Full broadband costs will be included on State balance sheet

Government accused of ‘privatising profits and socialising costs’ of public infrastructure

The full cost of the National Broadband Plan will be included on the State’s balance sheet. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

The full cost of the National Broadband Plan will be included on the State’s balance sheet. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

The full cost of the National Broadband Plan will be included on the State’s balance sheet despite multiple assurances from the Government that the project to connect some 540,000 rural properties to high-speed internet would not be.

The Government and former minister for communications Denis Naughten had repeatedly said a “gap-funding model” – meaning the successful bidder for the contract will own the network – was chosen to avoid the State having to divert funds from other capital projects or borrow money to cover the €3 billion cost.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed in the Dáil this week that the entire cost of the project would be on the balance sheet.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin responded by saying the Government was giving away the network and was “privatising profits, and socialising the costs of public infrastructure projects, to the detriment of the public interest”.

Other projects

However, the Government last night said no other capital projects would be affected.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Communications said the assumption the project would be off the balance sheet was only one of seven reasons in a 2016 report on why the “gap-funding” model was chosen.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the broadband plan will cost the State €700 million between 2021 and 2023. Mr Varadkar told the Dáil last week that the plan would have some budgetary effect in those years, but in a reply to a parliamentary question, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe confirmed it would cost €200 million in 2021 and 2022, and a further €300 million in 2023.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien, who asked the question, said these sums would have to be taken from the budget for other public services.

“This is the second capital project in 2019 that will result in funding for other public services and capital projects to be halted or cancelled under this Government,” he said.