Saturday 20 January 2018

Editorial: Councillors' cuts in blitz on wasteful spending

Minister for Environment Phil Hogan. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister for Environment Phil Hogan. Photo: Tony Gavin

EVERY little helps. The cuts in local councillors' allowances and expenses, which come into operation today, amount to very little in terms of overall public spending, but they constitute an attack – all too rare – on wasteful and anomalous expenditure. Councillors' salaries are small. But the recipients also benefit from such perks as expenses for attending conferences and training courses and fees for sitting on public bodies to which they have been nominated.

The total in 2012-'13 came to almost €23m. In terms of individuals, the reductions will be meaningful, even painful in some cases. They will average 60pc, and they will bear down with particular force on what Environment Minister Phil Hogan calls the "scandal" deriving from the abuse of a system which pays expenses for travelling to "pointless and ineffective" conferences. The lord mayor of civic-minded Cork may well spend every cent of his or her €79,000-a-year salary (now down to €30,000) on public duties and end the year out of pocket, but Mr Hogan was right to reduce the €4,700 for conferences and training courses to €700.

Some councillors claimed expenses for travelling considerable distances to events of doubtful value. The question of training courses, meanwhile, prompts a raised eyebrow and a wry smile. From now on, attendees will be paid only if the events are "relevant" to their role. One has to wonder about the story of the irrelevant courses. Mr Hogan has refrained from cutting several payments to local authority members. The rationale for these payments, which can amount to as much as €64,000, is not immediately obvious. Certainly some councillors – often the most useful and the hardest-working – have made sacrifices in the interests of public service. Others contribute very little. But how is any outsider to make judgments? The question must be left to the electorate.

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