Impact trade union warns against further erosion of local democracy

Minister for the Environment defends Government reforms at Dublin conference

Peter Nolan: Criticised successive governments for stripping local authorities of responsibility. Photograph: Eric Luke

Peter Nolan: Criticised successive governments for stripping local authorities of responsibility. Photograph: Eric Luke

Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 01:00



Further erosion of the powers of local authorities could make it impossible to justify the property tax, the union Impact has said.

National secretary Peter Nolan said the new local authority structures offered a golden opportunity to establish the kind of vibrant local democracy common in most EU countries.

“But I fear the opportunity will be missed because the powers and staffing available to the new municipal districts will make them even less effective than the current structures.’’

Mr Nolan, whose union represents over 12,000 local authority workers, said no other European state had such weak local democracy and despite their hard work and commitment, local Irish councillors remained the most powerless in the EU. This was because central government determined virtually all local authority funding, staffing levels and responsibility for services.

Addressing a seminar on the future of local government in Dublin yesterday, Mr Nolan said next month’s local elections could be the most, or least, important in history, depending on whether the municipal authorities, replacing town councils, get real powers and resources.

Refuse collection
He criticised successive governments for stripping local authorities of responsibility for refuse collection, driver licensing, education grants, direct responsibility for water provision and other services. Addressing the conference, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said the reforms being introduced would bring local government closer to the people, with the property tax collected locally spent locally.

He said there would be a wider and clearer role for local government relating to economic development, including the operation of local enterprise offices, contributions to the new regional spatial and economic strategies, to which all relevant agencies would be required to subscribe, and a requirement to develop local economic and community plans.

In addition, said Mr Hogan, the community and local development sector was being brought within the ambit of local government, involving the establishment of local community development committees to replace the city and county development boards.

Savings
The Minister said a rigorous efficiency programme had been implemented in the local government sector and already yielded significant expenditure savings.

“However, this is not primarily a cost-cutting exercise but a matter of doing things more efficiently, especially through shared services, collaborative arrangements or external service delivery across operational areas such as payroll and superannuation, building control, treasury management, procurement, payments, debt collection and property maintenance,’’ said Mr Hogan.