Adjournment Debate. - Decentralisation Programme.

Tuesday, 29 February 2000

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 515 No. 3

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Mr. Hogan: Information on Philip Hogan  Zoom on Philip Hogan  In his Budget Statement, the Minister for Finance clearly signalled that the Government intends to relocate 10,000 civil servants and public servants in the semi-State sector to locations outside Dublin.

Kilkenny is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and is within easy reach of Dublin. It has excellent social and leisure amenities, the tourism industry has grown in recent years and any influx of civil servants and public servants would be offered an excellent quality of life. Kilkenny city, however, has not always enjoyed the benefits of economic growth. There has been a 10% increase in investment but that is substantially less than other counties in the region. There is no tech[674] nology industry or third level institution. The influx of 130 from the Office of Public Works and the Patents' Office since 1996 has improved the quality of life for the inhabitants of the city and has been a tremendous boost to the local economy.

The recent decision of the National Roads Authority that the Dublin to Waterford route should run via Carlow and Kilkenny indicates that the N9 is ripe for economic and social development. Kilkenny is only 70 miles from Dublin where there is major urban congestion. If the Minister for Finance is looking for suitable locations for decentralisation, Kilkenny city would fit the bill.

It would be pointless to ask that a Department be located in a city without a site. There is a 24 acre site available in Kilkenny within minutes walk of the city centre. That site forms part of the integrated area plan recently announced by the Minister for Finance. It is adjacent to the railway station, which will enjoy a commuter service within the next couple of years, and the city centre, at the top of John Street. It should be considered as part of any Government decision to relocate civil servants and Departments outside Dublin. I hope Kilkenny city will form part of the Government's plans to enrich the lives of the people who will move. Relocation would also provide a welcome boost to the local economy of the city.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  I thank Deputy Hogan for raising in the House the important issue of decentralisation. As the House is aware, my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, announced in his Budget Statement the Government's intention to embark on a new and radical programme of decentralisation with the transfer of the maximum number of public sector jobs from Dublin. In pursuit of this policy, the Government intends to relocate almost entire Departments and offices and other public bodies to provincial centres. It is intended that the forthcoming programme will, for the first time, involve non-commercial State-sponsored bodies. The Minister's budget announcement endorses the commitment set out in the reviewed An Action Programme for the Millennium to a policy of balanced regional development. The programme sets as a key priority the channelling of public sector jobs into provincial areas.

The current programme of decentralisation, which is expected to be completed in the early part of next year, will involve the relocation of more than 4,000 civil servants from Dublin to a large number of provincial locations. The impact of this programme cannot be underestimated, given that it involves almost 20 towns throughout the country. In Deputy Hogan's constituency, some 100 staff have already relocated to the Office of Public Works and the Patents Office of [675] the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in Kilkenny. I was pleased to have been involved with these transfers when I was Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works.

Almost 50% of all civil servants are now located outside Dublin and while decentralisation cannot account for all of that it has played a major part and has contributed significantly to a greater geographical spread of Government services. All regions of the country have benefited from the Government's policy on decentralisation and it is the Government's intention that any new programme would maintain that policy. The addition of new jobs to an area, whether through decentralisation or otherwise, gives it a positive economic boost. New jobs result in increased economic growth and better use of existing, and often underused, local infrastructure.

The Minister for Finance has begun a process of consultation with his colleagues in Government with a view to identifying almost complete Departments and offices and other bodies which could be included in the new programme. The Minister hopes that this element of the process will be completed in time for decisions on a significant new programme to be taken by the summer. In developing a new programme the Minister has in mind a number of objectives, including the promotion of regional development, the reduction of congestion in Dublin city, the establishment of a more even spread of public sector jobs around the country and the procurement of office accommodation at lower cost than in Dublin.

However, the Government is conscious of the need to maintain the efficiency of service delivery in determining the locations of Government services and the functions which can be efficiently relocated. Sections of Departments and offices which are decentralised must be of a certain size to be viable and sufficiently self-contained to be able to function effectively outside of Dublin. It is essential also that adequate management control is maintained.

Despite the Minister's personal commitment and that of the Government towards the principle of decentralisation, it is worth cautioning against any impression that a new wave of decentralisation to multiple provincial locations is imminent. It is vitally important that all the issues relating to decentralisation are fully considered before decisions are taken. Appropriate blocks of work have to be identified, staff have to be selected and trained and suitable accommodation must be sourced. These issues take time and it is important to bear this in mind. On the basis of previous experience it takes about two years from the date of a decision to relocate staff to their taking up position in the new building. I say this not to demonstrate any lack of enthusiasm on the [676] part of the Minister for Finance or the Government, but to emphasise that after decisions are taken it will be some time before staff arrive in their new locations.

The Minister wants to address those many public representatives who have recently been in contact with him about the subject of decentralisation and to acknowledge the very impressive cases which have been advanced for many potential locations. He is anxious to reassure those who have been making representations that these cases will be considered fully by him and the Government. In that context Deputy Hogan can be assured that the case now being made by him for the inclusion of Kilkenny in any new programme has been noted and will be fully considered in the context of the consultative process on which the Minister has embarked. If the Deputy can confirm that the site of 24 acres to which he referred is in local authority ownership, it would make it easier for the Government to make a decision.

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