Councillors,authorities likely to be cut, says Hogan

Thu, Jul 26, 2012, 01:00

LOCAL GOVERNMENT:THE GOVERNMENT is “extremely likely” to cut the number of councillors and local authorities under plans for local government reform, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has said.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Hogan said he wanted to “drag the system of local government into the 21st century” so it delivered more to the community and put people first.

The reform programme to be announced in the autumn, entitled “Putting People First”, will introduce “significant changes to regional, county, city and town governance”.

Every aspect of local government would see change. Mr Hogan said that, where possible, public services should be delivered through locally based bodies rather than centralised agencies.

“I’m updating those structures to increase efficiency and give more value for money for the people they serve,” he said. “It’s extremely likely that I will be cutting the number of councillors and the number of authorities.”

He said he would certainly strengthen the role of local authority audit committees to provide better oversight. “Clearly, also, local government must look to new income streams.”

Such streams included the planned property tax, which would be used to fund local services. User charges would become more a feature than “tax on work”.

No decision had yet been made on how much the Government expected to take in from the property tax. That would be a budgetary matter and one for the Minister for Finance, he said.

While he did not say what form the planned property tax might take, Mr Hogan said the Revenue Commissioners would be charged with collecting it. People would have the option of paying it through Revenue, or in “one lump” if they wished, he said.

Mr Hogan faced jeers from protesters against the household charge when he arrived to speak at the summer school. Arriving at about 4.15pm, the Minister avoided about 60 chanting protesters carrying placards at the front of the Highlands Hotel. Protesters attempted to chase after him as he was driven through a side entrance, with some breaking past gardaí at the gate.

Defending his decision to avoid the protest, Mr Hogan said he had not believed he was going to be greeted by such a big group and he did not want anyone to be crushed.

He urged the 52 per cent of people in the county who had not paid the charge to pay it. He said if they did not, their local council and its management would have “no option” but to reduce essential services by the end of the year.

Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins, the party’s former spokesman on local government and now spokesman on justice, said the Government’s promised radical reform had not materialised. He said he was not convinced abolishing town councils was a “sound strategic choice”.