Tuesday 27 September 2016

Sensible plan is real change from empty promises

Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30

While €42bn might seem an enormous sum to invest in just six years, the Coalition could easily have doubled the spend and, as the Taoiseach said, delivered a
While €42bn might seem an enormous sum to invest in just six years, the Coalition could easily have doubled the spend and, as the Taoiseach said, delivered a "catch-all for every parish"

There's no end of worthwhile projects which would benefit from Government largesse. The problem is, there's only so much money going around.

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While €42bn might seem an enormous sum to invest in just six years, the Coalition could easily have doubled the spend and, as the Taoiseach said, delivered a "catch-all for every parish".

But it resisted that temptation and left itself open to predictable accusations that the Capital Plan lacked ambition.

It doesn't. In fact, it's ambitious because it signals a real change in political thinking, in that to a large degree it focuses on the dull but worthy, instead of the new and flashy.

A striking component is just how much money is being spent on maintaining and upgrading existing assets, with 70pc of the transport budget dedicated to this alone. There will be grumblings that Metro North won't be delivered quickly enough, but better to take a long-term and pragmatic approach than make an empty promise.

There are obvious shortcomings. There's not enough money for energy efficiency, which would not only create jobs, but also deliver real energy (and financial) savings for the hard-pressed public sector, while reducing emissions.

It's also heavily reliant on State agencies delivering. Of the €42bn pledged, some €15bn will come from this sector - taking in a range of capital projects, including power lines which are still without planning and subject to enormous public opposition.

The involvement of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in delivering projects also needs careful consideration. The State will pay €1.5bn to its PPPs over the lifetime of this plan under existing arrangements, so can we really afford any more?

There's also an element of recycling here: the national children's hospital project is not new, and nor is Luas Cross-City, but they're both built in.

Why? Because they will have to be paid for over the lifetime of the plan, so therefore must be included.

Many will be unhappy with what the Government has decided, but by and large it is delivering about as much as could be expected.

The Government has made a judgement on how it thinks scarce public monies should be spent. The people will ultimately decide by next March if the right choices were made. What this plan doesn't do is promise the devil and all. That, in itself, is a welcome change.

Irish Independent

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