Since the local government fund was introduced in 1999, annual allocations have increased from some €6 million to €30 million in 2007. This represents a 400% increase in funding in that time.
Questions were also asked about the management of the local government fund. Deputy Howlin also spoke about the need for improved local government and the ring-fenced system of funding. I assure Deputy Howlin and others that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will continue to have responsibility for the management of the fund. I also confirm that the full proceeds of motor tax and driver licence fees will continue to be paid into the fund. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, made it clear last night that the integrity of the fund will be assured into the future.
The local government fund will continue to provide significant funding to local authorities through general purpose grants. General purpose grant allocations from the fund to local authorities for 2007 totalled €948 million. This represents an increase of 8% over the record amount provided in 2006 and is an increase of some 180% over the 1997 allocation.
Several Deputies raised issues in regard to vehicle write-offs, penalty points and uninsured drivers. I heard Deputies Tuffy, Naughten, Crawford, Cyprian Brady and Kennedy speak about this yesterday, as did Deputies Flanagan and McCormack today. There has been some media coverage relating to vehicles that were deemed total write-offs by motor insurers but which subsequently returned for use on the roads, with the obvious implications for the safety and well-being of both vehicle owners and other road users.
The arrangements covering the treatment and notification of write-offs are currently being examined by the RSA, the Garda Síochána, and the Revenue Commissioners, which are responsible for the registration of vehicles, and my Department in its current role in respect of the national vehicle and driver file. This examination will be concluded as soon as possible and any recommendations arising from it will be considered.
The national vehicle and driver file plays a critical role in the administration of penalty points. For persons who receive penalty points but do not have a driving licence, mainly non-nationals, the facility exists on the NVDF to create a skeleton record so penalty points can be applied and the notices issued. There are currently 122,000 such records on the NVDF.
Imposing penalties for road traffic offences on foreign registered drivers raises many legal, organisational and procedural issues, which make it very difficult for any one State to enforce such penalties. For that reason, the Department of Transport, which has responsibility for driver licensing, is pursuing this issue at European level, British-Irish level and North-South level, where mutual recognition and cross-Border enforcement possibilities are being considered.
Several steps have been taken in recent years to reduce the level of uninsured driving. The Garda traffic corps has been substantially expanded to improve compliance with all road traffic legislation, including motor insurance requirements. Legislation has also been put in place to extend the powers of the Garda to permit the seizure of uninsured vehicles. In addition, since the introduction of the penalty points system, 6,539 persons had received penalty points for uninsured driving up to the end of September 2007. It is also planned under the recently published road safety strategy to establish a system to ensure current insurance details for all drivers can be accessed in real time by the Garda to facilitate enforcement.
A number of Deputies referred to motor tax. In the 2007 budget, plans were announced to introduce changes to the current vehicle registration tax and motor tax systems to take greater account of environmental issues, in particular carbon dioxide emissions. The programme for Government reaffirms the commitment to introduce measures to further weight VRT and motor tax in favour of cars with lower emissions. Work on the matter is ongoing and a range of possible options is being considered. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, will make an announcement shortly on motor tax.
I thank Deputies for their co-operation in facilitating early consideration of the Bill. Having been a Deputy who has welcomed the opportunity to speak on Second Stage on numerous occasions, I appreciate that it afforded Deputies the opportunity to raise issues of real concern to their constituents. Deputy Howlin, a former Minister, raised issues he would consider important as a result of his experience in a number of Departments and his concerns relating to the strong relationship between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities across a range of issues.
I understand and have some sympathy with the concern expressed by some that functions would be transferred to the NRA. I will clear up that misconception because that is not the position. The functions are merely transferring to the Department of Transport, where I am confident they will be dealt with as sympathetically as was the case with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities. We all wish this will be the case.
With regard to the integrity of funding, Deputies on all sides can be assured that the intention and effect of this legislation will be to leave the functions between local authorities and the Department directly. I appreciate the points made by Deputy Sheehan and others on other modes of transport, with railways being a case in point. We have cause to be somewhat happier than Deputy Sheehan along the west with the impending opening of the western rail corridor, but it is interesting to consider the developments and the significant move away from rail transport which occurred in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. It is imperative we move very strongly back in that direction.
I listened to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, speaking about the significant incremental increase in the number of cars on the roads, of which many of us are aware. An interesting offshoot of this is the extraordinary increase in the number of road journeys made by people to and from work. The average distance people travel to work has increased in the past ten years from about 7 km to a little over 15 km. The amount of travel people undertake relating to work has naturally increased exponentially as the number of people at work has increased from 1.1 million to 2.1 million, virtually doubling. People must get to and from work.
Returning to the point made by Deputy Sheehan, there is clearly a major opportunity to provide transport for people, particularly from dormer towns to centres of population and employment. That issue has been worked on with some success along the western corridor. Despite the difficulties outlined by Deputy Sheehan and his long-lamented contention that there is no national primary road in his constituency, responsibility for roads across all the areas within the Department of Transport will facilitate better consideration of areas that do not have national primary roads.
The imperative arises somewhat more from issues relating to the road safety and the enormous difficulty successive Governments have faced in trying to address the number of deaths and level of serious injury that occurs on our roads. That is an element of the transfer and a matter with which all of us wish the Department well. We encourage all our constituents and others to play an active role in achieving such progress.
People can rest assured the Bill only provides the legislative framework for the transfer of these two functions from one Department to the other. People will not be dealing as a result of this legislation with bodies which are somewhat less accessible.