Public Policy Bulletin, 4 December 2020

Dec 03, 2020

In this week’s Public Policy news, read about Ireland’s latest Exchequer figures; a new report on human rights and Irish businesses; the “greener, stronger future” promised in the UK Government’s Spending Review 2020; and new rules on Data Governance proposed by the EU.

Department of Finance figures show Exchequer deficit and expenditure increase

Figures released this week by Ireland’s Department of Finance have shown that the Government recorded an Exchequer deficit of €8.9 billion to the end of November 2020, compared to a surplus of more than €3.3 billion in the same period last year. Given COVID-19 support measures, Government expenditure increased considerably this year compared to 2019, with net expenditure reaching €59.3 billion. This represents a 23.7 percent (€11.3 billion) increase on last year’s expenditure.

Receipts from both income tax and VAT were down on last year; however several factors make comparisons limited. The income tax figures were skewed by the deferral of the “pay and file” income tax deadline to 10 December; and the VAT figures reflect the partial impact of Level 5 COVID-19 restrictions. However corporation tax receipts were up 7 percent, cumulatively amounting to €10.7 billion.

The Central Statistics Office have also released unemployment figures which show that unemployment – when adjusted to include those in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment – has increased to 21 percent in November. While that number is still less than the 30.4 percent experienced during April of this year, it still represents a marked increase on the unemployment rate in November 2019; more than 71,800 people are unemployed now than were out of work this time last year.

Ireland benchmarks low in a new Report on Irish Business and Human Rights

A report published by the Trinity Business School Centre for Innovation found that there is still uncertainty over how much progress that has been made in Ireland by businesses and state-owned enterprises since the first publication of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) almost 10 years ago. The UNGPs aim to ensure that respect for people is at the heart of business operations. 

The report analyses published information from the top 50 publicly-listed firms operating in Ireland (20 domiciled in Ireland, 30 multinational employers), with the goal of “providing a comprehensive snapshot of what corporate adherence to the UNGPs looks like in practice”.

The report also includes a standalone analysis of the ten largest state-owned enterprises and whether they actually take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses in such businesses, as the UNGP suggests they should do given their closer proximity to government.

The report found that:

  • 88 percent of the Top 50 companies benchmarked score below 50 percent of the maximum points available.
  • 50 percent of companies score 20 percent or below.
  • State-owned enterprises included within the research also scored low.
  • The key area where alignment with the UNGPs was found to be severely lacking is human rights due diligence.
  • There are policy and legislative options which the Irish government should consider, in the absence of an international legally binding treaty.

The report’s recommendations include stepping up awareness-raising among business, taking ownership of the implementation of the UNGPs in state-owned enterprises, and delivering mandatory human rights due diligence legislation at the national and European levels.

UK Government’s Spending Review 2020 promises a “greener, stronger future”

The UK government announced last week that it will provide billions of pounds in the fight against COVID-19, increasing funding to deliver stronger public services, and investing £100 billion to drive UK’s recovery.

Presenting the Spending Review 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that the pandemic still represents an emergency, and that the country was now facing an ‘economic emergency’; however, he pointed to the stronger public services that will be delivered, including new hospitals, better schools and safer streets, “a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure”, jobs and economic growth.

Increases in departmental spending, capital spending and a £4 billion Levelling Up Fund would, the Chancellor continued, make for a “greener, stronger future”. Further information can be found here.

European Commission proposes new rules on Data Governance

The EU Commission has proposed new rules on data governance. The goal of the new rules – the first of a set of measures announced in the 2020 European strategy for data is to “facilitate data sharing across the EU and between sectors to create wealth for society, increase control and trust of both citizens and companies regarding their data, and offer an alternative European model to data handling practice of major tech platforms.”

More details, and information about the 2020 European Digital Strategy, can be found here.

 

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