Elaine Loughlin: National Development Plan numbers simply don't add up

The National Development Plan is jam-packed full of aspirations and wishful thinking, however, it is scant on costings, details or timelines
Elaine Loughlin: National Development Plan numbers simply don't add up

Revised plan exactly the type of document the Government loves, providing ministers with big overarching statements which make good soundbites but which doesn't actually tie them down to achieving much. Picture: Julien Behal

The National Development Plan reads like one of those school essays entitled 'What I would do if I won the Euromillions'.

The revised plan is jam-packed full of aspirations and wishful thinking – although the Taoiseach was keen to stress it is not simply a wish list – however, it is scant on costings, details or timelines.

It is exactly the type of document the Government loves, providing ministers with big overarching statements which make good soundbites but which doesn't actually tie them down to achieving much.

Vague statements dotted throughout the 180-page document set out an “investment strategy” that is “ambitious” and will "secure our future" in a manner that is "just and fair" and which provides a "positive vision for Ireland over the next 10 years".

Projects watered down

Many of the projects that were contained in the previous plan have now been watered down, one such example is the high-profile Metro Link project which had an estimated completion date of 2027 and an expected cost of €3bn. 

The updated programme now sets the timeline for the project, which would link Swords, Dublin Airport and Dublin city centre as 'TBC' and is now described as having a 'category F' price tag, which is for projects over €1bn.

But on Monday, the Taoiseach was trying to turn the lack of detail into a positive.

Micheál Martin said the plan "has to be nimble and it has to be flexible" as providing the wiggle room will ensure delivery.

He said attaching costs to individual projects at the minute would "not be good value for the taxpayer" and so wouldn't make sense.

"It's not about whether it's tactical, it's sensible to do," Mr Martin said of the missing price tags. 

Over the years, he had seen how when the allocation for a particular project is announced, those bidding to secure the contract see this as the bottom line to aim for.

"The political system needs to wise up in that respect," he said.

"This is a sensible way of doing business, we're saying these are the projects we want done but there has to be subject to due diligence. They have to be subject to competitive tendering and have to go through the statutory processes."

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan admitted the two questions people always ask are: How much exactly is this project going to cost and when exactly will it be built?

"But it's better to be honest here and say first of all when you're looking for people to bid for these projects, the first thing you don't say is how much you expect to pay," he told reporters at the NDP launch.

"But also the exact cost will depend on how it comes through the planning phase, when you know the exact breakdown or the actual design of the project in each different phase, that's when you start to have a very clear idea of the costs.

"We don't have a limitless resource, we need to get good value for money," Mr Ryan said in a clear-as-mud explanation.

But if the projects contained in the National Development Plan have no costs and no deadlines, how did the Public Expenditure Minister come up with the total €165bn figure?

"Michael McGrath doesn't do guesstimates, and neither does Paschal," the Taoiseach matter-of-factly responded.

Lack of detail

Of course, the politicians didn't even have to explain away the lack of detail, the document itself does that for them, stating "it is important to note that the NDP is fundamentally a high-level financial and budgetary plan, which sets out the framework and broad direction for investment priorities".

Another paragraph stresses that the NDP is not a compressive list of all the public investment projects that will take place over the next 10 years.

"Individual projects are generally selected by departmental or agencies based on a detailed process which begins with setting their own sectoral strategy and goals and then subsequently identifying specific needs or challenges to be addressed, whether that be through regulation, taxation, education or potentially expenditure on an investment project."

Assessing the progress made on what is the "largest and greenest" capital investment programme in the history of the State will be nigh on impossible, given the lack of tangible targets set out in the plan.

More in this section

Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.215 s