Infrastructure Guidelines – Outline of Changes to the Public Spending Code

From January 1st 2024, changes have been made to the Public Spending Code (PSC) concerning infrastructural and large-scale capital projects. The new “Infrastructure Guidelines”, which have replaced the PSC requirements for capital expenditure as previously outlined in Public Spending Code: A Guide to Evaluating, Planning and Managing Public Investment, December 2019, apply to all Government departments, local authorities, the HSE, public bodies, and any other body in receipt of public funding. The new “Infrastructure Guidelines” describe a new project lifecycle, with a series of stages to be completed prior to implementing a project. Here we will cover the key areas you should be aware of, while our Expert Team is available to provide further explanation and assistance.

Key Players in the new Guidelines

Addressed mainly to stages in project lifecycle relating to evaluation, planning and management of public investment projects, the “Infrastructure Guidelines” create new responsibilities for key individuals involved in these areas. Three individuals or positions are of particular importance, these being the Accounting Officer (AO), the Approving Authority (AA), and the Sponsoring Agency (SA).

The AO’s responsibilities are considerable here. It falls to the AO to ensure that their Department/Office/Body and any other relevant agency under their remit are compliant with these guidelines. Additionally, the AO is responsible for managing the budgets of the individual projects and the capital budget for their area overall.

Ultimately the AO is responsible for the project and the “Infrastructure Guidelines” provide a wide range of specific responsibilities for the AO to fulfill, such as monitoring the project as it is implemented and Assessing the Final Business Case. Alongside the AO in fulfilling these responsibilities is the AA, referring to the Department funding the project. Both the AO and AA should be aware of the wide-ranging responsibilities set out in the “Infrastructure Guidelines”.

The SA may be a government department, local authority, state agency, higher education institute, cultural institution or other state body and its responsibilities lie in evaluating, planning and managing public investment projects. Again the “Infrastructure Guidelines” set out key tasks that must be fulfilled.

Stages in Project Lifecycle

The core of the new “Infrastructure Guidelines” relates to the new stages of the project lifecycle which have been established and which all projects must follow. The new guidelines focus on three preliminary stages in the lifecycle which occur prior to implementation, these being:

  1. Strategic Assessment & Preliminary Business Case
  2. Pre-tender – Project Design, Planning and Procurement Strategy
  3. Post Tender – Final Business Case

It should be noted that the guidelines provide a simplified version of this process for projects with an estimated capital cost of less than €20m. For these projects, the following two approval stages must be fulfilled prior to implementation:

  • Preliminary Business Case
  • Post Tender – Final Business Case

The “Infrastructure Guidelines” emphasise that these stages are “incremental”. This means that a project is not locked in merely from having passed the first or second stage. Should a project at, for example, the third approval stage, be deemed to be no longer worthwhile for whatever reason, the project can be set down.

Extensive guidelines for following these phases have been made available by the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform. Below are the key areas relevant parties should consider:

1. Strategic Assessment & Preliminary Business Case

This “Strategic Assessment” refers to the process of determining and defining the rationale for a project and ensuring that it is in line with government policy. This assessment should be submitted to the Approving Authority which will then, if acceptable, move the project to the Preliminary Business Case.

At this stage, the Sponsoring Agency must develop a Business Case which sets out, for instance, the investment rationale and objectives of the project. It should include a description of the short-list of potential options to deliver objectives set out, assessment of affordability within existing resources, assessment of delivery risk, and several other areas. The purpose of the Preliminary Business Case, then, is to provide the AO and AA with information regarding the viability and desirability of public spending proposals. It also creates a framework for assessing  a project’s costs, benefits, affordability, deliverability, risks and sensitivities.

