Sunday 22 April 2018

Conference gravy train needs derailing

Do councillors really need to go on expensive course to learn how to use social media?
Do councillors really need to go on expensive course to learn how to use social media?

FOR a paltry few hundred euro, our local politicians are leaving themselves wide open to accusations of feathering their nests at a time when public money is in short supply.

It doesn't matter how educational, interesting or insightful a conference is, if local services are being curtailed or cut due to a lack of resources then it's not worth attending.

The fact this conference gravy train has continued for years, despite being repeatedly highlighted by the Irish Independent, shows the attitude of our elected representatives towards the voting public.

It's some leadership from a group which claims to be capable of wielding more power and holding more responsibility, but does a cynical public really expect any less? It could be argued that many of these conferences are educational. No doubt some are.

But there's legitimate questions about drawing public funds to attend courses on how to use social media, given the plethora of 'how to' guides available online, or asking a teenager to show you the ropes.

Is anyone really impressed by a councillor, mayor or deputy mayor showing up to a function?

Did the presence of these politicians spur camogie and football teams onto great things?

Should you and I pay for local politicians to attend management seminars, or to learn mind mapping techniques. Could this money not be better spent?

It costs €15,000 to retrofit a council house, making it warmer and cheaper to heat.

Some €30,000 will adapt a house and make it suitable for someone unfortunate enough to live with a disability.

A librarian costs about €25,000 a year to employ – just over five councillors' annual conference budget – and would most likely have a more profound impact on communities.

Water charges will average €240 per household.

The annual conference budget per councillor could cover this bill for 19 low income families.

Councillors may argue that the total spend is tiny, in the context of the overall spend in each local authority every year, and may claim that the Irish Independent is missing the big picture.

But the big picture for thousands of families on housing waiting lists is that they have no home to call their own, while units remain unoccupied due to a shortage of funds to make them habitable in a timely manner.

We could reform this rotten system by having a set number of conferences every year which only deal with subjects in which councillors have a direct role – planning, setting the budget, striking the rate, formulating bye-laws and housing policy, among others.

Let this new crop of councillors coming into office decide what help they need, and a central body could organise the same in one location which all could attend.

Cuts in conference budgets are only one part of the solution.

A re-think from councillors about how they go about their business is a more profound change that needs to happen.

Irish Independent

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