophic fall in Government revenues from 2008 on. The legislation enacted continues to make a significant contribution to meeting our international fiscal obligations including bringing the general government deficit below 3 per cent of GDP by 2015.
Under section 12 of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013, I must review the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts 2009-2013 annually and cause a written report of my findings to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. I completed my last review of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts on June 29 last and a copy of my review has been laid before each House of the Oireachtas. In this review I found that the measures currently in place continue to be necessary having regard to the purposes of the legislation, the revenues of the State and State commitments in respect of public service pay and pensions.
The consistent achievement of fiscal targets to date combined with significant structural reforms facilitated Ireland's exit from the EU/IMF support programme in late 2013. This achievement should not be underestimated and I have regularly acknowledged the contribution and sacrifices of public service workers and pensioners and others affected by the Financial Emergency measures.
Public Sector Staff Sick Leave
22. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform further to his decision to deem all employees, including part-time employees not eligible for the pension scheme, of education and training boards to be public servants for the purpose of applying the sick pay scheme in the sector; if he will provide the funding necessary for the ETBs to cover the cost of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29665/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): The introduction of a single public service sick leave scheme comprising a substantial reduction in public servants' access to paid sick leave, other than in the case of a critical illness, is an essential step in reducing the unsustainable cost of sick leave in the public service. The comprehensive application of the new scheme is a very important element in supporting the achievement of this objective. Given that this is a significant cost-reducing measure, I would not anticipate that its application will give rise to funding pressures in any public service body, indeed the opposite situation would be expected to pertain.
23. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the stage at which the review of expenditure by his Department of all Departments is at; the level of scrutiny this review will involve for Government expenditure; and if publication of the review will take place before budget 2015. [29517/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): I announced at the time of the 2014 Budget, last October, that a Comprehensive Review of Expenditure would be carried out during this year to help inform the multi-annual expenditure ceilings for the three years 2015 to 2017. This review process is now under way, and the outcome will help inform the decisions that Government will take when framing the 2015 Budget.
In 2011, the Government introduced a new medium term budgetary framework, which among other things introduced three-year expenditure ceilings for all Government Departments. To inform this new multi-annual approach to expenditure planning and management, the Government also agreed to carry out a Comprehensive Review of Expenditure once every three years, to focus on overall value for money and the efficiency and effectiveness of Government programmes. Under the current Comprehensive Review, which follows on from the last one in 2011, Government Departments are conducting a focused examination of each of their programme areas.
As with the review in 2011, the analysis carried out by each Department will help Government determine expenditure priorities for the next three years up to 2017. The Review will be published in conjunction with Budget 2015, and the supporting detailed analysis will be made available via my Department's website at the same time, as was the case with the 2011 Review.
Semi-State Bodies Mergers
24. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the cost-benefit analysis that has been undertaken in respect of the merger of commercial semi-State companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29678/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): I presume that the merger of commercial semi-State companies to which the Deputy's question refers is that proposed between Coillte and Bord na Móna. As the House will be aware, in June 2013 the Government decided, inter alia, that a fundamental restructuring of Coillte was required and that part of this process should involve a robust analysis of how to give effect to a beneficial merger of Coillte and Bord na Móna, with a view to creating a streamlined and refocused commercial state company in the bio-energy and forestry sectors in accordance with commitments made in the Programme for Government.
Since that decision, an Inter-Departmental Steering Group made up of representatives of my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the NewERA unit of the NTMA, and involving consultation with the companies as appropriate, has been considering how such a beneficial merger could be progressed. This consideration has been informed by work undertaken for the Group by NewERA, which considered the potential merger from a financial perspective.
NewERA's financial work found that while a full merger had the potential to achieve significant material financial benefits, it would involve very significant up-front implementation costs if implemented immediately. Such an approach would, in addition, pose a significant number of implementation risks that could negatively impact on the level of benefits realisable and the costs incurred. Accordingly, a full merger in the short term could not be recommended.