2. Pre-tender – Project Design, Planning and Procurement Strategy

The purpose of this stage is to develop the options set out in the Preliminary Business Case, with the end goal of developing a Detailed Business Case which will set out procurement strategy and project execution plan. This is a process of reviewing and confirming assumptions; approval from the AO and AA here moves a project to Tender. The critical issue to be considered in the Design and Planning Stage is ensuring that output requirements are given strong definition to avoid amendments later in the project.

3. Post Tender – Final Business Case

The development of the Final Business Case represents the final stage in the approval process for a project. Again the purpose here is to subject a project to critical scrutiny, using understanding developed relating to costs, benefits, risks, and delivery and applying this. The Final Business Case will be the document which will be used by the Approving Authority to determine whether a project is to progress to the award of contracts. It should be noted that this occurs after tendering. However, completion of the tendering process does not represent the award of a contract.

Major Projects

As noted above, for projects costing below €20 million, the above process has been simplified, requiring a Preliminary Business Case and a Final Business Case. For projects costing above €200 million, considered as “major projects” in the new guidelines, there are additional requirements in the project lifecycle.

Specifically, all “major projects” must, at the Preliminary Business Case stage, pass through an External Assurance Process. Furthermore, at this same stage, the Preliminary Business Case must be submitted to and reviewed by the Major Projects Advisory Group. Finally, Government consideration must be given to the project at both the Preliminary Business Case and Final Business Case stages.

Contributors
                                                    

Vincent Teo | Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Vincent Teo
Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Dr. Conor Dowling | Research & Policy Executive | Risk Consulting

Dr. Conor Dowling
Research & Policy Executive
Risk Consulting

Central Government Accounting Standards – What You Need to Know

From January 1st, new Central Government Accounting Standards (CGAS) will see significant reform of financial reporting for all Government Departments and Offices of Government. These new standards, being based on the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) generally favoured by the European Commission, aim to modernise financial reporting in Ireland along lines proposed by successive IMF and OECD reports.

The CGAS will change how public sector Vote accounts are to be prepared, requiring that financial statements also include information prepared on an accruals basis in the Statement of Financial Position. This article will run through the key changes imposed by the CGAS and explain the principles behind these.

Requirements

The CGAS coming into effect from January 1st are envisioned as a stage in a wider process of reform of financial reporting in Ireland. For the moment, the CGAS and their requirements apply to the following bodies:

  • All Departments and Offices of Government
  • The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission
  • The National Training Fund
  • The Social Insurance Fund

For these bodies, the CGAS imposes requirements as to how their Statements of Financial Position are presented. Specifically, they are now required to account for all of the following in their Statements:

  • Property, Plant and Equipment
  • Intangible Assets
  • Impairment of Non-Cash Generating Assets
  • Impairment of Cash Generating Assets
  • Service Concession Arrangements
  • Inventory
  • Leases
  • Provisions, Contingent Liabilities, Contingent Assets
  • Short-Term Employee Benefits

For each of these areas, a relevant CGAS detailing the exact requirements has been prepared by the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform. In addition, each of the CGAS has been provided with a manual, or Central Government Accounting Manual (CGAM). These manuals provide guidance on how the CGAS should be implemented and are a support for Finance Officers working to bring their organisation into line with the CGAS.

Government documents relating to the CGAS have emphasised that all relevant bodies must ensure that the principle of materiality is observed in their financial reporting. As an accounting principle, materiality requires that financial statements include all information and items that relevant decision makers, such as investors, might consider to impact their activity. In other words, an organisation’s economic activity can be considered to be material if it might be of interest to any and all bodies which would view that organisation’s financial statements.

In principle, then, the CGAS are to replace a cash-based system of financial reporting with reporting carried out on an accruals basis. Under the CGAS, an organisation must record economic activity regardless of whether cash was exchanged or involved in that activity. For example, under the CGAS, contingent liabilities such as guarantees, where no cash exchange has yet occurred, have to be reported.

