The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross T.D., has announced a number of significant measures to strengthen the oversight of public transport projects and programmes.
Minister Ross stated – ‘Project Ireland 2040 allocates €8.6billion toward transforming sustainable mobility in Ireland, whether we travel by foot, bike, bus, train or light rail.
Among the projects planned in the next few years, BusConnects, DART Expansion and MetroLink are all multi-billion euro investments which will require careful oversight to ensure value for money for the taxpayer as they are delivered in the coming years.
That’s why I’ve made some significant improvements to how my Department currently oversees the delivery of public transport projects by the relevant State bodies. I want to ensure our Departmental oversight structures and processes complement the massive increases in funding and activity we are now seeing.’
All public expenditure must comply with the recently revised Public Spending Code which sets out the roles and responsibilities of Government, Departments and State bodies in relation to the expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
In line with the Public Spending Code, the National Transport Authority (NTA) will be the designated Approving Authority for each of the three public transport ‘megaprojects’ – BusConnects, DART Expansion and MetroLink. In the case of DART Expansion and MetroLink, the NTA will work with the relevant Sponsoring Agencies - Iarnród Éireann (DART) and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (MetroLink) – as they deliver the projects on the ground.
Due to size and scale of these multi-billion euro projects, Government approval will be required at certain key ‘Decision Gates’. In 2020 the first of these Government Decision Gates will be reached for each of the projects with the submission of preliminary business cases.
Minister Ross commented – ‘I want to ensure that when Government is asked to make significant decisions in relation to each of these projects, those decisions are informed by independent, expert technical advice.
To ensure that is the case, my Department has entered into arrangements with JASPERS, an agency jointly established and funded by the European Commission and European Investment Bank, to ensure that each of the business cases are independently reviewed by them prior to any recommendation being made to Government.
Furthermore, I want to ensure my Department is assisted in its oversight of the investment programme over the next few years by independent experts to support the Department in providing the appropriate level of challenge and oversight as these projects are delivered by the responsible State bodies.
So we will look to appoint two independent persons – one person with senior executive level experience in transport infrastructure development and one person with similar levels of experience in the area of governance generally – to each of the two Departmental Oversight Groups we propose to establish.’
The Public Spending Code: A Guide to Evaluating. Planning and Managing Public Investment
sets out the value for money requirements for the evaluation, planning and management of public investment projects in Ireland. Published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in December 2019, it sets out the roles and responsibilities for Sponsoring Agencies, Approving Authorities, parent Departments and Government and provides detail on the requirements at each stage of the project lifecycle.
Sponsoring Agencies are those bodies with primary responsibility for evaluating, planning and managing public investment projects, in essence they are the bodies delivering the project on the ground. Approving Authorities are those bodies with ultimate responsibility for the projects and are responsible for approvals throughout the project lifecycle and monitoring the delivery of the project by the Sponsoring Agency.
In the public transport sector, Transport Infrastructure Ireland is the designated Sponsoring Agency for MetroLink and Iarnród Éireann is the designated Sponsoring Agency for DART Expansion. The National Transport Authority (NTA) is the designated Approving Authority in respect of each of those projects and, reflective of its statutory responsibilities generally and as permitted under the Public Spending Code, is also the designated Sponsoring Agency for the delivery of the BusConnects in Dublin.
In accordance with the Public Spending Code, Government approval is required at certain key ‘Decision Gates’ for all projects over €100million. In 2020 all three public transport ‘megaprojects’ – BusConnects, DART Expansion and MetroLink - will require Government’s approval at Decision Gate 1: Approval in Principle. This Decision Gate requires submission of a preliminary business case and approval is sought from Government to allow the project proceed to the next phase in the project lifecycle.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will establish two oversight groups (one in relation to the rail/metro investment programme and one in relation to the bus investment programme) to –
• assist it in the exercise of its functions under the Public Spending Code;
• allow it advise the Minister (and ultimately Government) accordingly in relation to the Public Spending Code Decision Gates; and
• monitor and oversee the delivery by the NTA of the three public transport ‘megaprojects’ generally.
The Groups will be non-statutory, comprise relevant, senior, Departmental representatives, as well as representatives from NewERA. As announced by the Minister, two independent external members will also be appointed to each Group: one member with appropriate technical transport infrastructure experience and one member with experience and expertise in governance.
The business cases submitted by the agencies to the Department will be independently reviewed by JASPERS, an agency established and funded by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, with extensive experience in working with Members States in the assessment and development of major projects.