MINUTE OF THE MINISTER FOR FINANCE ON REPORT DATED 6 APRIL, 1960, OF THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS.
Paragraph 1—Further reports on the matters referred to in the following paragraphs of the report dated 19 February, 1958, of the Committee of Public Accounts:—
Paragraph 17—Arrears of annuities in respect of repayable advances to the Irish Sea Fisheries Association for boats and gear.
On 31 March, 1960, advances from the Exchequer to the former Sea Fisheries Association (for the repayment of which An Bord Iascaigh Mhara was made liable under section 27 of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1952) were outstanding to the amount of £318,000, including unpaid interest. The assets held by An Bord on the same date against that sum were estimated at approximately £132,000. As there do not appear to be any prospects that the net deficiency of £186,000 can be made good by An Bord, the Minister is satisfied that the irrecoverable amount should now be written off and he has authorised the Minister for Lands to seek the approval of the Dáil to this course by means of an appropriate provision in the Vote for Fisheries.
Paragraph 22—Inventories of Pictures.
As the Committee has already been informed, a full inventory of the pictures cannot conveniently be made because of lack of space. The matter is under consideration.
Paragraph 2—Shortwave transmitter and associated stores.
Prior to 1 June, 1960, portion of the stores was sold for £1,600. On 1 June, 1960, the transmitter and the balance of the stores, in common with other property, were transferred to Radio Éireann by virtue of Section 32 (1) of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960. The value of the transmitter and stores transferred to Radio Éireann will fall to be ascertained for the purpose of being certified by the Minister for Finance pursuant to Section 32 (10) of the Act, and the Broadcasting Authority will be liable to repay the value so determined in due course. The Committee will be informed when the certified value of the equipment becomes available.
Paragraphs 3, 7, 8, 10 and 11.
These paragraphs do not appear to call for comment.
OFFICE OF THE REVENUE COMMISSIONERS.
Paragraph 4—Cases subject to review in the Estate Duty Branch.
The Revenue Commissioners have informed the Minister that the arrears of cases awaiting completion in the Estate Duty Branch have been reduced further from a total of 14,514 as at 30 September, 1959, to a total of 10,492 as at 30 June, 1960. The Commissioners expect that these arrears will continue to show substantial reductions and that it may be possible to have them reduced to a minimum level within a further twelve or eighteen months.
Paragraph 5—Grants to Health Authorities under the Health Services (Financial Provisions) Act, 1947.
The Department of Local Government is supplied at intervals of a few months with a list of outstanding audits and where there is any indication of abnormal delay attention is specially directed to individual accounts. The audit of these accounts forms only a part of the duties of the Local Government Auditors, whose work must in the interests of general economy be arranged so as to achieve maximum output. It is understood that, so far as possible, the audits are at present arranged so as to minimise the delay in furnishing certified accounts of health expenditure but that to bring the audits of all health authorities to completion within a shorter period than at present would require a revision of staffing arrangements at increased cost.
The existing arrangements provide that, by the end of the year following the year of account, all but 0.5% of the amount of grant payable on the basis of the final, but unaudited, account of each health authority has been paid over to the health authority. The alterations as a result of audit in amounts of expenditure admissible for grant are relatively very small.
For these reasons it is felt that the present position as regards completion of audits, which has improved considerably when compared with previous years, is reasonably satisfactory. It is felt that the Department of Health should continue to aim at the operation of the existing arrangements as efficiently and expeditiously as possible and that the expense entailed in a reorganisation of the audit arrangements to give special priority to the accounts of health authorities would not be justified.
RATES ON GOVERNMENT PROPERTY.
Paragraph 6—Payments for Water Supplies.
It is estimated that the water rate payments included in the contribution in lieu of rates paid from this Vote in 1957-58 were duplicated to the extent of £300 approximately in the payments made from other Votes for water supplied to State-owned premises other than military barracks. Similar duplication to the estimated extent of £1,700 arose for water supplied to military barracks, but this estimate may fall to be reduced considerably in the light of a review being made by the Commissioner of Valuation of the scale of payments for this particular category of water. As the Committee is already aware, arrangements have been made to avoid any recurrence of such duplications of expenditure.
POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS.
Paragraph 9—Erroneous payment by the Post Office Savings Bank.
Approximately £88 has been recovered so far. Efforts to recover the remainder are continuing but are likely to be protracted.
Paragraph 12—Adequate Explanatory Notes to Appropriation Accounts.
The attention of Accounting Officers has been drawn to the Committee’s comments on the need to append adequate Explanatory Notes to Appropriation Accounts.
OFFICE OF THE REVENUE COMMISSIONERS.