Transitions and Enforcement

As noted, the CGAS are being adopted as part of a modernisation of Irish financial reporting, with the aim of bringing Ireland into line with the majority of OECD and EU countries. Ultimately, this reform project will formalise accrual accounting financial reporting in Ireland. Given that this reform is to secure the international credibility of financial reporting in Ireland, Central Government guidance has emphasised the importance of compliance with the CGAS.

Where a relevant body is unable to comply fully with any of the CGAS, sanction for a temporary derogation should be secured from the Government Accounting Unit in the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform. This application should include a timeline for how the body will build its compliance with whatever elements of the CGAS it cannot currently meet. This sanction will have to be renewed on an annual basis; sanction received in 2024 will not apply in 2025, and so on. Where a Department or Office is non-compliant, this must be stated in their Statement of Accounting Policies and Principles in the Appropriation Accounts, as should whether any temporary derogation has been received.

It should be noted that as government reform of financial reporting is an ongoing project, future CGAS with new requirements are imminent. Continued monitoring of this area is recommended to ensure key reforms are not missed.

Contributors
                                                    

Vincent Teo | Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Vincent Teo
Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Dr. Conor Dowling | Research & Policy Executive | Risk Consulting

Dr. Conor Dowling
Research & Policy Executive
Risk Consulting

 

Changes to Procurement Rules, Changes to Procurement Thresholds

In March 2023, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issued updates to existing procurement guidelines This update, contained in Circular 05/2023, have made some significant changes to the thresholds for procurement and are intended to facilitate easier procurement for SMEs. To this end, there has been a loosening of procurement rules covering procurements of a value between €25,000 and €50,000. Below, we go through the most important changes to procurement regulations.

It should be noted that, at the time of publishing, the procurement guidelines PDF available on the Office of Government Procurement website has not been updated to take account of Circular 05/2023. However, Circular 05/2023 states that the new guidelines have come into effect immediately.

Changes to Procurement thresholds:

The updates have made changes to rules for procurement for goods and services and procurement for works. Under the previous guidelines relating to procurement for goods and services, there were three separate thresholds for procurement, each with a different set of requirements for a contracting authority. These thresholds were:

  1. less than €5,000;
  2. €5,000 – €25,000;
  3. €25,000 – EU threshold.

After the Circular 05/2023 revisions, these thresholds for procurement for goods and services are now as follows:

  1. less than €5,000;
  2. €5,000 – €50,000;
  3. €25,000 – EU threshold.

Guidelines for the €5,000 – €50,000 Procurement Threshold

The significant change here is clearly to the €5,000 – €50,000 threshold. What this means is that now procurement for goods and services for any amount within this range can be conducted according to the following guidelines:

  1. Seek at least three written tenders from interested and competent suppliers/service providers
  2. Evaluate offers against relevant requirements using a scoring sheet;
  3. Select the most suitable offer and advise all tenderers regarding the decision.

Previously, procurements above €25,000 were required to be conducted through a more extensive and formalized process. This included using an Open Procedure and advertising the contract on the eTenders website. These requirements now apply to procurements above €50,000. In other words, one way of understanding these changes is to see that the methods previously required for conducting procurement of a value between €5,000 and €25,000, now apply to conducting procurement of a value between €5,000 and €50,000.

However, it should be noted that there are several exceptions to this rule. Crucially, while procurement contracts between €25,000 and €50,000 do not have to be advertised on eTenders, contract award information does have to be published for these contracts. Upon award of the contract, you are still required to publish the contract information on eTenders, even if you are no longer required to advertise the contract on eTenders. Additionally, while there is no requirement to advertise on eTenders, the Circular still encourages contracting authorities to do so if they wish.

A further exception to the updates worth noting is that it remains the case that where Government Departments and Offices have agreed contracts above €25,000 without a competitive process, this should be reported to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Works Thresholds and Other Issues in Circular 05/2023:

Similar to the goods and services changes, the thresholds related to works contracts have also been adjusted. Now, for works contracts of a value less than €200,000, it is sufficient to seek at least five written tenders from interested and competent contractors. As with procurement for goods and services, this represents a raising of the threshold.

