I’ve just read the minutes (they call ’em joint communiqués, to be posh) of all the North South Ministerial Council Inland Waterways meetings since northsouthery got going again in 2007.
After a bit of catching up in the first couple of years, the NSMC has usually managed to “note” WI’s Annual Reports and Accounts about six months after the end of the year to which they refer: the accounts for 2008 were noted in 7 months, 2009 in 5, 2010 in 7, 2011 in 7 and 2012 in 6. But “noting” doesn’t mean approving: various other bods, including two Comptrollers and Auditors General, then have to look at them, so the citizenry doesn’t get to see the accounts for many months afterwards: the report and accounts for 2012 are still not available.
Nothing to see there, then: both WI and the NSMC appear to be doing their bit as fast as could reasonably be expected. But what is odd is the delay in noting or approving plans and budgets. Knowing litle of management science, I had the naive idea that managers would be working to approved plans and budgets from the start of the year, but WI usually doesn’t get approval until the year is almost over. I do not know why that is.
WI’s business plan for 2008 was approved in October 2007, which is reasonable, although it seems to have been revised in July 2008. But the plans for 2009 and 2010 were not approved until 11 months into the year, that for 2011 until 10 months and that for 2012 until June 2013, six months after the end of the year. I realise that forecasting is difficult, but retrospective planning is surely less than useful.
The same delays apply to the budgets for 2010, 2011 and 2012. So the June 2013 meeting of the NSMC approved or noted:
- the business plan for 2012 (which had ended six months earlier)
- the budget for 2012
- the annual report for 2012
- the draft accounts for 2012.
I do hope that someone checked to ensure that all the documents accorded with one another: it would be really embarrassing if they didn’t. But as a management exercise this seems to be somewhat less than useful.
The same meeting also
… noted progress on the development of the 2013 Business Plan and budget. Following approval by Sponsor Departments and Finance Ministers the plan will be brought forward for approval at a future NSMC meeting.
It is good to know that, six months into the year, there was progress on the business plan and budget for that year. The minutes of the November meeting don’t mention the 2013 business plan and budget (but do, I am pleased to note, mention the 2014 versions), but there was a disturbing item of information on the previous day, 19 November 2013. Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, replied to a written question from Gerry Adams [SF, Louth], saying inter alia
The 2013 Budget allocation to the Body are subject to on-going discussion by the two Sponsor Departments.
This is November; 88% of the year has passed and the Irish budget for 2013 was approved long ago — yet WI still hasn’t been told its budget for 2013. WTF is going on?
I note that the same applies to the other north-south body or bodies that share the [RoI] Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the [NI] Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure as sponsors. An Foras Teanga, which includes Foras na Gaeilge and Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch, likewise still has its 2013 budget under discussion by the two departments.
I have asked DAHG about this, and will no doubt receive a full and frank reply in due course. In the meantime, I can only speculate. Is it possible that one minister wants to spend very much more or less on waterways than the other does? As the total current expenditure is fixed at 85%/15%, it seems to me that one side might very well come up with a figure that the other didn’t like.
Is it possible that DCAL, run by Mr Adams’s party colleague Carál Ní Chuilín, is more keen on cross-border bodies than is DAHG, run by Fine Gael minister Jimmy Deenihan? Or are both of them struggling to find savings to pay for the Clones Sheugh, or at least as a deposit for the SEUPB?
Or could it simply be that WI is having great difficulty in cutting its expenditure to fit within the limits imposed by the RoI budget?