Councillors to be cut by 40% as part of initiative

 

LOCAL GOVERNMENT CHANGES:THE NUMBER of elected councillors is to be reduced by more than 40 per cent and 80 town councils are to be abolished under a local government reform programme announced yesterday by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

City and County Councils in Waterford and Limerick are to be merged under the plan, as will the local authorities in north and south Tipperary. The public will have a chance to vote on a proposal to introduce a directly elected Dublin mayor at the time of the 2014 local elections.

The programme, Putting People First, says there will be a rebalancing of representation nationally and greater “equality of representation between local electoral areas within counties”.

Under the plan, the number of councillors is to be reduced from 1,627 to a maximum of 950. Councillors will serve on county councils as representatives of “municipal districts”, which will replace the 80 town councils.

Each county will be divided into a number of these districts, which will be based around towns and their hinterlands.

Local authorities will also have to ensure that the way they conduct their business encourages greater participation by women in politics.

Mr Hogan said the reform programme would yield savings of up to €420 million, some €150 million of which are hoped to be recorded in the next 18 months.

But some €195 million of these savings have been recorded through reduced staffing numbers, changes to procurement and savings on items such as consultancy and human resources.

A total of 500 staff are to leave local authorities under a redundancy scheme included in the plan.

Support for business is to be provided through new local enterprise offices, designed to replace county enterprise boards. An independent national oversight and audit commission is to be created to scrutinise local government performance and efficiency.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government had pledged reform on its election 18 months ago and that the political system had long proved resistant to such change.

“This is a system of Government that has not fundamentally changed since the 19th century,” he said. “As a result it has grown disjointed . . . As a consequence the people have grown more distant and detached from a system of governance that is supposed to support them locally.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said there were three fundamental and linked problems with the system of local government: The electoral system was “undemocratic” and “gravely outdated” with disparities in representation between counties; the county council system did not respond well to issues at district and region level; and that local government did too little governing in relation to matters such as job creation and community development.

The power of councillors to overturn the decisions of planning officials will also be abolished under the programme. Section 140 of the Local Government Act will be altered 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.

Mr Hogan said inefficiency and corruption had a significant “moral cost” “But inefficiency and corruption have cost the State billions in recent years.”

Fianna Fáil spokesman on environment Barry Cowen said the plan would “further reduce the connection between the citizen and government”.

Key reforms by the numbers

* Number of local authorities to be reduced from 114 to 31 with all 80 town councils abolished.

* Number of elected councillors to be reduced from 1,627 to 950.

* Property tax will be used to fund local services.

* The power of councillors to overturn the decisions of planning officials is to be abolished.

* Local Enterprise Offices to be replace county enterprise boards. Local economic development strategies to be adopted as part of city and county development plans.

* Citizens to be offered chance to raise issues in their area, such as illegal dumping or drainage problems on fixyourstreet.ie.

* Referendum to be held in 2014 on the creation of a directly elected Dublin mayor.

* Voluntary redundancy scheme for 500 local authority staff