However, the Circular is explicit in adding that “the threshold at which contracting authorities are required to advertise all contracts for works-related services remains at €50,000”. A typical example of this sort of service might be consultancy; for this sort of procurement, the threshold remains unchanged.

Finally, Circular 05/2023 does contain an extensive range of advice regarding how to go about conducting procurement. While this advice is not binding, it may be useful to for conducting procurement and includes recommendations such as:

  1. Undertake preliminary market consultations prior to tendering
  2. Subdivide contract into lots
  3. Sue Prior Information Notices to facilitate SMEs forming a consortium prior to tendering
  4. Use the “open procedure” for tendering where possible
  5. Ensure selection criteria set for tenderers are relevant and proportionate to the contract
  6. Ensure any turnover/financial capacity requirement is proportionate to the risk involved
  7. Indicate in tender documents where reasonable variants to the specifications are acceptable.
  8. Use a Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) for the procurement of commonly used goods, works or services which are generally available on the market.

Contributors
                                                    

Vincent Teo | Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Vincent Teo
Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Dr. Conor Dowling | Research & Policy Executive | Risk Consulting

Dr. Conor Dowling
Research & Policy Executive
Risk Consulting

Public Sector Climate Action Mandate

In May of this year, the Government approved the updated 2023 Public Sector Climate Action Mandate (PSCAM). The Mandate, first introduced as part of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2021, sets out the goals Public Sector Bodies must achieve as part of the government’s overall strategy for reducing emissions. The newly updated Mandate is an expansion of the 2022 Mandate. New actions have been added and existing actions have been expanded. This article will talk through the updated Mandate, explain its purpose and describe the new requirements it presents.

What is the Mandate?

The CAP’s overall aim is to achieve a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland by 2030. While the CAP acknowledges that the public sector is not the major driver of emissions, the Mandate has been introduced to facilitate the public sector in taking a leading role in reducing emissions. The Mandate must be followed for those bodies it applies to, but it should be noted that it does not apply to every public sector body. Local Authorities, Commercial Semi-State Agencies and Schools are all exempt from the Mandate. Size is also a consideration when adhering to the Mandate. The Mandate places greater responsibilities on government departments and also on organisations that consume over 50 GWh of energy per annum than it does on smaller bodies, which can fulfil the Mandate’s minimum requirements.

Status of the 2022 Mandate

For those public bodies the Mandate does apply to, many of the requirements found in the updated Mandate are unchanged from previous years. For instance, the requirement to establish and support Green Teams has not been altered. Furthermore, nothing has been removed from the Mandate. This means that any work completed to fulfil the previous Mandate remains valid. Any organisation still working on fulfilling the previous Mandate can continue to use the guides made available by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. We anticipate that updated guidelines will be made available for the new Mandate, however, no timeline for this is available so far.

Changes from the 2022 Mandate

For those who are subject to the Mandate, the following are the major changes to be aware of:

  • A new requirement has been added stating that senior management complete a climate action leadership training course in 2023.
  • The requirement that sustainability and emissions be addressed in the annual report has been amended. The annual report must now also address: a) efforts to implement the Mandate; b) compliance with Circular 1/2020 related to air travel emissions.
  • The requirement to review use of paper has been amended to include the need to eliminate paper-based processes and, where this is not possible, to use recycled paper as the default.
  • The requirement to achieve formal environmental certification has been amended with distinct requirements for organisations spending more or less than €2m per annum on energy.
  • A requirement to implement Green Public Procurement (GPP) has been added. This should be performed in line with the EPA Green Public Procurement Guidance.
  • The requirement to create bicycle friendly buildings has been amended to indicate that the priority should be to facilitate moving away from individual car use.
  • A new requirement to phase out the use of parking in buildings, without compromising on supports for those with physical mobility issues, has been added.
  • New recommendations for retrofitting large building have been added.
  • The requirement to procure zero-emission vehicles only has been amended to include a requirement that any procurement contracts a public sector body enters into should use zero emissions vehicles whenever possible.

