New systems will make Local Government accountable, Councillors will be reduced by 42%, Councils reduced from 114 to 31, Overall Savings of €420 million.
A comprehensive Action Programme to bring about the most fundamental improvements to the local government system in over one hundred years was launched today (16.10.2012) by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD, and Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan TD. Entitled “Putting People First”, the Programme is part of the Government’s overall reform of the political system.
Speaking at the launch, the Taoiseach said: “This Government was elected with a strong mandate to deliver on radical reform for our economy, public services and our politics. If we are to drive the necessary reform across the public service then that process must begin with the political system itself. In order to bring Local Government into the 21st Century we are introducing one of the most radical, ambitious and far-reaching governance reform plans ever put forward by an Irish Government. The reduction in the number of councillors, the merger of certain county councils and the replacement of town councils with Municipal Districts is a necessary reform designed to increase the efficiency of local Government and will ensure that taxpayers money is translated into the services people expect and deserve in their local areas Putting People First represents the new vision required to strengthen and empower local government and Minister Hogan will oversee the implementation of many of its reforms in time for the 2014 local elections.”
The Tanaiste said: “Reforming local Government is about solving problems and providing services that have a direct and immediate impact on all our lives. We need local Government to be more democratic and more responsive and we need that reform to happen while at the same time keeping what works in the existing system and at a time of reducing budgets. Today, we are embarking on a path to far-reaching reform that will result in a system that is fairer, better and fit for purpose in a modern democracy.”
Speaking earlier, Minister Hogan said: “Putting People First sets to reform the system of local government from structures that are largely unchanged since 1898; to modernise the approaches to ensure more is delivered to the citizen and to build confidence in the Local Government Sector by making it more accountable to the people it serves. This document represents fundamental re-imagining of the system and it sees local government leading economic, social and community development, as well as delivering efficient services that are good value. The overall programme will save the taxpayer over €420 million.”
At the launch, the Minister presented the reforms contained in the Action Programme under four main themes:
- Funding, Accountability and Governance
- Economic Development and Job Creation
- Delivering Services Efficiently
“The most fundamental reorganisation of local government structures in over a 100 years will be undertaken over the next two years, the structural reforms alone will deliver €45 million in savings. Under a totally new model of governance within counties, all 80 existing town authorities will be replaced by a comprehensive system of municipal governance integrating town and county governance.”
Structures will be streamlined:
· There will be a reduction in the number of local authorities from 114 to 31 City and County Councils with integrated areas called ‘Municipal Districts’.
· Council seats will be reduced from 1,627 to no more than 950. The members elected at local level will also represent the district at county level.
· At regional level, 3 new assemblies will replace the current 10 regional authorities and assemblies.
· There will be a rebalancing of representation nationally and more equality of representation between local electoral areas within counties.
Funding, Accountability and Governance:
“Local Government does not enjoy universal confidence. Putting People First will address the weaknesses in the system and introduce new measures that will re-build public confidence and trust.”
Key measures include:
- Services administered by local authorities will be funded through the new local property tax, a move designed to strengthen local responsibility for decision-making by authorities.
- There will be a new Independent National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC) to scrutinise local government performance and efficiency.
- Local authority Audit Committees will be put on a full regulatory footing and the Committee’s review of the Audit Report will be included in its report to the Council.
- While the powers of councillors will be strengthened, their powers to direct Managers in respect of planning and certain other matters will be curtailed.
- The position of local authority manager will be replaced by a Chief Executive Post. This is designed to reinforce the principle that the chief executive of a council should be accountable to the elected members in the discharge of all his/her functions, in the same way as a chief executive of a company reports to a board of directors.
- The two representative bodies of local Councillors will be merged after 2014.
- The structures and levels of all payments to councillors will be reviewed.
- The overall maximum expenditure in respect of attendance by councillors at conferences will be significantly reduced. To help improve the relevance of such conferences, attendance will be limited to conferences organised by the proposed new amalgamated councillor representative body, by a regional assembly, or by professional bodies (such as planning bodies) operating in the local government sector.
- The role and functions of the elected council are to be widened. One of the fundamental aims of this reform programme is to reaffirm the primacy of the elected members in the local government system and to examine the default provision which grants the executive power to act unless powers are specifically assigned to members. The local government sector will be covered by a single, comprehensive ethics framework to apply across the public service.
- To complement the steps taken by political parties to promote and assist women candidates, local authorities will make appropriate arrangements, including the timing of meetings, to ensure that the way they conduct their business encourages the greater participation of women in politics.
Economic Development and Job Creation:
“Putting People First empowers Local Government in an entirely new way, particularly in relation to economic development, and most importantly, sustaining and creating jobs. “
There will be an enhanced local authority role in relation to economic development and enterprise support:
· There will be new dedicated Strategic Policy Committee for Economic Development in each local authority.
· A new dedicated Director of Services for Economic and Community Development will be created in those local authorities with hubs and gateways.
· Economic development plans will form part of the City or County Development Plan.
· One-stop-shops for business support will be provided through new Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs)
· Greater effectiveness will also be achieved through a closer alignment of local and community development supports with the local government system.
· Local authorities will build on the 2,000 job initiatives already in train.
“Local Government has been ahead of most sectors in the changes it has made to reduce costs and drive efficiency, with €830 million savings made since 2008. This will continue to be pursued vigorously to achieve the highest standards of customer service and I have set a further target of €150 million over the next 18 months. The reform programme will yield significant savings on full implementation of up to €420 million.”
The Programme will see new measures to monitor the performance of local authorities, with emphasis on targets, customer service and value-for-money.
- Service plans will be approved by elected members in each authority.
- New robust systems of performance monitoring, including scrutiny by the National Oversight Audit Commission will focus on key indicators, value for money, comparative performance of local authorities, and outcomes rather than outputs.
- A publicly accessible website, fixyourstreet.ie, will be rolled out to every local authority area to enable citizens to report road, lighting, environmental and other issues requiring local authority response and secure a response within two working days.
- To improve the relationship between the authority and the Community they serve, each County and City Council will be required to have a dedicated, suitably trained Customer Services Officer.
“Many Ministers before me have launched policy documents, white papers or programmes for local government reform. Some of these led to important changes in particular aspects of the local government system. But others had little impact. I will play my part by ensuring that this programme is backed by action which will help shape a much more positive and productive future for local government in Ireland.”
“Putting People First represents the most fundamental set of reforms in local government in the history of the State. I am committed to building a stronger and more cohesive system of local government to serve the community at local level, and to make a stronger contribution to meeting national challenges.”