State ‘can pull plug on project overruns’

It is critical that governments are able to pull the plug on major projects when costs are greater than expected, a top civil servant has insisted.

State ‘can pull plug on project overruns’

It is critical that governments are able to pull the plug on major projects when costs are greater than expected, a top civil servant has insisted.

Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt stood over his controversial criticism of the planned €5bn national broadband plan, which he previously warned would see other projects cut.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal, Mr Watt pledged new proposals from Government would ensure that new projects would not be approved without full knowledge of costs.

“[This will be] A new approach to large projects, a more formal approval process that will go through various gates, and we won’t get to the next stage until we’ve gone though the full cost benefit analysis and the Government ultimately won’t approve a project until we see the final cost based on a detailed tender.”

The new rules will go to Government in September, the department head said.

Mr Watt also said it was important for governments to be able to drop projects if they went over cost. There has been strong criticism over costs for the planned €1.7bn national children’s hospital, as well as the €5bn rural broadband plan. Mr Watt said it was “critical” for governments to be able to “walk away” from projects.

“It is Ok to change your mind,” he told the audience.

He stood over previous criticism of the broadband plan, saying:

“The views are on the record. Those are the views of myself and my colleagues. It is our job to give our views. It is not our job to hide our views. But it is Government policy, the Government have decided they are going to proceed. And that is what they are going to do.”

Separately, UCD economist Colm McCarthy called for an inquiry into the cost and location of the children’s hospital. He told the school it was “mysterious” how the project ended up in St James’ Hospital, which was “another black hole for traffic”.

He queried whether “some clique of medical” professionals influenced the decisions, insisting that “there should be a public sworn inquiry overseen by a judge.”

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