Between 100 and 150 projects in the National Development Plan (NDP) could be accelerated as a result of plans to ease the public spending process for those expected to cost less than €200 million.
Minister for Public Expenditure and NDP Delivery Paschal Donohoe said many of the projects were healthcare-related, such as the building of new hospital wards. He would not identify specific projects that could be speeded up saying: “We have to aim to try to move them all forward.”
The Government believes the building projects could be expedited by four-six months on average as a result of the changes to the spending rules, though Mr Donohoe said, “There will be some projects that will be capable of moving ahead at a faster pace than that.”
The Coalition’s NDP, published in 2021, sets out plans to spend €165 billion on health facilities, schools, transport projects and housing up to 2030.
Mr Donohoe said on Wednesday that delivery was “broadly on track” while emphasising the need to ensure projects were delivered more quickly to avoid rising costs. “I want to ensure as we move into an environment, in particular, of higher inflation, where the more projects are delayed, the more they can actually cost, that we’re just prompt in delivering these processes,” he said.
He also said he wanted to “minimise the risk of finishing this year with significant capital underspends at a time in which society and our citizens are eager to see the money that we have budgeted actually spent”. He outlined six different actions approved by Cabinet including reforms aimed at removing administrative barriers to delivering major capital projects.
He said one was to respond to concerns that the Public Spending Code could cause unnecessary delays in NDP projects and said it was being replaced by a set of infrastructure guidelines. Mr Donohoe said the aim of this was to reduce the number of approval stages for projects from five to three prior to implementation.
“Furthermore, the threshold for major projects is also raised from €100 million to €200 million to allow for projects below this limit to proceed more speedily through the appraisal and evaluation process compared to those of greater scale and complexity,” he said.
Another measure is to reconstitute the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board so that he will chair it and have a direct role in overseeing the delivery of the NDP. There will also be a new quarterly memo to Government providing an update on overall NDP delivery.
Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been sent an update on the national children’s hospital which outlines that €1.25 billion has now been spent with about another year until building work is concluded. The figure amounts to 87 per cent of the approved construction budget. Senior civil servant Robert Watt has told the PAC that a new Government decision would be required if there was to be a change to the approved budget of €1.433 billion.