Contributors
                                                    

Vincent Teo | Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Vincent Teo
Partner & Head of Public Sector & Government Services

Dr. Conor Dowling | Research & Policy Executive | Risk Consulting

Dr. Conor Dowling
Research & Policy Executive
Risk Consulting

Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022

In July 2022, the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022 was signed into Irish law. This Act gives effect to an EU Directive regarding the protection of whistleblowers and serves to amend and extend the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. This Act has made several substantial changes to the laws relating to whistleblowing in Ireland, generally expanding both the protections available to whistleblowers and the responsibilities imposed on companies regarding whistleblowing.

New Definitions of Protected Disclosures

The Amendment Act significantly expands the range of activities or acts of wrongdoing which are relevant to the purposes of the act. Whereas the 2014 Act describes a set of practices which may be relevant, the Amendment Act provides a broad list of areas in which, should an individual consider wrongdoing to be occurring, a Protected Disclosure may be made.

The Amendment Act has also clarified and expanded the types of individuals who can claim its protections when making a Protected Disclosure. The 2014 Act provides a definition of the types of “workers” who can claim the Act’s protections; the Amendment Act expands this definition both by adding new types of workers and also by clarifying that the information subject to a Protected Disclosure need only to have come to light in a “work-related” context.

Protections when making a Protected Disclosure

Under the Amendment Act, the range of protections available to individuals making a Protected Disclosure has also expanded. In particular, the Amendment Act has made extensive changes to the laws relating to any penalties an individual who has made a Protected Disclosure may have suffered. The 2014 Act provided a range of activities which it considered to be unfair penalisations of individuals who have made a Protected Disclosure; the Amendment Act has increased this list of penalties to include acts such as the withholding of training, negative performance assessment, harm to the individual’s reputation, and others.

Significantly, the Amendment Act also places the burden of proof on employers to prove that, should an individual who has made a Protected Disclosure suffer any of these penalties, that the penalty has no connection to the Protected Disclosure.

Requirements of Organisations under the Amendment Act

Under the Amendment Act, any organisation with 50 or more employees is obliged to develop internal reporting channels and procedures to facilitate whistleblowing for their staff. These obligations extend to private section organisations. A provision in the Amendment Act states that, for employers of between 50 and 249 employees, all obligations under the Act will not come into effect until December 2023.

The Amendment Act provides specifications regarding how these reporting channels should operate. These specifications are quite extensive and include timeframes for responding to Protected Disclosures, the appointment of an appropriate individual to investigate the Disclosure, provision of clear information to staff regarding the operation of these channels, as well as effort to ensure the confidentiality of individuals who make Protected Disclosures.

Click here to download a copy of our Guide to Everything You Need To Know About The Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022.

For a consecutive year, Crowleys DFK has been named the outright category winner of Excellence in Public Sector Services Award by The Public Sector Magazine’s 2021 Excellence in Business Awards.

Public Sector Services Award 2021

The awarding committee deemed Crowleys DFK worthy recipients of the Excellence in Business Award for our consistent high-quality services to the public sector.

Vincent Teo, Head of Public Sector Services commented:

“Winning this award once is a great achievement, but to win for a second year in a row is a testament to the hard work and commitment of our dedicated Public Sector teams. We are very proud of the reputation and long-term relationships we have built with our public sector clients over the years and this recognition from our peers and clients is a great honor.”

Click here to read the full Public Sector Magazine award editorial, featuring commentary from Vincent.

About the award

The annual awards recognise excellence in key providers to the Irish Public Sector acknowledging the professionalism of companies that excel in what they do.

