The 2012 Putting People First – Action Programme for Effective Local Government made specific reference to Dublin and proposals for effective local government. I have pulled together a short summary of some of the main changes that were proposed.
Arrangements in Dublin
6.4.9 Dublin is a special case, having regard to a range of considerations relating to demographic, spatial, organisational and governance issues which are significantly different from other areas. The introduction of municipal district arrangements in other areas to replace town councils raises a question of whether some, possibly similar, form of district governance should be introduced in Dublin. The introduction of any new arrangement in Dublin that would involve the creation of an additional element of local administration and associated cost would be at variance with the approach towards rationalisation and efficiency which underpins the local government reform programme generally. The issue of replacing town authorities does not arise in Dublin (aside from Balbriggan) as in other counties. However, the concept of an element of governance or decision-making below the level of the county does, in principle, appear applicable. Accordingly, it is proposed that provision would be made to enable the type of reserved functions which will be performed by the elected members at municipal district level in other counties, to be exercisable also by the elected members in the counties of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal and South Dublin, meeting in a sub-formation at the level of each electoral area. It is proposed, however, that the operation of this system would be optional in Dublin. It would be a matter for the overall council in each county to decide whether this form of sub-county arrangement should apply.
6.4.10 Any proposals in relation to local authority membership in Dublin would need to be carefully considered in the context of other significant issues relating to local government structures and governance, particularly as reduction in the population to member ratio could have significant implications for the size of councils and associated efficiency and cost. However, there is a good case for reducing the degree of representational imbalance currently in the Dublin counties, particularly Fingal, which has 24 seats and a member to population ratio of 1:11,416 and South Dublin which has 26 seats and a ratio of 1:10,200. The member to population ratio in Dun Laoghaire- Rathdown, which currently has 28 seats, is less unfavourable at 1:7,366, but still relatively high compared with many other areas. A review of local electoral areas and the number of members assigned to each of those areas will be undertaken.
Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs)
Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs) operate in every city and county council and have brought a particular focus to the policy-making, implementation and review roles of councillors. Participation of local sectoral interests continues to be facilitated by the allocation of one third of the membership of SPCs to representatives of the community and voluntary, farming, business, environmental and trade union sectors in the city/county.
The SPCs thus provide members with the opportunity to develop a greater role in the strategic development of their council. Following the local elections in June 2009, new SPC schemes were established in each city and county council. SPCs operate on the basis of SPC guidelines issued by the Department and a set of recommendations that followed the publication of a Review of the Operation of Strategic Policy Committees.
Corporate Policy Group (CPG)
The chair of each SPC together with the Cathaoirleach/Mayor of the local authority forms the Corporate Policy Group (CPG). The role of the CPG is a strategic one; it is intended to link and co-ordinate the work of the different SPCs; and to provide a forum where policy positions affecting the whole council can be discussed and agreed for submission to the full council. The CPG acts as a mini-cabinet for council business and is supported by the city/county manager. Its members sit on the County/City Development Board (CDB).
Joint Policing Committees
In September 2008, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government jointly announced – the extension of Joint Policing Committees (JPCs) under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to all 114 local authorities the adoption of new guidelines for such committees. The announcement followed the review of the operation of JPCs on a pilot basis in 29 local authorities. JPCs are comprised of representatives of local authorities and the Garda Síochána who together with members of the Oireachtas and community representatives, can make recommendations on matters concerning the policing of areas, including measures to address the levels and patterns of anti-social behaviour. While JPCs cover all aspects of local policing, one of their functions is to establish Local Policing Fora (LPFs), which will bring a specific focus to addressing the problem of drugs misuse. Guidelines in relation to LPFs were published by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in July 2009 and since then work is ongoing on the establishment of these committees by the Local Authorities and An Garda Síochána in all 14 Local Drugs Task Force Areas.
Local Government Efficiency Review (LGER)
The Local Government Efficiency Review (LGER) was carried out in 2010 following the 2010 budget (in 2009). Its remit was to review the cost base, expenditure and numbers employed in local authorities. It was to recommend ways of reducing costs, review the effectiveness of programmes, make recommendations on programme delivery, and other VFM proposals. The report is consistent with Croke Park, Transforming Public Services, Commission on Taxation etc. The chair was Pat McLoughlin who was Deputy CEO of the HSE.
The issue of boundaries and political structures were not considered by the group. Instead the White Paper on Local Government is looking at this. However, they do make some recommendations that relate to efficiency (page 6-9 of the LGER Report)
There were 106 recommendations which cover:
• Motor tax
• Local government and the wider Public Service
• Financial Reporting/Management
• Cost Recovery/Revenue
• Shared Services
The recommendations in the report should save €511m per year when fully in place.
Implementation Group (set up in 2011)
The Implementation Group was set up to prioritise the areas to be implemented first. The group reported in March 2012 and in April 2013. The implementation of the report is being driven by the CCMA – the County and City Managers’ Association through a PMO – Project Management Office and the establishment of oversight and reporting systems to focus on delivery and assessment of measures.
The March 2012 report (updated again in December 2012) stated that since 2008, €830m had been saved. Since the LGER Implementation Group started its work, staffing had been reduced (€98m saved), procurement had brought savings of €79m, consultancy savings (€11m), HR and Payroll ICT system (€3m) and hazardous waste controls (€5m).
The April 2013 report noted even more savings (total €230 since 2010) without a reduction in quality of service. However, it noted that there was a reduction in the rate at which efficiencies were being realised. It notes in this report that the Local Government Action Plan has recommended the establishment of a national Oversight and Audit Commission and it feels its work might be subsumed into this group.