Mr Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, announced today (17 October 2013) the publication of the Local Government Bill 2013 to fundamentally reform the local government system in Ireland.
“This is the first time in over 100 years that we have attempted such a radical reform but it is necessary to bring our local government system up to date and to provide the kind of service our citizens deserve” the Minister said.
The Local Government Bill 2013 will give effect to the reforms that were approved by Government in October 2012, following the publication of the landmark Action Programme for Effective Local Government – Putting People First.
The Bill provides for the necessary changes to local authority functions, structures, funding, performance and governance to achieve the overall vision of a local government system that is the main vehicle for public service delivery at local level, leads economic, social and community development and represents citizens and communities effectively and accountably.
Speaking at the launch of the Bill, the Minister said: “The whole point of local government reform is to ensure that local Councils deliver better services to their citizens.”
The Bill provides that in future no separate structures will be established outside of local government for the delivery of public services, unless clearly necessitated.
“For too long local government has been by-passed by quangos. I want Councils to do more for citizens and local communities. But I accept that first local government must regain public trust,” the Minister said,
“this will take time but the reforms will facilitate by helping to renew the relationship between the citizen and their local Council. This is critical and will be achieved in two main ways.
Firstly, citizens will have better engagement with their local Councillors on how and where money is spent through the LPT. And this engagement will be strengthened even further from 2015 onwards when Councillors will be given the power to vary the LPT.
Secondly, citizens will be better able to judge how well their Council is doing at providing local services, how well they are performing relative to others Councils, and citizens will also be asked how satisfied they are with the services they get. It is only through this comprehensive form of measurement that we will be able to demonstrate that we have real reforms that citizens can see and benefit from,” said the Minister.
The main provisions of the Bill set out the structural reform of local government for greater efficiency, improvements to local government funding, accountability and governance, as well as providing for local government taking the lead in economic and community development.
The major structural reforms set out in the Bill will be the most radical and visible. The number of local authorities will reduce from 114 to 31 and the number of elected members will fall from 1,627 to 949. There will also be:
• A new integrated system of municipal districts throughout each county, to replace the 80 town councils. The new municipal districts will be fully representative of the population as distinct from the town councils which had limited functional, territorial and operational scope.
• The creation of new unified local authorities in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford as successors to the existing city and county councils.
• New regional assemblies, with a more focussed role in spatial and economic planning, will be established to replace the current eight regional authorities and two assemblies.
• A single set of councillors for district and county levels, replacing the existing dual mandate for many Councillors. Councillors will also have wider functions at district level to ensure that the needs of their communities are fully represented and met.
Local Councils will be given a greater say in local enterprise and economic development and in local and community development activities. The reforms provide for the alignment of the local community development sector with local government through the establishment of Local Community Development Committees, which will be mandated to prepare Local Community Plans to bring strategic coordination to the millions of euro spent each year on local and community development initiatives. There will also be a new Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) for Economic Development in each Council to:
• Prepare local action plans to guide and foster economic activity and stimulate job creation within the area.
• Provide the planning, oversight and accountability of the new Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), which will replace the County Enterprise Boards.
The Bill also provides for a range of measures to support local democracy, to strengthen governance and ensure that there is greater accountability for the delivery of local services. In particular, the Bill provides for a rebalancing of responsibilities between the elected members and the Council executive, to further strengthen the decision-making powers of Councillors for the benefit of the communities and citizens they represent. Specific provisions are as follows:
• The establishment of a new post of chief executive to replace the former city and county managers. The role of the chief executive will be more clearly defined to advise and support the elected Councillors in their policy making role and there will be enhanced management reporting arrangements to the Council. The Bill also provides for greater involvement by the Council in guiding the appointment of the chief executive;
• A standardised commercial rate across each county to be introduced over a period of 10 years. Also, the level of vacancy refund of rates will be standardised at a rate of 50% nationally in line with current practices in Dublin, Cork and Limerick cities;
• Greater involvement in and oversight of local authority budgets by members. In particular municipal district members will have delegated powers to decide programmes of works to be carried out within their district;
• A new National Oversight and Audit Commission for Local Government (NOAC) will be established to provide independent scrutiny of local government performance and in providing value for money for service delivery. NOAC reports will be made public and the Chief Executive will prepare an implementation plan to address any issues raised by the NOAC.
• The Bill also provides for a plebiscite in 2014 to allow the people of Dublin to decide for themselves if an office of a directly elected mayor should be established for the greater Dublin area.
The Minister emphasised that the local government reforms are an essential step forward in the Government’s wider reform programme and his intention to see the Bill enacted by the end of the year to ensure the necessary provisions are in place well before the local elections in 2014.
“This Government was elected with a strong mandate for reform. We have already shown our bona fides in delivering significant reforms to the financial sector, major reforms of the Oireachtas, measures to increase the number of women in politics and to make political funding more transparent..This legislation is just one in a series of measures to deliver a better, more efficient and relevant local government system. We are also working to ensure the financial stability of local authorities with the local property tax so that your taxes work for your own communities.”