the end seems to be nigh for Town Councils under the Government’s planned reform of local government.
The ‘Putting People First’ document is “the most fundamental set of changes in local government in the history of the State” according to Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan.
In all fairness that wouldn’t be too hard. But the proposed legislation announced by Minister Hogan is hardly as radical as he would have us believe.
Planning for a reduction in the number of councillors from 1,627 to 950 is of course welcome, and in cash strapped times makes perfectly good sense.
However, Minister Hogan’s assertion that he hopes the changes will rebuild the public’s trust in local government seems wistful to say the least.
The establishment of “municipal districts” which will replace town councils, will see councillors elected to the new districts which will then constitute county councils.
In essence this is a version of the electoral area committees, and as such amounts to presenting the same beast, but in different clothing.
The new municipal districts will also apparently have their own income and budget.
It’s envisaged, for example, that funding for local authorities will come in the main from their power to levy their own property tax rates, in order to generate funds and support services in their own areas.
However, the timeframe for the introduction of this remains unclear.
The devil is very much in the detail in this proposal and, at best, it is likely to be a source of no small controversy.
Reflecting perhaps the unbridled planning that took place during the boom, councillors will now have less responsibility in the planning process.
The power of councillors to overturn the decisions of planning officials is to be removed.
The diminunition of local authority’s power is reinforced, if anything, under this new document.
Local councils have ceded authority under a number of key areas, including water services, roads, health and transport.
In essence, then at this moment in time, we will be left with local authorities, with little real powers.
And the functions they have been accorded lack specifics.
It’s very unclear, for example, as to when councils will be given these taxation powers, although they may need them very soon, given that funding is now such an issue.
The public’s confidence in local government will not be restored or enhanced by this proposals.
Real reform of local government seems to remain some way off.
Reducing councils and the number of councillors is of course to be welcomed broadly, and will be a popular move to a jaded public.
However, less can often be more, and this is what should have been the aim here.
Less Councils, but those remaining having some real input and power.
This will not occur under the proposals announced last week, and the role of local government looks set to continue in a state which is almost tantamount to limbo.