Sunday 25 August 2019

'Drop Government projects if they cost too much'

Robert Watt. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Robert Watt. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

The Government should be able to walk away from big State infrastructure projects that are costing too much, a senior civil servant has said.

Robert Watt, the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure, made the comments in the wake of the spiralling cost overruns with the new National Children's Hospital (NCH) and the up to €3bn outlay on the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Mr Watt strongly criticised the NBP prior to the Government deciding to proceed with it in May.

The outspoken civil servant warned Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe earlier this year the plan for rural broadband represented an "unprecedented risk" to the State's finances.

Mr Watt told the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, yesterday he had nothing to add to what he said previously, before joking: "Unless it's in the bar, privately."

He said there needs to be a "culture of challenge" in the civil service and said it was "critical" for governments to be able to walk away from some big spending projects.

"It's critical for this Government and for future governments to be able to walk away from projects to which they're committed when they see that ultimately the cost is greater than they initially expected."

Mr Watt added: "It's OK sometimes to change your mind."

He said there is an "optimism bias" with some State projects that sees the Government proceed with them before there is a fully costed business case.

Irish Independent

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