MINUTE OF THE MINISTER FOR FINANCE ON REPORT DATED 11 JULY, 1963, OF THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS.
Following are the further observations of the Minister for Finance on paragraphs 3, 4, 12 and 15 of the report dated 22 February, 1961 and paragraph 25 of the report dated 5 September, 1962, of the Committee of Public Accounts:—
A. REPORT DATED 22 FEBRUARY, 1961:
RATES ON GOVERNMENT PROPERTY.
3. Payments for water supplies.
Negotiations about payment for the supply of water to State-owned premises are not yet concluded. The Committee will be informed of the outcome in so far as it affects any over-payments in past years.
POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS.
4. Erroneous payment by the Post Office Savings Bank.
Efforts to recover as much as possible of the outstanding balance of £203 15 3 continue and the Committee will be informed of the outcome.
12. Consumption of electricity.
The separate metering of all quarters and the segregation of supply has been completed. Discussions with the Electricity Supply Board about outstanding matters will be held shortly and the Committee will be advised of the outcome.
15. Promulgation of scheme for ex-gratia payments to certain retired national school teachers.
The scheme will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas in the present session.
B. REPORT DATED 5 SEPTEMBER, 1962:
POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS.
25. Misappropriation of moneys at sub-post offices.
The departmental committee will make its final report shortly on whether more effective measures can be devised to safeguard Savings Bank, and other departmental funds. The Committee will be informed of the outcome.
C. REPORT DATED 11 JULY, 1963:
Paragraphs 9, 28, 33 and 37.
These paragraphs do not appear to call for comment.
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT FUND.
Paragraphs 2 and 3—National Development Fund.
The Minister confirms that the scope of projects in progress will not be extended and that no new commitments will be entered into, i.e., schemes for which allocations had been made by 31 March, 1957, will not be altered in principle or scope and no new schemes will be introduced.
Paragraph 4—Statements of advances outstanding.
Instructions are being issued to accounting officers to include in their Appropriation Accounts statements in summarised form of repayable advances from voted moneys outstanding at the end of each year in circumstances where such advances may involve loss to public funds. The Minister trusts that this will meet the wishes of the Committee.
Paragraph 5—Expenditure on Official Entertainment.
The Minister has given further careful consideration to the question of publishing details of expenditure on official entertainment. He remains, however, of the view that the disclosure of such information, which might prove an embarrassment to distinguished guests, would not be desirable. From enquiries made it would appear that it is not the general international practice to publish such details.
Paragraph 6—Disposal of reactor cows.
The Minister understands that the differential of 3d. per pound referred to by the Committee arose in relation only to some of the prices in question in certain periods. In fact the average figure was only 1½d. per pound over the full period of three years ended on 30th September, 1962. The Minister for Agriculture is satisfied that the prices obtained by the Department were fair and reasonable.
The number of firms invited to tender in 1961-1963 varied from 17 to 20 and of these 8 or 9 usually tendered. The prices varied in range from ¼d. to1/7 6d. per pound for the quarter ended 30th June, 1961, ½d. to 1/7d. for the quarter ended 30th September, 1961, 1/0d. to 1/7d. for the quarter ended 31st December, 1961, and 1/0d. to ⅛d. for the quarter ended 31st March, 1962.
Paragraph 7—Economics resulting from amalgamation of certain health authorities.
The integration of institutional services has been facilitated in a manner which would not have been possible when the institutions concerned were, as in Dublin and Cork, under the control of separate authorities. For example, sanatorium accommodation which becomes redundant in the areas of the unified authorities can be used without delay to house patients in overcrowded sections of mental hospitals or homes for old and chronic invalids.
A more even standard has been brought about in the determination of eligibility for services and in the assessment of liability for charges. Access to specialised services such as those provided at Child Welfare Clinics has been made more convenient for those eligible to avail of these services. The advantages of bulkbuying, particularly of foodstuffs have been increased. For example, the Dublin Health Authority now buys £390,000 worth of foodstuffs a year which were formerly bought by six separate bodies.
Paragraph 8—Control of expenditure of health authorities.
In addition to the controls exercised over health expenditure generally through the examination in the Department of Health of the detailed annual estimates and accounts of health authorities, and through the system of audit and report by Local Government Auditors, special measures are taken to obviate unnecessary expenditure on drugs and medicines. Purchases of these are normally made from contractors in accordance with the provisions of the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing, Act), 1939, under which a scheme of competitive tenders is operated. A special procedure is in operation under which purchases of items in less common use are referred to the Department for approval.
Furthermore, the reports furnished by Medical Inspectors of the Department of Health on their inspections of the local services include comments on the arrangements in each institution and dispensary for the control of the stocks of drugs and medicines. Continuous surveillance is maintained by the Department’s professional officers over price movements and the appearance on the market of new medicines or new variants of substances already on sale. Health authorities are also supplied with information about non-proprietary substances which are medically equivalent to, but less costly than, proprietary medicines.
