Monday 20 November 2017

The reform of our local governments is necessary and overdue


Environment Minister Phil Hogan
Environment Minister Phil Hogan

Phil Hogan

THE key provisions of my local government reforms will result in the most far-reaching change since the current system came into being 115 years ago.

The act provides for a wide range of reforms which will be underpinned by a stable system of funding. Elected councils will be given significant fiscal discretion and responsibility for the first time in nearly 38 years.

The number of local authority structures will be reduced from 114 to 31 and the number of councillors from 1,627 to 949. This will also dispense with a range of associated administrative processes, and the additional resources will be used to improve frontline services.

Dissolution of the 80 town councils will end a weak and unbalanced version of local democracy in which almost 46pc of councillors represented only 14pc of the population.

Anomalies such as residents inside town boundaries having double votes will cease.

Members will decide on a range of important local matters on a locally-devolved basis, but without the cost associated with having separate councils.

These powers will include local area plans, by-laws, and programmes of works for roads, housing and amenities – currently decided by the executive. It will result in a significant enhancement of councillors' powers.

The reform programme makes councils the primary vehicle for public service at local level.

It will lead economic, social and community development, delivering efficient and good value services representing citizens effectively and accountably.

This is not aspirational – it's about getting the most out of the system and giving local authority members and staff greater ownership of their functions.

Councils will have a wider and clearer role in economic development. Central to this will be the operation of Local Enterprise Offices as a "first-stop-shops" for the small business sector.

Local authorities will have a pro-active role in promoting economic development, working closely with development agencies, businesses and other relevant players.

Councillors will be given greater policy development powers and better oversight of implementation of policy by the executive.

Officials would also be subject to more rigorous performance and reporting requirements.

Nearly 30 additional functions are being assigned to the elected members in the key areas of revenue raising, economic development and the role of the municipal districts.

We have invested huge effort into the local government renewal agenda and achieved more in the past three years than has been done in the previous three decades.

The extent to which these reforms bear fruit and deliver better service and quality for local communities depends crucially on the performance of the new councils elected on May 23.

Phil Hogan is Minister for the Environment

Irish Independent

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