Paragraph 13—Statement of outstanding taxes—income tax, sur-tax and corporation profits tax.
The annual statement of outstanding tax assessments furnished by the Revenue Commissioners to the Comptroller and Auditor General has been altered to meet the further suggestions of the Committee in this regard—see report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Appropriation Accounts, 1959/60.
Paragraph 14—Leasing of properties at Haulbowline.
The terms of the main lease granted to the Cork Harbour Oil Wharves Limited in 1931 for a period of 42 years provided for termination of the lease by the Company if desired at the expiration of the seventh year or any like successive period of 7 years of the 42 years. Agreement was reached at a conference held in 1947 by the Company and the Department of Defence whereby the jetty would be reconstructed at State expense on the understanding that the Company would pay (a) a sum of £4,000 in respect of their failure to maintain the old jetty and (b) an increase of £1,000 in the annual rent as from the date on which the new jetty would become available to them. The report of the Agreement reached at the conference was jointly signed by the Secretary of the Department of Defence and the Chairman of the Company, and was regarded as constituting a formal agreement. The Agreement provided that a new lease would be granted for a period of 99 years and that, apart from this and the higher rent, it would contain clauses similar to the old lease.
By virtue of the Agreement the State undertook to provide a jetty to a certain specification. The contract for the reconstruction work provided for completion of the jetty not later than 18 November, 1950, but, due to the failure of the contractor to abide by the terms of the contract, the work was not completed until 1953. Meanwhile, the Company went into voluntary liquidation. The Department of Defence took up with the Company the question of the payment by the Company of compensation in respect of outlay on the jetty. The Company pointed out, however, that in anticipation of the jetty being completed in 1950 in accordance with the contract they had incurred heavy expenditure by way of rent, rates, consultants’ fees, etc. According to legal advice which was then obtained the Company could not be legally held liable for the payment of compensation.
The original lease could, under its terms, have been terminated with effect from 30 April, 1952, but, following representations by the lessees, earlier surrender of the various properties involved was accepted in consideration of their paying a sum of £1,500 in respect of their release from liabilities under their lease.
In 1958, after advertising and direct enquiry from potential lessees, it was concluded that it would not be possible to lease the property for oil bunkering. (If the property had been so leased it would have been a condition of the lease that due provision be made for refuelling of the Naval Service vessels.) A decision was taken in October, 1958, to sell 15 of the tanks as they were surplus to requirements and their retention would have involved continued outlay on maintenance. The 15 tanks which were sold represented only 13.5% of the storage capacity of the 25 originally held.
The jetty is in constant use by the Naval Service and is essential for the efficient functioning of that service.
As the question of leasing the property was already decided when the arrangements were made with the development company in January, 1959, details of the arrangements would not be relevant to the matter under review. However, in reply to the Committee’s enquiry, it may be stated that no payment was made for the option, which was part of the general arrangements for the establishment of the ship building and repair industry.
Paragraph 15—Delay in repairing vessel engaged on garrison duty at Haulbowline.
Of the fifteen months during which the engines of the S.S. “Wyndham” were out of commission only two and a half months were taken up by the inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and the developments leading up to it. The hiring of the alternative vessel would have been necessary even if no inquiry had been required. This was due to other unavoidable delays such as those caused by the preparation of detailed drawings of complicated items and the manufacture under contract of the required castings. Arrangements are, however, being made to expedite the procedure for such inquiries in future.
Paragraph 16—Stocks of stand-by engineering equipment.
Stocks of stand-by engineering equipment are also held by the Corps of Engineers at Cork, Athlone and Curragh Camp. These stocks are not as extensive as those held in Collins Barracks, Dublin and they are not regarded as excessive. The position is kept under regular review.
Paragraph 17—Provision of adequate fire protection in Army barracks.
Under existing Defence Force Regulations the Corps of Engineers is responsible for the provision, allocation and maintenance of fire fighting equipment at all barracks and posts. They are also responsible for fighting outbreaks of fire where a fire engine manned by them is available. Regulations and General Routine Orders relating to responsibility for fire prevention and fire fighting generally are, however, inadequate. Preparation of draft comprehensive Defence Force Regulations on the subject of fire prevention and fire fighting is nearing completion.
Paragraph 18—Proceedings against lorry-owner.
It has been decided to institute proceedings against the lorry-owner. The Committee will be advised of the outcome.
ROINN NA GAELTACHTA.
Paragraph 19—Provision for Miscellaneous Schemes.
In deference to the views of the Committee, the Minister is arranging that Part III of future Estimates will indicate as precisely as possible the main heads of expenditure on Miscellaneous Schemes. The Committee will appreciate, however, that since in many instances the initiation and progress of these schemes may depend on factors outside the direct control of Roinn na Gaeltachta it is particularly difficult when the Estimate is being prepared to anticipate with exactitude the likely trend of expenditure under each head in the ensuing financial year.
