The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) has warned that government departments are entering into long-term commitments by increasing public service staffing levels during the pandemic.

In its Preliminary Review of Budget 2021 published this afternoon, the PBO, an in-house research service for the Oireachtas, estimates that an additional 17,550 staff will be recruited across government departments next year.

In net terms, that's an increase of 5% with only the Department of Transport reducing its headcount.

It says the 12,515 additional staff under the Department of Health is an increase of 10% and 'particularly noticeable.' An additional 2,215 employees will be added under the Department of Education.

The Review also highlights that expenditure of the contingency funds announced in the Budget for health and the economy should be subject to Dáil scrutiny. 

It says that pandemic spending should be tracked to make sure it's targeted efficiently. It says the absence of this check or the poor quality of information 'increases the risk that inefficient spending will occur.'

It also highlights that the absence of any medium term economic forecasts to accompany yesterday's Budget, makes it difficult to assess the 'issue of fiscal sustainability.' In simple terms, that means the ability of the State to continue to afford the increase in borrowing which underpins yesterday's Budget. 

The PBO also warns the reserves of the Social Insurance Fund are likely to be exhausted by next year if it's not bailed out by a supplementary estimate of just over €2 billion this year. 

It identifies the cost next year of not increasing the qualifying age for the state pension as €400 million. 

It also finds that the cost of the new Covid Restrictions Support Scheme for businesses forced to close due to public health restrictions is estimated to cost €40 million for every week the country is at Level 3 or above.

Because it's impossible to gauge the course of the virus and therefore the response, the PBO says there is no estimate for the cost of the scheme and it's not included in the aggregate cost of the tax measures in the Budget.