2012 Putting People First

2012 Putting People First – Action Programme for Effective Local Government

Putting People First- Action Programme for Effective Local Government was published on 16 October 2012 following Government approval.  It sets out Government policy for reforms across all the main areas of local government. The Programme reflects principles of international bodies such as OECD and the Council of Europe and was informed by recent national reports such as the Local Government Efficiency Review (LGER), the report of the Local Development/Local Government Steering Group, by previous work on local government reform, and by wide consultation.

The reform programme aimed to take account of the prevailing economic circumstances in which both administrative and political elements of the public service at all levels are undertaking radical restructuring and change.

In essence the Action Programme proposes to implement the most far-reaching changes since the present system of local government began in the 1890s. It sets out the reforms the Government has approved in all of the main areas of local government – its structures, functions, resources, operational arrangements and governance.

Amongst these are the following:-

  1. Local government structures at sub-county, county and regional levels, are being streamlined and strengthened. There will be a reduction of some 500 Councillors involving the replacement of 114 local authorities with 31 integrated authorities organised on the basis of municipal districts within counties. The total number of local authority seats nationally will not exceed 950, compared with 883 county and city council and 744 town council seats currently.
  2. Three sets of local authorities i.e. Tipperary North and South County Councils and the City and County Councils of Limerick and Waterford will be merged after the 2014 local elections with an interim dual management arrangement up to that time.
  3. Municipal districts will be established all over the country drawn as far as possible around existing town authorities and larger non-municipal towns and their hinterlands. The boundaries of the municipal districts will be drawn up on the basis of a review by an independent statutory committee based on relevant parameters including the position of towns.
  4. Councillors will be elected simultaneously to both municipal district and county council, with members in common instead of the current separate town and county membership whereby municipal towns have double representation.
  5. The elected members will perform a substantial range of “reserved” functions at district level on a fully devolved basis, including: a local policy/regulatory role in areas such as planning, roads, traffic, housing, environmental services, recreation, amenity and community development; formal civic functions; a general representational and oversight role; and citizen/community engagement. The scope for further devolution of functions to local government will be pursued through ongoing engagement with relevant Departments. More far-reaching expansion of the local government remit will be pursued on an ongoing basis as the reforms across the local government system take effect.
  6. There will be a stronger role for local government in promoting economic development because of the economic impact of its functions generally, its links with enterprise, its local knowledge and leadership, economic initiatives by many local authorities, and its new local development and enterprise functions.
  7. Local government will have a central role in the oversight and planning of local and community development programmes, through arrangements based on the report of a Steering Group on the alignment of the local government and local development sectors.
  8. Regional structures and functions will be revised and strengthened with replacement of the eight regional authorities and two assemblies by three new regional assemblies to perform an updated range of strategic functions.
  9. A rigorous programme of efficiency measures, organisational streamlining and robust performance evaluation is being implemented to ensure that local government is organised and operates as efficiently as possible, achieves the highest standards of performance and provides the best possible quality of service and responsiveness to customers, citizens and taxpayers.
  10. A secure and sustainable system of local funding will be established with provision for an appropriate element of local authority financial responsibility to underpin local democratic decision-making.
  11. A range of reforms are being implemented to strengthen and clarify governance and related aspects of the local government system, including local government oversight, accountability, policy-development, ethics and citizen engagement, and the status and role of the elected council and executive.
  12. A major programme of legislation will be put in place to provide for the wide range of measures in time for the 2014 local elections.
  13. Other implementation arrangements include a national steering group to formulate implementation details of new sub-county arrangements and oversee the process generally, in conjunction with local re-organisation arrangements in each county; a statutory local government committee to provide recommendations on the configuration of municipal districts/electoral areas; the mergers of local authorities in Limerick and Tipperary to proceed on the basis of the Implementation Plans of the Implementation Groups; an Implementation Group (recently established) to direct the re-organisation process in Waterford; and, further implementation arrangements to be established as necessary for particular aspects of the programme.

The report is divided up into four main headings of Local Government functions, Local Government structures, funding/efficiency/customer service, and governance/accountability.

In terms of functions it states that:

  • Local government in Ireland has a narrow remit compared with the rest of Europe. Its role should be strengthened, particularly in the areas of economic/enterprise, social and community development.
  • Central government should be less involved in local services. Local government should be responsible for more areas, including:
  1. Economic development: local government has links with enterprise and local knowledge – it should work with Local Enterprise Offices, embrace city/county enterprise boards, and Business Support Units. It should link with Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, the Government Jobs Plan, link with relevant agencies, and should put in place local economic development plans.
  2. Local and Community development: A Department of Environment Steering Group made recommendations on the alignment of local government and local development sectors and recommended a whole of government approach, a national policy framework, and five year plans.
  3. Greater responsibility: Areas such as environment, water, foreshore, local/community development, food safety, roads/traffic, housing and energy efficiency, transport, tourism, sport, management of State property and heritage sites, flood management/relief, and certain infrastructural functions.

In terms of structures:

  • There is a commitment in the Programme for Government that local governance structures should be reorganised.
  • Structures should be rational, economic and efficient.
  • The most extensive change is at sub-county level to remove inconsistencies, duplication at town/county level, boundaries, and mismatches between functions and resources.

In terms of funding/efficiency/customer service:

  • Efficiency measures are being implemented. These are as per the recommendations of the First Report of the LGER Implementation Group.
  • Areas include shared services arrangements, work force planning, ICT Strategy, procurement management, and revenue collection.
  • A total of €346m of savings due to increased efficiency has been identified.
  • Local authorities have already implemented considerable shared services arrangements, for example in the areas of charges, waste permitting, financial management systems, human resources and payroll systems, and procurement.
  • A workforce planning review is also taking place, with local government having seen a 23% or 8,500 decrease in their staffing levels.
  • Customer service initiatives such as http://www.fixyourstreet.ie will be exploited.
  • There will be service level agreements between government departments and local authorities.
  • Greater use of Key Performance Indicators.
  • Introduction of Local Property Tax to provide an equitable base for local authority funding.

In terms of governance/accountability:

There is a list of specific measures including the review of structure, role, membership of Corporate Policy Groups and Strategic Policy Committees; a forum for the direct election of a Dublin Mayor; and National Oversight and Audit Commission for Local Government to be established; the position of local authority manager to be replaced by chief executive officer; a national legislative framework for ethics; arrangements for participative democracy.

There is a final section on implementation which states that a major programme of legislation will be required in time for the 2014 local elections. It involves the establishment of various Committees and Implementation / Steering Groups.

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