Speech by Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar on the Roads Bill in Dáil Éireann on Thursday 6th February

 

Thursday 6th February 2014

Check against delivery

I am pleased to introduce the Roads Bill 2014. The main purpose of the Bill is to merge the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) with the National Roads Authority (NRA) by dissolving the RPA and transferring its functions and staff to the NRA. This Bill also provides a timely opportunity to update existing provisions in the Roads Acts.

Almost six years ago, in March 2008, I had the privilege of publishing a policy document for Fine Gael entitled Streamlining Government. This was, I think, the first occasion where any of the main political parties sought to tackle the increasing proliferation of State agencies, and the democratic deficit associated with that proliferation. Within that document, I set out proposals to reduce the number of State agencies and to improve their accountability and governance structures. This programme was, at the time, in part but not in heart, adopted by the previous Government and later became a cornerstone of the Fine Gael manifesto in 2011 and was subsequently included within the Programme for Government.

The Roads Bill that I am introducing today is very much part of that overall efficiency and reform agenda. In November 2011, the Government set out certain commitments in relation to agency rationalisation under our Public Sector Reform Plan.  The main commitment under the plan was to implement 48 specific restructuring measures, which included the merger of NRA and RPA. All of the original 48 measures, involving over 100 bodies, have either been fully delivered or will be delivered this year, apart from a small number of cases where the Government decided not to proceed.

On the 14th of January, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform published the Government’s new Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016 and the Second Progress Report on the previous Reform Plan. The new Reform Plan builds on the progress made to date. 

Agency Restructuring within the Transport, Tourism & Sport Sectors

In my Department the merger of NRA and RPA is just one of a number of agency restructuring projects underway or concluded. For example, I have already incorporated Dublin Tourism into Fáilte Ireland, Coaching Ireland has transferred to the Irish Sports Council, and Dundalk Port has been amalgamated with Dublin Port Company.

I have also transferred Baltimore & Skibbereen Harbour, and Kinsale Harbour to Cork County Council. Harbours at Tralee/Fenit and Arklow have been transferred to their local authorities, while Bantry Bay Harbour has been transferred to the Port of Cork.

In the coming weeks Minister Ring will publish legislation to merge the Irish Sports Council and the National Sport Campus Development Authority. I also intend to complete the merger of Shannon Airport and Shannon Development before the summer. Later this year, I propose to publish legislation to provide for the transfer of four Ports of Regional Significance: Drogheda Port, Dun Laoghaire Harbour, Galway Harbour and New Ross Port to local authority control.

At the last count, there are more than 40 fewer state agencies. This is the first Government under which this has happened. It is my intention that the agencies under the remit of my Department are lean, efficient and fit for purpose. They must be also flexible enough to deal with challenges and changed circumstances as they arise.

 

Merger of NRA and RPA (rationale and benefits)

Turning specifically to the merger of NRA and RPA, there is a need to restructure the institutional framework in the transport sector particularly in the light of the significantly reduced capital investment programme. The rationale behind the merger of NRA and RPA recognises these changed circumstances. It also ensures that core technical and professional skills will be retained in the Public Sector to support the future development of transport infrastructure, particularly as the country now emerges from recession.

The merger is being progressed through the dissolution of the RPA, which is a commercial State body, and the transfer of its functions and staff to the NRA. The newly expanded NRA will use the name of ‘Transport Infrastructure Service’ to better reflect its expanded functions. The statutory name of the National Roads Authority is not being changed and it will continue to be instituted under the Roads Acts as a Non-Commercial State agency under the aegis of the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport.

Although the RPA is being dissolved, the merger with the NRA ensures that the value created over the years by RPA, in terms of organisational and project management skills, will be retained leading to the development of a new body. This body will be a leader in Ireland for planning, delivery and management of Road and Light Rail Infrastructure. The merger proposals also seek to provide the best and most efficient use of scarce public resources.

The new organisation will benefit considerably by having a range of specialist skills and technical expertise at its disposal. The technical areas of expertise include project management, transport planning, negotiation and management of PPP contracts, engineering design and advice, environmental procedures and property acquisition and management. The expanded range of in-house expertise available to the new organisation should lead to a reduction in the need for procurement of external contractors. Indeed, the new body will be encouraged to seek out opportunities to provide technical support, advice and services to other bodies on a commercial basis.  

Implementation of the Merger

I have established an implementation group to devise and execute plans for the integration of both bodies. The group is currently finalising a proposed new organisational structure in consultation with officials in my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform.  I fully recognise that  human resource issues require sensitivity and careful consideration in any restructuring process. The transfer of a commercial State body into the non-commercial sector is uncommon and it presents some challenges.