On the other hand, NewERA's work found that a partial merger of the two companies, focusing on the areas of overlap between the two businesses, had the potential to deliver substantial financial benefit to the shareholder but with lower implementation costs and risks, over a shorter timeline, and with a better benefit-to-cost ratio than an immediate full merger. It was on this basis, therefore, that the Government decided last month that Coillte and Bord na Móna should now work towards a partial merger of their businesses, focusing on the areas of overlap between the two companies. This partial merger will involve the establishment of a joint ventures between the two companies to manage their common business activities in biomass, wind energy, shared services, and recreation and tourism with a view to maximising the levels of benefit to the State and the companies in the medium term, while minimising the implementation costs.
25. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the date on which he will have the Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2012 enacted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29520/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): The Government published the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2012 on 3rd August, 2012 as part of its legislative programme. The Bill proceeded through its second stage in Seanad Éireann on 11th October 2012. The primary purpose of the Bill is to accelerate the national programme of revaluing every commercial and industrial property in the country which is being undertaken by the Valuation Office.
Since the second stage debate was taken in Seanad Éireann, officials in my Department and the Valuation Office have engaged in an extensive consultation process on various aspects of the Bill with a range of stakeholders. The legislation is quite complex and every effort is being made to expedite the passage of the Bill. I am currently considering draft final amendments to the Bill for proposal at Committee Stage and I would hope to see the Bill returning for Committee Stage in the Seanad shortly after the Summer recess.
26. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the extent, if any, to which he expects to be in a position to use economic growth as a means of achieving the targets laid down by the troika in 2015, having particular regard to the need to generate economic activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29617/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): While Ireland is no longer in a Troika programme, following our successful programme exit in December 2013, we are still subject to the fiscal deficit ceilings set out in the Excessive Deficit Procedure. The Government's overall fiscal target is to bring the General Government Deficit below 3 per cent of GDP by the end of 2015 and, in progressing towards that, we have targeted to reduce it to 4.8 per cent this year.
As the Deputy will be aware, last week the CSO issued updated GDP assessments, which include an upward revision to the level of GDP for 2013. The revision incorporates technical changes being implemented across all EU Member States. The 2013 revised GDP figures will improve the 2014 fiscal position and, assuming no other changes, it is estimated that it could bring the 2014 Deficit/GDP ratio closer to 4.5 per cent, than the 4.8 per cent forecast in the Stability Programme Update published by the Department of Finance in April 2014. This is positive news.
The CSO also published growth figures for the first quarter of 2014, which are encouraging. The increase of 4.1 per cent in GDP in the first quarter of 2014, when compared to the same quarter last year, along with the solid performance recorded in the Exchequer returns for the first half of 2014 are very welcome.
In setting priorities for Budget 2015 in October this year, the Government will continue to balance the need to ensure sustainability in the public finances with the need to stimulate economic activity and protect the vulnerable. The Budget will be framed using the most up to date economic and fiscal data, and any positive developments in relation to GDP will inform the Government's Budgetary decisions.
Freedom of Information Remit
27. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if, in the interests of open government, he is prepared to legislate to require every public body that is fully funded by the Exchequer, and other bodies that receive substantial public funding, to disclose pay and pension arrangements for staff; and if he will make public the details of the public service pension arrangements on retirement for senior managers. [29616/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): The current legal position is that under the existing Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, an exemption is provided for personal information, which would include pension arrangements, except where such information concerns a director or a member of staff of a public body, which is covered by FOI. The Freedom of Information Act specifically provides that where a public body is covered by FOI, the terms under which a member of staff, holds or has held office, is not personal information and as such is subject to release under FOI.
As the Deputy is aware, I have already provided in the new Bill that FOI will be extended to all public bodies. In addition, I propose to make an amendment at Report stage in the Dáil to broaden the definition of what does not constitute personal information to ensure that the terms and conditions of any individual who holds or held any office, or any position in an FOI body remunerated from public funds, will be made available under FOI, rather than just those of a director or member of staff as at present (other than where for the specific reasons I set out at Committee Stage for the Bill a specific exclusion applies against the release of such information in the case of the NTMA and its associated bodies).
28. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide details of the 60% decline in central Exchequer funding for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation between 2008 and 2014, from €1.93 billion to €0.78 billion according to voted expenditure figures; his views on whether this reduction in funding is impacting on that Department's ability to drive job creation and economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29663/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): A key objective of this Government is to create a positive environment to support business and growth, drive exports and facilitate job creation and retention by the enterprise sector. Your question in relation to the impact of any expenditure reduction on the Department of Jobs Enterprise and Innovation's ability to drive job creation and economic recovery is, in the first instance, a matter for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
However, I can clarify that the change in voted expenditure levels at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI) between 2008 and 2014 reflect in large part the transfer of FÁS and the National Training Fund from DJEI to the Department of Education and Skills in 2010. Funding for these functions amounted to over €1.1 billion in 2008 (€400m in respect of the National Training Fund and €711 million in respect of FÁS-related expenditure). Deduction of these elements results in a figure of €826 million for DJEI's gross expenditure in 2008. When compared with DJEI's 2014 gross allocation of €781 million, the reduction in voted expenditure between 2008 and 2014 is 5.4%.
Public Procurement Regulations
29. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the impact of his plans for public procurement reform on the delivery of community services; and if a cost-benefit analysis has been undertaken by his Department in relation to this. [29613/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Public Procurement is governed by EU and National rules. The aim of these rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money. These rules apply to Central Government Departments and bodies under their aegis, commercial or non-commercial state bodies, Local and regional authorities, health authorities and, entities that are substantially state-funded (over 50 per cent). The latter would include community service groups.
Reform of public procurement followed the publication of a Capability and Capacity Review of the Central Procurement Function in September 2012 which analysed the total State non-pay expenditure on goods and services, excluding capital expenditure and commercial semi-States. The State spends around €8.5 billion on goods and services each year. 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.
Public procurement in Ireland is complex, with different levels of procurement development, capabilities and systems across the public service. The Office of Government Procurement contracts will result in better value for money and will provide sourcing solutions that are smarter and more efficient. Given the budgetary pressures facing the public service, public procurement savings can support the dual objectives of meeting our fiscal targets and of maintaining/improving services for the public. Individual customer organisations will no longer need to tender separately for their (often common) goods and services. This will avoid duplication of effort and increase administrative efficiencies.
The Government acknowledges the significant role that the Voluntary and Community Sector plays in the Irish economy and will seek to ensure that the sector is fully engaged with public sector procurement by building awareness within the sector of their obligations to adhere to public sector procurement regulations and by providing advice and support to them in relation to public procurement matters.
Public Sector Staff Data
30. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of public sector workers on temporary contracts or other non-permanent contracts of employment in his Department. [29685/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): There are 176 out of 801 staff in my Department on fixed term contracts. 143 of these are Temporary Clerical Officers (TCOs) in PeoplePoint. PeoplePoint, the Civil Service Human Resources and Pensions Shared Service Centre, became operational in March 2013 and brings together shared HR and Pension processes and systems to ensure a more consistent and efficient HR and Pension Service. There are now over 24,000 employees availing of PeoplePoint's services across 20 Government Departments and Offices. The use of contract staff for these posts was necessary to ensure that business needs were met and as a temporary response to the demands of this new service. Plans are progressing to replace TCOs with permanent staff.
The Public Appointments Service (PAS) is currently running an open Clerical Officer competition and it is expected that panels will be in place by late September/early October. Once panels are in place it is intended to assign permanent Clerical Officers to PeoplePoint, ending the need for the current fixed term contract arrangements (143 TCOs). All contract staff are managed within budget, the employment control framework numbers for each area and in accordance with the Department of Finance Letter of 27 March 2009, Implementation of Savings Measures on Public Service Numbers.
Sale of State Assets
31. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the report of the European Commission post-programme review is correct in its assertion that the State will raise €500 million in revenue from asset sales; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29677/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): As the Deputy's question notes, the European Commission's Spring 2014 Post-Programme Surveillance Report on Ireland estimates that the sale of Bord Gáis Energy and two ESB power plants could, in their words, yield up to €500 million in government revenue in 2014. Deputies will appreciate that this represents the Commission's view of potential receipts. For my part, I am pleased to inform the House that, so far during 2014, the Exchequer has received over €197m in special dividends from the ESB, as a result of the sale of overseas assets in the UK and Spain, and that this week a special dividend of €150m was received from Ervia (formally Bord Gáis Éireann), representing the first instalment of proceeds from the sale of Bord Gáis Energy, which transaction was completed at the end of June.