Each year The Public Sector Magazine invites public sector agencies and local authorities to nominate organisations for consideration.  Nominees are judged by a panel of experts drawn from previous award winners and representatives from a diversity of sectors. The top three scoring nominations in each category are shortlisted with the highest scoring nomination as the winner.

Excellence in Public Sector Services

We are delighted to have been awarded the Public Sector Magazine’s Excellence in Public Sector Services Award 2020 for our “consistent high-quality services to the public sector”. 

It is great to be recognised for our work in the Public Sector. Last year we strengthened our Public Sector Department even further by adding another Partner, David Coombes, to our team. This strong leadership has helped ensure that we deliver a seamless and consistent service to our public sector clients.”  commented Vincent Teo, Head of Public Sector Services. 

For more information on our Public Sector Services, please get in touch 

Cloud Computing Advice Note Public Service Organisations Crowleys DFK Xero Cloud Accounting

In October 2019, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published the Government’s Cloud Computing Advice Note. The Note sets out the Government’s view that public service organisations must now take a more proactive and progressive approach to embracing cloud computing.

Specifically, public service organisations are encouraged to take a “cloud-first” approach for all new systems. Likewise, they are encouraged to review all existing systems for cloud capability.

Crowleys DFK have recently been awarded a Platinum Partner status by Xero, a leading cloud accounting software. This recognition confirms that our cloud accounting offerings to our clients is accredited to the highest level.  We are best placed to offer public and private sector clients of all sizes in implementing cloud accounting solutions for their business.

Our team of cloud accounting experts provide the following services:

  • Identify the most appropriate accounting system for your business.
  • Implement the chosen solution for you, tailoring it to your unique requirements.
  • Provide ongoing training and support to you and your staff.

For assistance or advice on cloud accounting, please contact David Coombes, Partner, Public Sector & Government Services.

27 August 2019 – Crowleys DFK, one of Ireland’s leading accounting, tax and advisory firms, is delighted to announce the appointment of David Coombes as a Partner in its Public Sector Services Department.

New Partner Promtion: David Coombes, Partner, Public Sector Services

Pictured: (l-r) James O’Connor, Managing Partner and David Coombes, Partner, Public Sector Services

David joins the partner group having previously held the position of Director within the Public Sector Services team. David joined the firm in 2006 and is highly experienced leading public sector financial and business advisory assignments in areas such as financial reporting framework implementation, management information system design, strategic finance support, risk management and governance compliance.

Commenting on the appointment, Managing Partner, James O’Connor said, “David’s appointment, along with our other senior promotions announcement last month, reflects the firm’s continued strong growth and our commitment to the long-term career development of our staff. I am delighted to see so many of our people moving ahead in their careers.

I would like to congratulate David on this important career milestone. His appointment is a thoroughly deserved recognition of the outstanding contribution he has made to the growth of the practice over the years and for his hard work and commitment to the firm and to our clients.”

New Partner Promotion: David Coombes and Vincent Teo

Pictured: (l-r) Vincent Teo, Partner and Head of Public Sector Services and David Coombes, Partner, Public Sector Services

According to Vincent Teo, Partner and Head of the Public Sector Services Department, “Crowleys DFK remains one of only a handful of accountancy firms in Ireland with a dedicated Public Sector Department. As the Department reports rapid year on year growth, it is important for us to have strong leadership to carry on this momentum, and to ensure that we deliver a seamless and consistent service to our public sector clients as they navigate the substantial financial reporting, governance and internal control compliance that is placed upon them.

David’s appointment will provide a great boost to the leadership team. He is consistently well regarded by clients and is a great addition to our partner group.”

Commenting on his promotion to Partner, David Coombes said: “I’m delighted to have been given this opportunity and feel very fortunate to be part of a firm which offers the best career development opportunities possible for its staff. I see an exciting future ahead for both the firm and the Public Sector Services Department. I look forward to working closely with the Partners and our talented team to continue to grow the firm and broaden our services to our clients.”