Effective communication and consultation between management and staff is key to achieving the seamless integration of two separate entities and I expect all parties to continue to work together to execute a successful merger.                    

I recognise the efforts that both organisations have made in reducing staff numbers in recent years, both in response to the reduced levels of capital investment and in readiness for the merger. Total staff numbers of the combined organisations have reduced from 435 when this merger was first mooted to the current level of approximately 290. This comprises 105 in the NRA and 185 in the RPA.

A voluntary severance scheme in the RPA, which is currently nearing completion, will further reduce staff numbers prior to the merger. It is anticipated that once the merger has bedded-down it will produce further efficiencies through the rationalisation of management structures and administrative support services, such as human resources and information technology services. On the day of its dissolution, all RPA staff will transfer to the NRA on no less favourable terms and conditions than the terms that they hold immediately prior to the merger.

Major transport infrastructure projects under the Government’s Capital Investment Programme

During the merger process the agencies will not be distracted from performing their day-to-day functions including the delivery of various important transport infrastructure projects set out under the Government’s current five-year capital plan the Infrastructure & Capital Investment Programme 2012-2016 - Medium Term Exchequer Framework.

In this context, RPA is currently very active in overseeing the LUAS Cross City Project, with the National Transport Authority. This is the key public transport project prioritised under the Investment programme. It will create a LUAS network by linking the two existing Luas Red and Green lines in the City Centre and will connect Cabra at Broombridge rail station to the existing Luas at St Stephen’s Green. It will also link with rail services from Maynooth and Dunboyne and existing QBC schemes which enter or cross Dublin City Centre. It will have 13 stops along its route, including serving the new Dublin Institute of Technology campus at Grangegorman. The project is progressing well and within agreed timelines. The essential advance works are underway with the Building Condition and Cellars Infill works already completed.

The Utilities Contract commenced at eight locations in the city centre on the 6th of January 2014. The expected award date for the main contract is November 2014 with works expected to commence in early 2015. Works shall be completed by the end of 2016. Following testing, commissioning and trial runs the line should open in Quarter 4 of 2017.    

The project is expected to create up to 800 jobs during construction and 60 permanent jobs on completion. I chair a high-level Project Group comprising representatives of businesses and traders, An Garda Síochána, Dublin Bus, DCC, RPA and NTA with a key aim of ensuring  that the city remains ‘open for business’ while the project is being delivered.  The Group will monitor progress at  a  strategic level and will keep abreast of any significant issues relating to traffic management affecting the project over the next few years.

The NRA is also heavily engaged in a number of major projects under the Government’s Capital Programme. The conclusion earlier this year of the contracts for the N7/N11 PPP project was a vote of confidence in our recovery. The project will see the N11 between Arklow and Rathnew widened to four lanes, and, by providing a free-flow system at Newlands Cross, will remove the last set of traffic lights between Belfast and Cork.   This scheme is expected to be complete at the end of 2015. The Government stimulus package announced in July 2012 includes funding of over €1 billion towards three additional PPP road transport projects which will further develop our high quality road network. 

Procurement of the three PPP projects included in the stimulus programme – namely, the N17-N18 Gort-Tuam link, the M11 Gorey-Enniscorthy road and the N25 New Ross bypass – is underway by the NRA. These major road projects, and the LUAS Cross City project, are providing a welcome boost to Ireland’s construction sector as well as generating significant long term economic benefits. A new programme of transport infrastructure projects will be determined in the context of the next Capital Programme which will be considered by Government in 2015.

Updating of Roads Acts

In addition to the merger provisions, I am availing of the opportunity to update existing provisions in the Roads Acts, having regard to current requirements in relation to the public road network and functions of the NRA.

These provisions are:

  • powers for the NRA to make bye-laws on the maintenance of national roads where they decide to take over responsibility for such roads;
  • giving mandatory status to NRA Standards for design, construction or maintenance works on national roads;
  • providing for the payment of grants by the NRA to road authorities for  their functions in relation to regional and local roads; and,
  • clarification regarding recovery of unpaid tolls.

I am also considering making provisions for the transfer of asset ownership of motorways and key dual carriageways from local authorities to the NRA. I intend to complete my consideration of this issue, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, with a view to the introduction of  amendments at Committee Stage

State Agency Reform

Before turning to the contents of the legislation, I want to comment briefly on other aspects of the reform agenda that was outlined within Streamlining Government.  This Government has introduced a system whereby members of the public can express an interest in serving on a state board. That is in stark contrast to the closed shop approach under our forbearers.