Further special dividends will accrue from that sale. I am conscious that, under EUROSTAT rules, there are limits to the amount of such dividends that can benefit the GGB in any one year. In addition, further dividend payments by the company must await finalisation of the internal restructuring of Ervia, which will involve the establishment of the proposed new gas networks company in accordance with the Gas Regulation Act 2013 and the refinancing of its debt facilities as part of the re-organisation. This is expected to be completed later this year. I understand that Ervia's annual report is to be submitted to Government for approval shortly, at which point further detail on the Bord Gáis Energy sale, and the proceeds arising for the Exchequer as a result, will be announced by Ervia.
State Properties Data
32. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of State-owned properties that are currently unoccupied and the costs associated with same; the number of properties rented by the State from private landlords and the cost to the State of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29683/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): There are in excess of two hundred State owned properties currently vacant in the care of the Commissioners of Public Works, the majority of these being the recently closed Garda stations and residences. The OPW has a clearly defined policy relating to vacant properties that are identified as surplus to its requirements. In the first instance, the OPW engages with other Public Service bodies, including relevant Local Authorities, to establish the potential for alternative use, in advance of disposing to the market.
The maintenance costs for these properties are currently being collated and will be forwarded to the Deputy directly. At the end of 2013 the OPW had 394 commercial leases on 344 buildings for the purpose of providing office accommodation to Government Departments and Agencies. The total annual expenditure on rent and services on these leases amounted to €97m.
33. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will report on the implementation of the special adviser pay cap; and if he will report on the implementation of, and extent of compliance with, the guidelines on staffing of ministerial offices. [29612/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Instructions and Guidelines for Ministerial Appointments were revised and issued in March 2011 following decisions by the Government on a number of cost saving measures relating to the personal appointees of Ministers and Ministers of State. The guidelines specify that all appointments of ministerial staff, including the pay and terms and conditions of employment, require the prior sanction of my Department. Appointments from outside of the Civil Service also require the sanction of the Taoiseach. The guidelines provide that separate arrangements may apply to the staffing requirements of the Offices of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.
Special advisers have been employed by Ministers of successive Governments and perform an essential function in providing expert advice, expertise and insights on the key strategic issues facing Ministers on a daily basis. The appointment of special advisers requires the approval of Government in accordance with section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997. A Minister, or a Minister of State who regularly attends Cabinet, may appoint up to two special advisers. The legislation provides that there is no limit on the number of special advisers for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.
The guidelines provide that special advisers are to be placed on the Principal Officer (Standard) scale, which currently runs from €75,647 at the minimum to €87,258 at the maximum. Appointments are to be on the first point on the scale except where approval is given to a higher starting salary. In cases where a special adviser's basic pay prior to the appointment was greater than the minimum, it is open to Ministers to seek sanction from my Department to appoint the person at a higher starting salary. The Government recognised there would be occasions when a higher salary was required in order to secure the appointment of an adviser with particular skills and expertise. On this basis, the guidelines provide for specific individual exceptions in circumstances that are deemed appropriate.
Local Government Reform
34. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he is prepared to amend the Comptroller and Auditor General Act to allow for the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine and report on spending by local authorities. [29614/14]
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): The range of legislative provisions of the Comptroller and Auditor General Act, 1993 involve both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, while issues relating to Local Government Audit are a matter for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. In this context, the issue of a possible merger between the Local Government Auditing Service (LGAS) and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) was considered as part of the Government's programme for the rationalisation of state agencies. While it was decided not to merge these organisations, the process has led to engagement at senior management level between the two auditing bodies with regard to enhanced co-operation arrangements in areas such as professional training, value for money methodology and approach and the possibility of issuing joint reports within their existing respective mandates.
The recently enacted Local Government Reform Act 2014 introduced significant changes to local government. These changes included changes in the area of audit and oversight and the Act provided for the establishment of a National and Audit Oversight Commission for the sector. The National Oversight and Audit Commission was established on 1st July 2014 and appointments to that Commission are in the process of being made. This body will consider the quality and efficiency of delivery at local level to the communities and people that the local government system serves, and will have an overarching view of performance.
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