Health Minister Simon Harris has steered clear of criticising the main oversight bodies involved in the new children’s hospital project for massive cost overruns - instead pointing the finger of blame at professional advisory firms.
“You do depend on professional expertise to give you accurate figures,” he told the Oireachtas health committee.
“Fundamentally, some of the information we were given appears to be wrong. There was significant error in calculating accurate costs which is kind of astonishing when you have appointed experts,” he said.
In April 2017, the definitive business case put the total construction/equipping cost at €983m. By December 2018, it had increased by €450m.
A report by consultants PWC examining the causes of the cost overrun, published this week, found “material errors” in the business case which “impaired the ability of stakeholders with HSE and DOH to provide effective challenge and consideration to the investment decision”.
The two oversight bodies include the Children’s Hospital Project and Programme steering group, chaired by the HSE, and the Children’s Hospital Project and Programme Board, chaired by Jim Breslin, department secretary general.
The latter reported to the minister on the project.
Given the presence of department officials on these boards, Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien asked why “no questions had been asked, no reports requested” by the minister in relation to progress of the project.
Mr Harris said the boards were “impaired from effectively doing their job because of errors made in arriving at accurate figures”.
The National Children’s Hospital Development Board (NPHDB), tasked with construction of the hospital, reported into these two bodies.
Asked if he was going to change the governance structures, Mr Harris said there was “no doubt governance structures need to change”, but that PWC had warned against a complete clearout because they would lose “corporate memory”.
He did, however, have the power to alter or add to the board by statutory instrument, and it was something he would be discussing with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
Mr Harris said he was also looking at the possibility of a chief construction officer within his department “that might give you an opinion on QS (quantity surveying)”.
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said her interpretation of the PWC report was that those involved in the design process had been given “almost free rein”.
“By the time it came to light, it was too late,” she said.