This was first proposed in 2008 in Streamlining Government.

In relation to my own Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, as of the end of 2013 I had made just over 120 new appointments to State Boards. This excludes the re-appointment of members already serving, CEOs, employee representatives and those made by the NASC. Of these 120 appointments, more than half had submitted expressions of interest, with the remainder approached to serve as they had specific skills.

In every case where expressions of interest are made, consideration is given to individuals appropriate to the promotion of good governance at board level. Experience or qualifications in finance, law, corporate governance, marketing, IT, transport, tourism and sports are also sought after.

I have, on occasion, approached people to sit on a board because of their particular skills or experience.  Kathryn O'Leary Higgins is an example. She was approached to sit on the board of the Shannon Group.

Ms O'Leary Higgins was a former member of the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from 2006 to 2009. She served as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labour from 1997 to 1999 and in the White House as Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Cabinet from 1995 to 1997. She is the kind of person we should be looking to serve on State boards, and gives an example why we shall not limit ourselves to people who respond to the public advertisement.

A frequent complaint is that some of the people appointed have political connections. This is always portrayed as something negative. It is not. Of course, it would be demonstrably wrong to appoint someone whose sole qualification is a party or personal connection. But where the person is qualified and can make a good contribution, their political or personal connections should not bar them. Involvement in politics at a voluntary level should be encouraged. Such people care about their country and community. 

Indeed, in our pre-election policy paper we specifically stated that ‘Our System will not exclude people with political affiliations from serving on the boards of state agencies but aims to ensure that appointees will be suitably qualified for the positions they will hold and that a well-designed system of parliamentary scrutiny will ensure that inappropriate appointments are not made.’ That is what we are aiming to achieve here.

I do not think it unusual that people appointed to represent a Minister on a State Board should actually support Government policy.

In relation to incoming Chairpersons of State Boards, the Government has introduced a requirement that they appear before the relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee prior to their appointment. Fourteen chairpersons of agencies under my Department’s remit appeared at the relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee before their appointment. This included Cormac O’Rourke, the current Chairman of the NRA and RPA. He will continue in this role after the merger. He appeared at the Joint Committee on the 28th of November 2012 and acquitted himself well by all accounts.

Across all government departments more than 30 incoming State agency chairpersons have appeared before their relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee prior to their appointment. These included the chairpersons of An Post, Bord na Móna, Dublin Airport Authority, the Grangegorman Development Agency, the Irish Film Board, the National Lottery Company, the Port of Cork, Road Safety Authority, Shannon Foynes Port Company, Shannon Airport Authority, SOLAS and the National Educational Welfare Board amongst others.

While committees do not have a veto on these appointments, the fact that any chairperson proposed has to appear in public and answer questions on their appointment, is a significant brake and works to ensure that only people of high quality and diligence are nominated by a Minister. 

Finally, a significant issue of concern to opposition TDs in the last Dáil was the fact that any question concerning a State agency’s activities would be ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle and whether the information was given to the Deputy ultimately depended on the agency itself. The NRA was regularly citied as being one of the worst offenders in this regard.

In this Dáil, I have implemented the practice of referring all such questions to the State agency for a direct response with the promise of following it up with the agency within ten days if an answer is not given.  Based on feedback I have received to date this system appears to be working satisfactorily and is providing a far higher level of accountability than previously was the case.

Content of Roads Bill 2014

I now propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill.

In summary, the purpose of Bill is to dissolve the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) and transfer its functions to the National Roads Authority (NRA), to transfer the staff of the RPA to the NRA, to amend and expand certain functions of NRA and to amend the Roads Act 1993 in relation to miscellaneous provisions.

The Bill is divided into four parts.

Part 1 deals with technical matters such as the short title and commencement, definitions, and savers.

Part 2 provides for the dissolution of the RPA and the transfer of its functions, property, rights and liabilities to the NRA.

Section 5 of Part 2 is the key section that covers the proposed arrangements for the dissolution of the RPA. The Minister will, by order, appoint a day to be the dissolution day for the purpose of the legislation and the RPA would stand dissolved on and from the dissolution day.

Section 6 provides for the functions of the RPA to be transferred to the NRA. This section also provides that any reference to the RPA, which relates to a function transferred by this section, is to be construed as a reference to the NRA.

