Spending watchdog brings forward allowance inquiry
THE PUBLIC Accounts Committee has decided to bring forward its inquiry into 1,100 public sector allowances, worth an annual €1.5 billion, to allow it complete its hearings well before the December budget.
John McGuinness, chairman of the public spending watchdog, confirmed last night the committee intends to run its hearings over 15 successive days during October, with the secretary general of each Government department allocated a day to give evidence.
The initiative to examine the controversial allowances issues came from a Fine Gael member of the committee Eoghan Murphy.
Last week Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said he had managed to reach only €3.5 million of his €75 million target for cuts in allowances. Mr Howlin also admitted that only one of the 1,100 cuts was being abolished immediately.
Business cases were published for some 800 allowances but none specified the number of recipients nor the cost of each allowance. Mr Murphy was one of about 10 Fine Gael backbench TDs critical of the process.
The decision to expedite the hearings will impose more political pressure on the Government to revisit the decision, and was being received last night as a move designed to embarrass Mr Howlin politically. The Minister will appear before the committee on October 10th to discuss his strategy.
Mr McGuinness said last night that holding the hearings over successive days was the only way they could be completed before the budget. “We have decided to request all the information relating to the business cases and much more. We will then schedule the hearings over a short period of time.”
“We believe the process will be far quicker, more intensive and far more forensic if it is held over successive days,” he said.
Mr Howlin yesterday rejected the accusation that he had failed to meet the target of €75 million, saying it was only an “indicative” target. He described some of the criticism of him over the past week as “crude” and “simplistic”.
“People get fixated on a tree while I’m trying to control a forest,” he said on RTÉ. Asked why he had not referred some allowances using the tools of the the Croke Park Agreement,” he replied: “I could have referred them all. That would have taken the full time of the Labour Court and that division of my Department for the next year, to achieve very little.”
No date has yet been set for a planned meeting between the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Mr Howlin and the Croke Park implementation group to discuss the Government’s new initiative to speed up the process of savings and reform.