PUBLIC WORKS AND BUILDINGS.
Paragraph 20—Refund in respect of a school assembly hall.
The manager of the school was requested by the Commissioners of Public Works to have a revised final account prepared, excluding therefrom the cost of the assembly hall and other associated portions of the school premises, so that the amount of the grant to be refunded could be calculated. The manager has recently intimated that his principals have now decided not to proceed with the proposal to use the hall for other than educational purposes and the question of a refund may not therefore arise. Every effort is being made to bring the matter to a conclusion as quickly as possible.
Paragraph 21—Inventories of furniture in Embassies and Legations abroad.
The Minister shares the views of the Committee on the desirability of maintaining proper records of furniture etc. supplied to embassies and legations abroad. The matter has been actively pursued since the Committee reported, with the result that inventories have now been completed for a number of missions and are being prepared in other cases. It is hoped to have all the inventories completed in the near future.
Paragraph 22—Health Services.
The Department of Health report that variations in the pattern of outlay on health services as between one health authority and another are inevitable. Health services up to recent times have been very much the responsibility of the local authorities (including in some cases the smaller urban authorities), the total financial contribution from central funds being relatively small. The nature of the services in each area was, accordingly, influenced to a very considerable extent by local conditions and local ability to meet the costs.
There were long-standing differences in the hospital accommodation available in the different areas and in the better equipped areas institutional services are still likely to be more developed than in others.
Variations in age patterns of the population of different areas also tend to influence the nature of the services required, while the relative density of population has a bearing on such matters as the incidence of infectious diseases and on the cost of the services necessary to combat those diseases. To a certain extent one service may replace another apparently unrelated service, e.g., a district nursing service may reduce the demand for institutional services, especially chronic hospital accommodation. The operation of recent health legislation, and the administrative action which is being taken to remedy deficiencies in services, should tend to produce a more uniform pattern of expenditure throughout the country.
Under the provisions of the Public Bodies Order, 1946 (S. R. & O. No. 273 of 1946), as amended, each local authority which maintains an institution is required to prepare an annual account showing under specified headings the average daily cost of maintaining a person in each of the institutions. These accounts are made available to the Department of Health and they provide a means of observing trends of cost in different areas and for different institutions of the same type. For the purposes of the administration of the Health Services Grant each local authority which provides health services furnishes to the Department of Health comprehensive and detailed estimates and statements of expenditure and receipts relating to the services. These estimates and accounts provide the main source of information to the Department of Health on the trend of expenditure and receipts, and they are subjected to a detailed examination in that Department.
The Department of Health further states that the responsibilities undertaken by it in controlling expenditure on the health services are those appropriate to the discharge of the statutory functions of the Minister for Health in relation to the local bodies concerned. These responsibilities are discharged mainly through (a) the general control effected by means of regulations, directives, etc., (b) control over numbers of staffs and rates of remuneration and (c) determination in respect of each financial year, in accordance with the provisions of the Health Services (Financial Provisions) Act, 1947, of the amount of local expenditure by each health authority towards which grants from the Vote are paid. As indicated in the preceding paragraph the principal means of exercising the lastmentioned control is the submission of detailed estimates and account statements by each local authority. The controls in general are effected, and/or supplemented, by the system of supervision and inspection by technical and administrative officers of the Department of Health.
Proposals for the extension or introduction of health services are submitted by the Department of Health to the Department of Finance for prior approval, and in certain cases, e.g., if the scheme is likely to involve substantial and continuing expenditure, the proposals may also be submitted for Government approval.
When health authorities have been authorised to operate a health service or services it is then necessary to provide in the annual estimate voted by Dáil Éireann an amount sufficient to cover the contribution payable by the Exchequer to the cost. The Department of Finance, in examining the estimate must have regard to the entitlement of the health authorities to be recouped 50% of their expenditure on approved health services, and, while the Department does at all times press for the observance of economy in the operation of the health services, the bulk of Exchequer expenditure on health services will continue to arise from commitments previously established.
POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS.
Paragraph 23—Calculation of interest on Post Office Savings Bank deposits.
Details of interest for 1958 have now been extracted from depositors’ accounts and show that excess provision for interest in the accounts for 1955-58 amounted to approximately £8,000 (on a total provision of approximately £7.1 million). The necessary adjustment has been made in the annual accounts of the Post Office Savings Bank for 1959.
The Minister is informed that the new accounting machinery will come into operation in 1961 and should enable the interest for that and subsequent years to be calculated more expeditiously.