Local authority plan 'to save €420m'
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has announced plans to reduce the number of city and county councils, change the role of local representatives in the planning process and reform local authority funding.
Under the plan, the existing 114 councils across the State will be rationalised into 31 bodies, with a total of 80 town councils to be merged into new “municipal districts”, in an attempt to create a more efficient local government system.
The number of council seats is to fall by 42 per cent, from the current figure of 1,627 to 950.
Local authorities will also have to make appropriate arrangements, including the timing of meetings, to ensure that the way they conduct their business encourages greater participation by women in politics.
The power of councillors to overturn the decisions of planning officials will also be abolished. Section 140 of the Local Government Act will be put to an end so that councillors will no longer be allowed to direct officials in respect of planning functions.
The step has been taken in the light of evidence given to the Mahon tribunal regarding corruption among councillors in the planning process.
The plan says there will be a rebalancing of representation nationally and greater “equality of representation between local electoral areas within counties”.
Mr Hogan said the reform programme would yield savings on its full implementation of up to €420 million, some €150 million of which are hoped to be recorded in the next 18 months.
“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,” he said.
Many of the reforms are to be introduced in time for the 2014 local elections, at which time a referendum is likely to be held on the creation of a directly elected Dublin mayor.
The plan states that services administered by local authorities will in future be funded through a new local property tax, in “a move designed to strengthen local responsibility for decision-making by authorities”.
A new Independent National Oversight and Audit Commission is to be created to scrutinise local government performance and efficiency.
The plan also sets out an enhanced role for local authorities in relation to economic development and enterprise support, with economic development plans to form part of city and council development plans and one-stop-shops for business support to be provided through new Local Enterprise Offices.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that if the Government was to drive the “necessary reform” across the public service, the process “must begin with the political system itself”.