Lobby groups given fewer budget leaks
Seanad referendum made for unusually low-key prebudget lobbying process
Most lobby groups will be happy to hold on to what they have next year in the hope things might start to get better in 2015
The time for lobbying is over. The final budget decisions have been taken. Interest groups will now have to wait and see if the measures announced by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin tomorrow afternoon benefit or beleaguer their sectors.
Hundreds of pre-budget submissions have been delivered to TDs, Ministers and departments over the last few months, and a fair assessment of them would be that most groups will be happy to hold on to what they have next year in the hope things might start to get better in 2015.
In the areas of health and social protection, many groups suggested revenue raising meaures or how to find greater efficiencies to support their specific requests.
After a very leaky pre-budget process in 2011, the Government has tightened the ship and some around Leinster House say this could be a result of much of the budget discussion taking place within the four-man Economic Management Council.
The Seanad referendum campaign and a long battle within the coalition over the scale of the overall adjustment figure has taken the spotlight, at least until recently, off more specific measures that may be introduced by line ministers. Lobbyists say this has made for an unusual pre-budget process.
“Normally a few things have been all but confirmed by now but all we know is that there is big pressure on Joan Burton to find savings,” said one advocate in the social protection area.
Mr Howlin previously said he did not want to deliver “big bang” budgets and that he wanted a “much more open debate” on where and how savings were found. By keeping schtum, the Government has missed an opportunity to gauge the potential reaction to some of its plans.
A number of groups presented their pre-budget ideas to Oireachtas committees over the past two months. Fine Gael TD for Wexford Liam Twomey, who chaired the finance committee hearings, said he felt some of those who attended were being unrealistic with some of their requests.
“I was a bit tongue in cheek on the last day when I said some people need to know the Celtic Tiger is gone but there was too many of them presenting wish-lists,” he said.
He said there is an onus on everybody to sharpen up and decide exactly what they want to achieve from the hearings and that, in order to do this, the presentations need to be delivered well before the budget day.
“The process needs to change fairly radically as it runs the risk of just being a talking shop,” he said.
Most groups surveyed said they had face time with senior ministers and a chance to put their case across. Mr Twomey said it was counterproductive to have the same groups accessing ministers, departmental officials and committees as the same reports would be coming back from each.
“It also means the groups who are the most effective lobbyists are hogging the whole process and others who should get a voice maybe don’t have one.”