Guarding community development

 

Sir, – Much has been commented on in the media in recent months in relation to my proposals to enhance the alignment of local government and local development. There has been inaccurate and alarmist talk of the removal of funding and job losses. While this scaremongering may be intended to serve other agendas, I want to make it clear my sole agenda is to protect and improve frontline services to local communities.

I don’t accept that current local development structures are necessarily the most efficient method of delivering services to local communities and, in the same way that the Action Programme for Effective Local Government – Putting People First contains an ambitious reform agenda for our local government system, I believe our local development services can be better co-ordinated.

Government policy is to reinforce local government as the primary means of delivering local services, giving it a greater capacity to address the challenges we face and to promote local community, social and economic development. The Alignment Steering Group I set up to review this area noted the complex range of structures and entities that deliver local and community development supports, all with their own administration overheads. The group reported, “these administration functions carry significant costs and can divert resources from frontline services”. I make no apology that I intend to tackle these issues. In the current economic climate, we have to look for the most cost-effective delivery mechanisms. The recommendations for greater alignment of local government and local development include that local development companies will continue to have an integral role in local development delivery. I support that.

The reforms also seek to address potential reductions in budgets. Recently we have seen the outline for EU budgets for 2014-2020 agreed, and while details have yet to be finalised, some programmes could be significantly curtailed. Reductions in programme funding, in the context of budgetary processes at national and EU level, will impact on administration funding. This adds to the compelling case for reform, for a more streamlined system, which is fit for purpose, eliminates unnecessary duplication and achieves better value for money.

Greater collaboration is crucial in the reforms. The various entities handling public funds must work together to make the best use of scarce resources. Alignment is about doing just that, and about developing a partnership approach between the local government and local development sectors. The vision we have for a reformed local government to be the main vehicle of governance and public service at local level, is consistent with international best practice. I know the local development sector in Ireland has a long history and handles large volumes of public funding. However, this debate has been overly focused to date on protecting structures and organisations and maintaining the status quo.

I have met the stakeholders in recent weeks to discuss this matter and I have established a working group with the key responsibility to assist and to advise on how we take forward the proposals set out in Putting People First , in a way that will secure maximum value for scarce resources and enhance service delivery for local communities. I recognise that reform, while necessary, brings challenges. Therefore, I am keen this work is done in a way that promotes co-operation, trust and respect between all of the key stakeholders. – Yours, etc,

PHIL HOGAN TD,

Minister for the

Environment, Community &

Local Government,

Custom House, Dublin 1.