Department to provide ‘crystal clear’ figures for broadband plan

Government will cap subsidies to prevent repeat of children’s hospital overruns

Mark Griffin, secretary general of the Department of Communications, said officials now believe they have a final cost for the National Broadband Plan. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Mark Griffin, secretary general of the Department of Communications, said officials now believe they have a final cost for the National Broadband Plan. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

State subsidies for plans to offer high-speed broadband to hundreds of thousands of rural homes will be capped to prevent a repetition of the National Children’s Hospital overruns, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Mark Griffin, secretary general of the Department of Communications, said officials now believe they have a final cost for the National Broadband Plan, which has been estimated by some quarters to be €3 billion.

Though he did not reveal the projected cost, Mr Griffin said a “crystal clear” figure will be presented to the Cabinet shortly, but added that the subsidy to the project will be capped to prevent overruns.

Monthly, quarterly and annual accounts will be presented, the committee was told. The National Broadband Plan programme director Fergal Mulligan said “we will have full visibility of what they are spending”.

‘Overseeing’

“We will have a substantial team in the department from day one overseeing everything the bidder is doing, what they are spending. They have to prove what they need before they get it,” he said.

“It is a change in the cost estimate. We haven’t spent money on a build, so it is different from the children’s hospital in that respect,” Mr Griffin said, during a lengthy appearance before the Public Accounts Committee.

At some stage in the future I hope to be back before the Public Accounts Committee saying how well it is going

The Department of Communications has commissioned a cost-benefit analysis from PwC as well as a value-for-money report from KPMG, while it pledged that management lines of accountability will be clear.

“This is a process that has been run entirely by the department. We have the leadership role, there is no secondary entity involved at a level below where we can say actually, it is them,” Mr Griffin told TDs.

‘Explain why’

“At some stage in the future I hope to be back before the Public Accounts Committee saying how well it is going, but if there is a problem it will be me as accounting officer coming back to explain why, what we have done.”

Though he said that a “crystal clear” cost will be presented to the Government, the secretary general also said that Ministers will shortly be presented with an “optimistic” and “pessimistic” scenario about the plan.

Final decisions will be down to the Cabinet. “It will be important for us to point out the implications of not proceeding. It will be important for us to do some assessment of what other options might be available if the Government decided not to proceed.”