Saturday 20 December 2014

Rabbitte tells New Era to examine RTE 'efficiencies'

Published 01/09/2013 | 05:00

RATINGS WINNER: Host Daithi O Se with 2013 Rose of Tralee winner Haley O'Sullivan. The contest brings struggling RTE a huge annual audience.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has sent New Era into RTE to investigate if the State broadcaster can be run more efficiently after it reported a €65m deficit last year.

"I've asked them to go into RTE post-restructuring and post-staff reductions to examine whether there are additional efficiencies and to report back to me," he told the Sunday Independent.

"There is no constraint on them. If they think that part of the RTE campus should be sold to UCD, let them recommend it and we'll see.

"I think that they have 500 workers less than when the crisis started. They were the first of the semi-states to take a pay reduction.

"They have dealt with a number of matters in the restructuring, but I would like to have an independent source of competent and expert advice to say that RTE is working to optimum efficiency or that we think there are still efficiencies that ought to be enforced."

RTE last month announced a €65.2m deficit for 2012, though this was primarily due to a one-off €46m restructuring charge. The broadcaster has indicated that it expects to break even this year.

"Although the restructuring has contributed to the deficit for 2012, I remain confident, notwithstanding a very difficult market environment, that the changes we have implemented have stabilised the financial base of the organisation," RTE boss Noel Curran said last month.

New Era is set to report to the minister "well before the end of the year".

The State body has also been asked by Mr Rabbitte, whose portfolio also includes responsibility for energy and natural resources, to examine other issues with semi-states.

While other government departments have been plodding along over the balmy summer, Mr Rabbitte's team has been enormously active, developing key initiatives and new projects.

Having absorbed the initial report on the proposed merger of Coillte and Bord na Mona, Mr Rabbitte tasked New Era to do a "more granular" examination of the two semi-states and investigate if a merger would work.

It was suggested that Coillte and Bord na Mona would merge to create a State bio-energy company, but this appears less clear-cut than had been initially thought.

Mr Rabbitte's department is also motoring on the development of the framework to export renewable energy to Britain.

Despite huge activity in the midlands with wind farm developers optioning swathes of land for new installations, the department has yet to finalise the planning regime for this new industry.

This is expected in coming months, paving the way for power to be exported in the next five years.

Squeezing more money out of the semi-state companies is also being examined. After the €100m raid on them in last year's Budget, Mr Rabbitte is preparing a more consistent way of getting the semi-states to hike dividend payments to the State. "Arbitrary raids on commercial semi-state companies is not good policy," he said.

The department is also preparing to bring the long-awaited postcode proposal to government next month.

As the ding-dong battle with the Government and the Troika continues over further austerity, Mr Rabbitte is opposing moves to cut the deficit by more than the initial targets.

"In terms of the Budget, I think that the promissory note restructuring does afford us some flexibility, but there is no avoiding the necessity of cutting the deficit," he said.

"The proposition that we are supposed to go further than the 5.1 per cent target – I find it difficult to be persuaded that we should go beyond that."

Sunday Independent

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