Section 7 is a standard technical provision to transfer land and any other property of the RPA to the NRA. All lands currently vested in RPA will be vested in NRA without conveyance, transfer or assignment and remain subject to all trusts and equities affecting the land. All other property currently vested in RPA will also be vested in NRA without assignment.

Section 8 provides for the transfer of rights and liabilities, and continuation of leases, licences and permissions granted by the RPA. This is a standard technical provision to transfer the rights and liabilities of the RPA resulting from any contract or commitment the Agency had entered into, to the NRA. The purpose of this section is to ensure a seamless transfer between the Agencies.

Section 9 provides for liability for loss occurring before the dissolution day and ensures that the NRA will assume any liability arising from the carrying out by the RPA of any of its functions. This continuity is also ensured for any legal proceedings pending before the dissolution day. Any unimplemented agreement reached or judgment made but not enforced shall be enforceable against the NRA. Any claim which the RPA could make against any person will be made by the NRA after the dissolution of the RPA.

Section 10 sets out provisions to ensure continuity consequent upon transfer of functions, assets and liabilities of the RPA to the NRA under section 6. Anything related to the transfer of the functions of the RPA not completed on the dissolution of the RPA can be carried on or completed by the NRA. Every instrument and document made by the RPA before the dissolution, has effect as if it was made by the NRA.

Any reference to the RPA in the memorandum and articles of any company is construed as a reference to the NRA. On request by the NRA all moneys, stocks, shares and securities transferred by section 7 will be transferred into the name of the NRA. The Minister may certify whether or not any property, right or liability has been vested in the NRA under section 7 or 8 and his certification is sufficient evidence of the fact unless the contrary is demonstrated.

Section 11 provides that Final Accounts are to be drawn up for the dissolved RPA up to and including the dissolution day.

Section 12 provides that from dissolution day the NRA may, for operational purposes, use the name ‘Transport Infrastructure Service’.

Section 13 provides for the transfer of staff from the RPA to the NRA on the dissolution day. Staff will not have less favourable terms and conditions of service relating to remuneration than they enjoyed in the RPA before its dissolution.

Section 14 provides that a transferred person’s superannuation arrangements will continue in accordance with the existing RPA pension schemes, as applied before the dissolution day.

Section 15 provides for the repeal of Part 2 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 on the dissolution day.

Part 3 deals with the functions of the National Roads Authority

Section 16 provides that the Minister may confer additional functions on the NRA with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Section 17 provides that the NRA will undertake procurement of goods and services on behalf of road authorities, in relation to regional and local roads, at the request of the Minister.

Section 18 provides that the NRA may provide advice and services to the Minister, local authorities or other persons and that they may charge for services.

Section 19 provides that the chief executive officer of the NRA will be accountable to the Public Accounts Committee.

Section 20 provides that the chief executive officer of the NRA will be accountable to other Committees established by either House of the Oireachtas.

Part 4 provides for amendments to existing provisions in the Roads Acts

Section 21 provides that the NRA may specify standards for works on national roads to be complied with by those carrying out the works.

Section 22 provides that the NRA may make bye-laws for the purposes of the maintenance of national roads where it decides to take over responsibility for such roads

Section 23 provides that section 24 of the Roads Act of 1993 is substituted by a new section which extends the power of the Minister to include the making of grants to the NRA in respect of regional and local roads.

Section 24 provides that a road undertaking may initiate court proceedings for the recovery of any unpaid toll as a simple contract debt as if the toll was founded on a contract made where the liability to pay the toll is incurred.

Section 25, by the substitution of a new section for section 82 of the Roads Act 1993, extends the powers of the Minister to allow him to request the NRA to make grants to road authorities or others in relation to regional or local roads. It also provides that the Minister may make payments to any person or body for services rendered or goods supplied in relation to public roads. The Minister may also request the NRA to administer the payment of grants to road authorities on his or her behalf.

Conclusion

To conclude, I strongly believe that the merger of NRA and RPA will lead to the development of a new dynamic organisation which will be a leader in the planning, delivery and management of transport infrastructure in Ireland. It will demonstrate the best and most efficient use of public resources, consistent with the Government’s Public Sector reform agenda. Finally, if any Deputies intend to bring forward amendments to this Bill I urge them to raise the issues in their second stage speech and to give my office sight of the amendments at an early stage so that, where possible and appropriate, the amendments can be considered on their merits and accepted rather than being for technical reasons or because there was not time to consider them fully.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Ends

Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport: 01 604 1090 / 01 604 1087

 

Date of Speech: 
Thursday, 6 February 2014