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Cllr Dermot Lacey

Representing Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council
Dermot Lacey is a Labour Party Councillor for the Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council. Dermot has been a member of Dublin City Council since 1993, and lives in Beech Hill, Donnybrook.
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 / Cllr Dermot Lacey ƒ Representing Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council

Speech on Local Government Efficiency Review Report

Speech delivered to Conference on Local Government Efficiency Review Report


1st October 2010

“In considering the contents of this Report you have to first of all consider where it emanated from, what was its purpose and who compiled the Final Report. On all three fronts I believe that Local Government and therefore the ordinary citizen was the loser. It is also worth noting that this Review came within months of being requested by Government while we are still awaiting the White Paper on Local Government Reform – which is now at least a year late on the promised publication It is also worth noting that while we may get the Dublin Mayor and Regional Authority Bill – it will more than likely fall far short of what is both possible and desirable. None of this is an accident. The Report emanated from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government – as one prominent journalist once said “surely the only Department in the State that is actively hostile to the nouns in its title. The record shows that the Mandarins in The Custom House are no friends of genuine Local Government. In fact, in my view, they are actively hostile to the real devolution of power, proper funding and any enhancing of the role of the elected Members. That approach was compounded on this occasion by being allied to the policy needs of the Department of Finance. You know, those Official and Ministers who believe they should run and control every aspect of Irish life. I might not mind if they had shown any ability in their main responsibility – running our economy. In my view this Review had nothing to do with Efficiency and was simply about Control and Cost Cutting. This Review Report should therefore be read in a somewhat jaundiced light. In recent years we have had; The Indecon Report and the Commission on Taxation Report – both binned by Government within days of their publication. So much for efficiency from either Central Government or the very Departments who tell us they know best. So we ended up with an Efficiency Review Group that was noticeable in that it did not contain one single elected Representative. Instead the Group consisted of: Pat Mc Loughlin from “An Bord Snip Nua”, Donal McNally Department of Finance, John Quinlivan a former County Manager, Ian Talbot from the Chambers of Commerce, Geraldine Tallon, Secretary General no less of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and last but by no means least, John O’Hagan Professor of Economics in TCD – a place incidentally largely exempt from paying Commercial Rates despite its location in the heart of the Dublin City Business District. Not a single Representative of the elected Local Government Sector of the approximately 1,500 local elected Councillors they could not find a place for even one of us. In all, the Group identified 106 Recommendations – let us just take some, as, to be honest, many of them were either tokenistic, minor or quite simply would never be implemented and every- one knows that. I agree with the recommendation to remove the “off the road” car tax facility. I agree with the recommendation that full cost recovery of Council commercial costs should be sought. I agree with the recommendation that Government should pay its way. I even agree, probably somewhat controversially, with the proposal to merge many different Local Authority Bodies and functions. However to be honest, as ever I believe that we will end up with the worst recommendations being implemented and the best sidelined for another decade at least. One good recommendation in the Report was the proposal that planning fees should be amended to provide for full cost recovery over five years. Despite the fact that the Oireachtas has just passed a new Planning and Development Act, was this provided for? You can guess the answer. Recommendations: 71, 76 and 78 said the various rates exemptions should be abandoned and Government should pay its way. In Dublin City Council the cost of this exemption has been approximately E25 million every single year since the early 1980’s – Does anyone expect this to be changed and if it is I have no doubt that the Departments of State will simply take the money back by deducting it from the Local Government Fund grant. In all, the other rates exemptions in Dublin City, add up to nearly E50 million in total per annum. This refusal to pay rates affects every single Council in the Country. The Report also recommends that Local Councils should “up the ante” in terms of rent collection – I agree. On Dublin City Council we are currently owed approximately E20million in rent arrears. So what happens? There are a number of schemes in place to try and help people pay on a regular basis. One of these is called the Household Budget scheme where the rent is deducted directly from the Social Welfare Income. However……….. amazingly there are four categories of people excluded from availing of this scheme; recipients of Contributory State Pension, Blind Pension, Disability Benefit and Carers Allowance so we have the extraordinary situation that a group of people, many of whom might have difficulty in getting to a payment office, are specifically excluded from this simple system. There should be a system whereby ALL rents are deducted at source from Social Welfare payments – not alone would this assist the cash flow difficulties of Councils it would assist Council tenants from getting into arrears and debts from which many can never recover. The Review Group also wants us to speed up the allocation of empty houses and flats. I am all for that. However our masters in the Departments and Finance and Environment, Heritage and Local Government, a) won’t let us take on sufficient staff to ensure such a quick turn around and b) won’t allow us let the units unless they reach the arbitrary and, in my view, nonsensical standards set by the very same Departments. We could employ craftsmen, make homes available and take in more rent if only the system would allow us and if the “National” would simply mind their own business. The same geniuses now want us to rent thousands of the empty houses and apartments around the country on a lease basis for five, ten or twenty years. In other words when we the Public Authorities have paid the bulk of the Mortgages on these properties they will revert to the Developers who built them. It would be hard to make some of this up. The proposal to toll our National Roads is another example of their madness – O’Connell Street is a National Road – now whether or not it should be is another question – are they really saying we should have a toll booth at either end – It would not surprise me. So what do I want? Unlike the Mandarins I believe that we can transform Ireland if we reform Local Government I believe we can save money, deliver more efficiently, identify real local savings, enable greater cooperation, if only we were let . To achieve that however we need to be freed from the shackles of the Mandarins. We need to have independent fundraising powers and we need Government to pay their fair share. Remember it was Government that removed our ability to raise Domestic Rates – not us. In Dublin City, for example, the gap between the Rates we would have received if they had not been abolished and the grant we get from the Local Government Fund is about E120million. That is solely based on the number of Domestic Units in 1977. Clearly the number has mushroomed since then. Had that short-sighted, populist and deeply irresponsible decision not been taken, Local Government and Ireland would have been in a lot better shape today. Of course Rates needed to be reformed and made fairer but abolition left us in a mess from which we have never recovered. Since then we have had the short lived Residential Property Tax, which did not even have the benefit that the money was retained locally and more recently the Non Principle Private Residence or Second Home Tax. I have been one of the few people to welcome that scheme and particularly welcome the fact that the income goes directly to the Local Authority in whose area the money is collected. As an owner of a mobile home here in Wexford however I was amazed that the levy was not applied to me. I believe that it should be. Why on earth should I avail of services provided by Wexford County Council for at least half the year and pay nothing. While a flat rate similar to a full home would probably be unfair a proportionate figure of say E100 would not. Needless to say I was not very popular for a while with my fellow mobile home owners when I made that point on Radio. Unfortunately for County Wexford and many other areas with high holiday season populations the Government backed down on that issue and Councils lost, a relatively easy to collect, fortune. This issue of financing Local Government is central to any real reform. Quite simply there is no governance without independent finance raising responsibilities. I have previously proposed that a National Forum on the Financing of Local Government should be established as a matter of urgency. The Forum would draw its membership from the main Political Parties, the three Councillor Representative Bodies and the Social Partners. It would be given six months to a year to agree an approach that would provide sufficient funding on a nationally agreed basis and that would allow some degree of flexibility as to appropriate local fund raising. Similar to PAYE we need a national buy in of the method of Local Government funding and can have the political argument on the rates or the levels of fundraising. The Forum just might allow that to emerge.

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