Central pharmacies have been established by two of the larger health authorities with a view to economy in the purchase of supplies and efficiency in the control of stocks. The results of these developments are being kept under observation and, if they are satisfactory, the introduction of similar arrangements will be raised with other health authorities.
The rise in the cost of drugs and medicines and the increase in recent years in the proportion of health expenditure attributable to these items are features of the financing of health services in other countries. The Department of Health appreciates the need for continuing vigilance in order to keep expenditure to a minimum consistent with the provision, where necessary, of treatment in accordance with the most advanced methods.
PUBLIC WORKS AND BUILDINGS.
Paragraphs 10, 11and 12—Conversion of Templemore Military Barracks into a training centre for Garda recruits.
Tenders were sought on the basis of a very detailed plan drawn up by the consultant architects. The main features of the plan were alterations to and renovation of existing buildings to provide sleeping accommodation for 375 persons together with lecture halls, recreation rooms and offices, central heating and adequate toilet and ablution facilities, and the addition of a new dining block and gymnasium. Because of the substantial amount of adaptation and renovation work involved and the urgency of the project, a lump sum contract was not feasible and, on the advice of the architects for the scheme and of the Office of Public Works, a schedule of rates with approximate bills of quantities was adopted as the most suitable form of contract for the project as a whole.
The day-to-day supervision of the work has been carried out by a Clerk of Works employed by the Office of Public Works. There have been frequent and regular visits by the architects for the scheme and by the engineering consultants and the site has also been visited on a number of occasions by an Office of Public Works architect. As is usual in a contract of this size, the quantity surveyor is being retained to clear the final account. His staff visit the site at intervals and prepare statements on the basis of the amount of work actually executed. When the scheme has been completed and the work measured by the quantity surveyor, the Department of Justice will have the assistance of the Office of Public Works in the examination and checking of the final account.
The Minister is advised that the scales of fees payable for professional services in respect of the work are the recognised minimum charges for work of this nature and are the same as those paid on very much larger projects. It is understood that the acceptance of reduced fees by the professional consultants concerned would have rendered them liable to disciplinary action by their Associations.
Paragraph 13—Disposal of spare parts.
The total book value of slow-moving and redundant stock segregated was £90,000, which included used and worn-out stock to a book value of up to £20,000. The figure of £75,000 quoted by the Committee was the book value of stock segregated up to 30th September, 1962. On the recommendation of the Board of Survey, stock to the book value of £24,300 has been returned to stores. Stock to the book value of £46,900 has been sold for £4,350. Suppliers accepted back stock to the value of £2,920 and the receipts therefor amounted to £1,665. Of the remaining stock (book value of £15,880) the bulk has been advertised for sale and offers are awaited for it. Following this sale, only a small quantity of stock will remain for disposal. In future, the removal from stores and the sale of obsolete and redundant stock will be a continuous process so that at any time a quantity of stock is likely to be on hands for disposal.
Paragraph 14—Inventories of furniture in Embassies and Legations abroad.
Inventories have been received in 31 cases and are under examination in the Office of Public Works. Inventories are being prepared for the 5 remaining premises.
OFFICE OF THE REVENUE COMMISSIONERS.
Paragraph 15—Overtime in connection with Income Tax work.
The Revenue Commissioners have informed the Minister that it will not be possible to revert to normal hours of duty in Income Tax Offices until the electronic computer becomes fully operative. Computer operations are in the course of being introduced in selected tax districts and will be extended gradually to all tax districts in the country. Preparations for the computer project include the examination and revision of all existing procedures and comprehensive staff training and reorganisation. Although normal work must be carried out while this programme is proceeding, overtime worked in Income Tax Offices in the first half of 1963 (£17,969) showed a substantial reduction on the overtime worked in the corresponding periods in 1961 (£28,902) and 1962 (£33,874). This reduction is to be explained by the significant decrease in overtime in connection with P.A.Y.E. which accounted for the bulk of the overtime in Income Tax Offices in 1961-62.
The Revenue Commissioners have indicated, however, that the introduction of the Turnover Tax and of the other provisions of the Finance Act, 1963, affecting Corporation Profits Tax and income from rentals, is imposing additional burdens on the tax organisation. Having regard to this, the Revenue Commissioners would find it difficult to maintain for the remainder of the year the improvement in the overtime position achieved during the first six months of 1963. They have made arrangements to ensure that overtime working by individual officers is strictly limited.
Paragraph 16—Statement of outstanding assessments of taxes.
Arrangements have been made in consultation with the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General to alter the statement to meet the Committee’s wishes. The new form of statement will appear in the Appropriation Accounts for 1963-64.
