Dáil Éireann - Volume 456 - 27 September, 1995

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Efficiency and Value for Money Audits.

38. Mr. Dempsey asked the Minister for the Environment the plans, if any, he has to arrange for independent efficiency and value for money audits of the bodies within his remit. [13556/95]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): Most of the bodies under the aegis of my Department are subject to independent audit, either by the Comptroller and Auditor General or the Local Government Audit Service. Efficiency and value for money auditing is now an important and developing feature of the audit practices of these two independent bodies.

[90] The Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, empowered the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine economy and efficiency in the use of resources; a majority of the State-sponsored bodies under the aegis of my Department are subject to such examination.

All local authorities, together with three of the State-sponsored bodies under my Department's aegis, are subject to audit by the Local Government Audit Service within which a value for money unit was established in 1993. The unit, which undertakes reviews of selected local authority operations, assists authorities in the provision of services in an efficient and effective manner and in ensuring that value for money is obtained from the resources available. Ongoing performance, in the light of the reviews, is monitored at the annual audit of individual accounts.

I am generally satisfied that these arrangements, as they develop, will assist the bodies concerned to deliver services in a cost effective manner. However, I will be keeping the situation under review to see if further measures should be taken.

Mr. Dempsey: I thank the Minister of State for her reply. The Comptroller and Auditor General is not empowered to audit local authorities. Will the Minister of State consider extending the brief of the Comptroller and Auditor General to local authorities specifically to allow him introduce value for money audits? I am aware of what the local government auditor does; he just checks the books to make sure money is not spent incorrectly but I am talking about getting value for money for local authorities. Most Deputies and members of local authorities would admit that we are not getting value for money in many areas. Why are value for money audits carried out by the local government audit service and the Department not made public? Surely the public and members of local authorities have a right to know whether an authority is carrying out its business efficiently and [91] effectively and that the public is getting value for money.

Ms McManus: There has been a general improvement in auditing and in achieving value for money. The Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, has improved matters and widened the scope of responsibility. At the moment the Local Government Audit Service has responsibility for auditing the accounts of all local authorities, motor tax offices and some minor local bodies. I said in my reply that this matter would be kept under review. The fact that there have been improvements and a general increased awareness among local authorities and other bodies of the concept of value for money is an indication that we are making progress. I will take on board the points raised by the Deputy but the progress which has been made must be recognised and acknowledged.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are 14 minutes remaining to deal with five priority questions. I wish to accommodate all the Deputies concerned but I can only do so with co-operation and I ask for brevity.

Mr. Dempsey: I accept the Minister is sincere in saying there have been improvements but none of us knows if this is so because nothing is made public. These audits should be made public so that members of local authorities and the public would know whether there was efficiency and value; this would be similar to the system which applies in Wales and England. Does the Minister agree that the public has a right to know why surface dressing of roads in Monaghan and Mayo is 250 per cent cheaper than in Fingal and 100 per cent cheaper than in Dún Laoghaire? Why can we not be given this kind of information? Will the Minister ensure that value for money audits are published?

Ms McManus: I share the Deputy's view on maximum transparency and [92] openness. The practice until now has been that audits have not been published but I accept the validity of his argument and I will pursue the points he raised.