I move amendment No. 3a:
In page 7, to delete lines 41 to 45 and substitute the following:
"(2) The Minister may as respects an amount of moneys paid by him or her out of the Fund under subsection (1) require the local authority or local authorities concerned to apply the amount or a part thereof in a specified manner in respect of the performance by that local authority or those local authorities of its or their functions in relation to—
(a)public roads, other than national roads within the meaning of the Roads Act, 1993,
(b) the carrying out of works under the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Act, 1968, or
(c) such other matters as the Minister may, from time to time, determine in writing, and the local authority or local authorities shall comply with such a requirement.
(3) The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a copy of any determination under subsection (2)(c) as soon as may be after the determination is made.".
This amendment arises because of concerns expressed by Deputy Dukes that the subsection, as initially drafted, represented a threat to local discretion, would lead to increased centralisation and would open the door for ministerial interference in the affairs of individual local authorities. The Deputy was gracious to accept my word that that was not my intention. He made the point on Committee Stage that we are all birds of passage in this House and that others will come after us. I reiterate that I have no intention of legislating for increased centralisation in local authority operations.
The Deputy has accepted the thrust of these legislative proposals to provide local authorities with more money now and in the future to enable them to perform their functions better and to enhance local autonomy and discretion by at least providing them with resources which will give them real choices when making decisions on spending and priorities. I agreed to look again at the subsection to see if I could meet the point the Deputy made and try to improve it. This amendment will make the intentions behind the subsection clearer than they were before. I hope it mitigates the concerns expressed by Deputy Dukes and others on Committee Stage.
In considering this issue it is important to realise that the new local government fund will be different from the equalisation fund which was established under the current funding system. Not only will it be used to contribute towards the general purposes already set out in the previous Bill, but it will also be used to fund the non-national roads programme. The primary purpose of section 6(2) is to facilitate the Minister to direct moneys to that non-national roads programme. Motor tax will go into the general fund and the Minister must have power to direct that. Subsection (2)(c), which refers to the "carrying out of works under the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Act, 1968," is related to that in that it covers local improvement schemes.
During discussions on the subsection on Committee Stage I indicated that the local government fund might be used to finance measures designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local authority operations or to finance initiatives aimed at improving the quality of services provided by them. The nature of such measures and initiatives will differ from one local authority to another. A degree of flexibility is needed, therefore, if the fund is to operate to best effect. For that reason, I propose in subsection (2)(c) that the Minister may, from time to time, determine in writing other matters in respect of which local authorities may be required to use moneys allocated from the fund. The flexibility which that paragraph facilitates will be necessary to cater for situations where the fund is adjusted in future years in accordance with section 4(3) and (4).
It is envisaged, as part of the ringfencing and financing of local government, that if a new function is imposed on a local authority, money will have to be provided by the Exchequer and paid into the local government fund. I or any future Minister would need, at least initially, the power to direct a local authority to pay that money out of the fund for a particular purpose. I said on Committee Stage that £300,000 is being put into the fund, in addition to the £270 million for the architectural heritage package we announced. The Minister must be in a position to direct that the £300,000 be used for that purpose. It will then be subsumed into the general expenditure of the local authority. For that reason there must be a mechanism whereby if extra funding is provided for specific purposes, such as happened in relation to the Abattoirs Act, 1988, the Minister can specify that when making payments out of the fund. I am trying to balance that with the Deputy's point about the dangers of centralisation and a Minister totally strangling local government, a scenario from which Members on all sides of the House said they want to move away.
I hope this amendment meets the Deputy's concerns. It may not be able to meet his suggestions on Committee Stage to the letter but it should meet their spirit. I commend the amendment to the House.