Paragraph 17—Payment of subsistence allowances.
The Committee’s views have been noted and steps are being taken to have the Garda Síochána Allowances Order, 1958, amended.
Paragraph 18—Maintenance cost of prisoners and fall in profit ratio of the prison industries.
The cost of maintaining a prisoner includes not only such items as food, clothing and bedding but also the cost of prison personnel, of improvements in, and maintenance of, buildings and equipment and other relevant expenses. It would be difficult to assess the extent to which the cost is affected by the employment of prisoners. When regard is had, however, to the extent of prison property, the volume of ordinary chores, the farm and garden activities and the time and labour involved in the upkeep and repair of old buildings and the erection of new ones, it is evident that the utilization of prison labour contributes substantially towards relieving the Exchequer of expenditure on prison maintenance. Only on infrequent occasions when the work is of a particular technical nature is it necessary to recruit the services of civilians.
The fall in the profit ratio on the turnover in 1961-62 was due partly to increases in the cost of materials (leather, timber and flour) used in the prison industries. During that year also, the contract for mailbag manufacture, on which the profit margin is small (5%), was bigger than in either of the two years immediately preceding. In the mailbag cleaning service the substitution of fumigation for manual cleaning resulted in the normal charge, based mainly on time and labour, being reduced from 10/- to 2/6 per 100 bags.
Paragraph 19—Recording of shares held by the Minister for Finance.
The Minister is arranging that all shares held by him will be recorded in the Finance Accounts.
Paragraph 20—Advances to publishers of certain text books.
This matter is under consideration. The Committee will be kept informed of developments.
Paragraph 21—Building by direct labour.
The report of the consultant engaged on the experimental application of an incentive bonus scheme to the operatives on a direct labour building project has now been received and is under examination.
Paragraph 22—Trading accounts of sawmills.
Trading accounts, with an indication of the capital employed, for the Forestry Division Saw Mills at Cong and Dundrum will in future be appended to the annual Appropriation Account as suggested by the Committee.
The Minister agrees with the Committee’s view that these mills should be so operated that taking one year with another there should be no loss.
Paragraph 23—Immobilisation of machines.
It has been decided that, where practicable, the starting mechanism of machines will be isolated when the machines are unattended. Further enquiries are being made as to other means of immobilisation.
ROINN NA GAELTACHTA.
While, ideally, a prototype aluminium-framed glasshouse might have been erected for subjection to a cycle of West of Ireland weather conditions, the length of this cycle would have to be six or seven years and, even then, a structure which passed this test might not withstand the altogether exceptional conditions experienced in the storm of September, 1961. As indicated in the replies to the Committee’s questionnaire, the professional officers of the Commissioners of Public Works were satisfied about the materials and type of construction of these glasshouses and that a reasonable safety margin for wind-pressure had been allowed for in the specification. In these circumstances, as the contract price for these glasshouses was appreciably below the lowest acceptable tender for timber-framed houses, and as the aluminium-type houses offered advantages as regards maintenance costs and light-access to plants, the Minister is of opinion that the action taken was reasonable.
Paragraph 25—Enforcement of contract.
The contract in this case was enforceable but the Commissioners of Public Works were advised by Counsel that it would be more prudent not to test its interpretation in the exceptional conditions which had been encountered.
When the net loss to public funds has been finally determined, the Committee will be advised.
Paragraph 26—Land project.
Details of grants and outdoor staff employed are as follows:—
1. Grant Payments
2. Numbers and grades of outdoor staff:
Grant payments alone do not give a full picture of the volume of work performed by the Land Project outdoor staff. There is also preparatory work on schemes which do not materialise as well as work arising out of the Fertilisers Scheme and outstanding commitments under Section B of the Project. Work is also involved in arranging for structural alterations to road culverts or bridges by local authorities to facilitate Land Project works.
Paragraph 27—Loss on purchase and sale of reactor cows.
According as the scheme proceeded, the reactors taken up by the Department for sale at canning prices included an increasing proportion of good milch cows which had to be paid for at the higher market price prevailing for such animals. In 1961-62, most of the reactors were from the eastern counties in which the best beef quality cattle are to be found, so that the average salvage received in that year was high. It was not, however, sufficiently high to offset the increase in average compensation paid to herd owners. In the full year 1962-63 the average valuation was 13/- per cow less than in the previous year but, because of a drop in average salvage receipts due to the lower contract prices from the canneries, the average loss increased to £30 10s. 0d. for that year. In 1963-64 there was a further reduction in the average compensation paid, and the average salvage returns showed an improvement.
Paragraph 29—Irregularities in claims for guarantee payments by certain exporters.
Legal advice indicated that there did not appear to be sufficient evidence to warrant the initiation of proceedings in the case of seven of these exporters. The question of proceeding against the remaining two is still under examination. Payment of the amount outstanding in all nine cases, totalling about £24,000, is being withheld.
POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS.
Paragraph 30—Engineering stores taken into stock but not paid for by the end of the year.
As the Committee is aware, the telephone development programme is being stepped up sharply. The incidence of ordering engineering stores by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (in the light of the amount of capital being made available for the year concerned) and of the delivering of such stores by the contractors, especially stores subject to long delivery periods, has resulted in peak deliveries towards the end of the year. Consequently it has become more difficult to clear the relative claims for payment, which usually are not received until some time after the stores have been taken into stock. It will be appreciated that the nearer the delivery date is to the end of the year, the greater is the possibility of the claims for payment not being received until the following year. However, as suggested by the Committee, the Department is keeping its procedures under review with a view to eliminating undue delay in paying for stores supplied.
Paragraph 31—Post Office Savings Bank Accounts.
Arrangments have been made to furnish the Committee with copies of the Post Office Savings Bank Accounts.
Paragraph 32—Explanatory Notes to Appropriation Accounts.
The Minister indicated in his minute of 30 January, 1963, following paragraph 24 of the Committee’s report for 1960-61 dated 5 September, 1962, that Accounting Officers were being requested to ensure that explanatory notes, where required, would in fact be adequate. Accounting Officers have since been asked to arrange that explanatory notes would deal adequately with such matters as require explanation. The Minister trusts that, having regard to that request and the comments of the Committee now under reply, Accounting Officers will take steps to obviate further criticisms by the Committee on this score.
As regards the explanatory notes to the Appropriation Account of the Vote for Posts and Telegraphs, 1961-62, it will no doubt be appreciated that the foregoing paragraph 24 was not available until some months after that account was submitted.
The Department of Posts and Telegraphs is anxious to give the Committee all the information it may require. However, as the expenditure from several subheads of this account is largely made up of a big number of comparatively small individual payments, it would frequently be difficult to determine the detailed causes of comparatively small variations between expenditure and grant unless a lengthy and costly analysis of the payments were made. Nevertheless, every effort will be made to meet the Committee’s wishes in the matter of explanatory notes.
The seven variations described as “casual” in the Appropriation Account for 1961-62 were of the order of 0.2%, 4.4%, 0.9%, 1.5%, 5.2%, 6.7% and 1.5%, respectively. The biggest percentage variation was an excess of £469 on £7,000 but as the losses subhead was here involved, a detailed schedule was, as usual, appended to the account. The overall variation on the net grant of £11.3m. was approximately 0.7%.
The Minister notes the Committee’s view that Subhead F. (Engineering Stores and Equipment) was an outstanding example of a subhead where significant divergence from the Estimate details had not been adverted to in the relevant explanatory note. The two main items of this subhead, viz., (1) direct purchases and (2) inclusive cost of equipment installed and works done by contractors, related to expenditure of a similar nature and for the same object. It is sometimes hard to forecast whether a particular work is to be done by the Department’s staff, using stores and equipment directly purchased, or by a contractor using his own staff and supplying stores and equipment.
The Minister also notes the Committee’s further view that the excess expenditure of £181,000 on item (1) should not have been incurred without the express sanction of the Dáil. In his view, such express sanction was not necessary; the expenditure was within both the ambit (Part I) of the Vote and the scope and amount of the subhead (Part II). If a supplementary estimate had been sought, it would have involved a departure from the well-established understandings that “the explanations and information given in Part III of an estimate do not constitute binding conditions in point of detail on which the Dáil votes money, and that only where it is found necessary during the year to incur expenditure within the amount of the grant but of a novel character or remote from anything embraced by the words of explanation in the Estimate, does it become the duty of the Minister for Finance to ensure that the Dáil will be approached again for additional authority” (extract from the minute of the Minister for Finance dated 21 March, 1945).
Paragraph 34—Recovery of balance of value of property stolen.
The Minister has been informed that an appeal to the Supreme Court was taken in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the High Court and dismissed the appeal.
Paragraph 35—Liaison between engineering staffs and other sections.
The Department of Defence have intimated that all possible steps have been and will continue to be taken to ensure that technical information reaching that Department is appropriately recorded and circulated to all those concerned.
Paragraph 36—Claims on Health Authorities.
Consideration of this matter is proceeding and it is hoped to have it decided shortly. The Committee will be informed of the outcome.
OFFICE OF THE MINISTER FOR SOCIAL WELFARE.
Paragraph 38—Amalgamation of Social Welfare votes.
The Estimates for the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare, Social Insurance and Social Assistance have been amalgamated, with the Committee’s approval for the year 1964-65.
Paragraph 39—Accounts of the Social Insurance Fund.
Arrangements have been made to supply the Committee with copies of the audited accounts of the Social Insurance Fund for 1961-62, and for subsequent years according as the accounts become available.