Revision of rates will need to balance climate goals and rising fuel costs
Civil servants and public representatives are being rewarded for driving the most polluting cars through travel expenses that favour bigger engines.
The Government has pledged to revamp the mileage system to reflect climate targets, but unions and representative bodies have signalled they will not accept changes that reduce members’ income.
The issue was deferred in the last revision of rates in 2017 on the basis that it would be addressed in talks due to have taken place two years ago.
A fresh deadline of June this year has been set for new rates to be put forward, but the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), which handles the issue, has yet to present unions with a firm proposal.
A spokesman said work on reviewing the rates was ongoing and “will take account of commitments under the Climate Action Programme”.
“It is anticipated that the review will be completed shortly, with a view to seeking agreement with staff representative associations by the end of the second quarter this year,” he said.
But while there has long been resistance to a new expenses formula that would remove favourable treatment for bigger cars, the spiralling cost of fuel is adding a further complication.
The Local Authority Members Association (LAMA) said its priority was to ask DPER to increase the rates to take account of the energy crisis.
LAMA secretary general John Sheahan said, “We’re hoping the current prices are a blip – but even if they go back down, the rates were cut substantially in the recession and they have never really come back to the level they were at in terms of keeping pace with the cost of living.”
He said the association was not opposed to a new formula that would remove incentives to drive bigger cars, but not at the expense of members who had no choice but to use their existing car for local authority business.
“We’ll have to see what they propose,” he said.
Under the current system there is no specific rate for electric vehicles, which are reimbursed at the lowest rate, for cars with engines up to 1200cc. A higher rate is paid for cars with engines of 1,201cc-1,500cc, and the highest for engines of 1,501cc and over.
About 45pc of new cars sold in Ireland last year had engines of 1,500cc or larger – a bigger proportion than in either of the two smaller engine groups.
Rates for bicycle users have not changed since 2007 and there is no specific rate for e-bikes.
Millions of euro is paid in public service mileage expenses each year. A conservative estimate in 2017 put it at €23m, excluding public representatives and some public sector bodies.
Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth said public money should not be used to support practices that went against climate policy.
“There is a headline commitment in the Climate Action Plan to the public sector leading by example, so it’s not tenable that the situation continues where the more polluting the car you drive, the more expenses you get,” he said.
“It has to be replaced by a more suitable system in line with our targets. The Government needs to bite the bullet on this.”
He stressed, however, that workers should not be expected to change overnight.
“It’s important that people get notice. They need to give people who have bought and who rely on a heavy fossil polluting car the opportunity to consider alternatives.”
Trade union Fórsa said it was awaiting proposals from management before commenting.
The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants said only that it would be participating in the consultation process. A union official said, however, that DPER’s proposals would have to be “sensible” as members were “in no mood for cuts”.