On behalf of the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, I thank the committee for welcoming us to this meeting. LAMA has set up a working group that has prepared a discussion paper on the Green Paper. The former has been circulated to every council member. The working group has requested responses and comments on the paper prior to LAMA's submission to the Minister. To facilitate ease of communication, we have established an e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org. Verbally, one can contact a LAMA representative. We have encouraged LAMA representatives to attend all information meetings so that they can revert to us with an informed opinion on the Green Paper.
Last Monday, LAMA met the ACCC and the AMAI and has agreed joint submissions on agreed topics. We have scheduled another meeting for 23 July. I preface it by saying that the LAMA executive will meet on 5 July, but will not sign off on any issue until well after that date because the submission will not be made before 31 July. It will not be possible to get agreement on everything, but we will approach the matter with an informed opinion.
On the issue of a directly elected mayor for Dublin, which is raised on page 3 of the Green Paper, the programme for Government is committed to having a directly elected mayor for Dublin by 2011 and "possibly" for other cities at a later stage. As committee members are aware of the contents of the Green Paper on this subject, I will not outline anything. LAMA will make final recommendations on this. The issue of a regional, directly elected, full-time and salaried mayor for Dublin seems to be coming to the fore in our initial discussions, including some agreement for a directly elected mayor in other cities. However, this matter must be addressed by LAMA. The elected mayor should be an additional member.
I am a LAMA member of South Dublin County Council, which has established a committee to consider this matter. After that consideration, it can be negotiated by the full council. The Dublin group will meet in July to determine whether we can make a full submission, but the question is up in the air.
The overall consensus is that the powers of a mayor are important, as there is no point in having a ceremonial role. There has been enough of such. The principle of subsidiarity by transferring the balance of power from the centre to the councils and from the manager to the elected representative is high on the agenda of elected members. Thus, the recommendation of the transfer of additional powers from the executive to elected mayors must be spelled out. The current proposal is loose and all councillors are concerned about what is coming down the track. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
While recognising that efficient delivery of services based on economies of scale across counties is working in Dublin for certain services, such as waste and water, it is important to bear in mind the principal of subsidiarity and that the transfer of responsibilities to local areas where there are no cost advantages to regional provision must be a priority. LAMA will make a submission on this. Any function of local authorities and their members not deemed by law to be a reserved function is an executive function. For many years, the reserved functions of elected members have been reduced further and further while those of managers have been increased.
The Dublin regional authority, which comprises representatives from Fingal County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council, has made a submission on the Green Paper recommending direct elections to it in respect of all of its members. It has also suggested that a directly elected regional mayor would lead to coherent governance across the wider Dublin area, with a metropolitan mayor's office under the auspices of the regional authority. Agreed strategic devolved functions would be outlined.
The Green Paper's recommendation in respect of SPC chairs has a five-year term. LAMA has discussed the matter and, in its final recommendation, may agree to it. The Green Paper acknowledges that more than one option regarding directly elected council and city mayors could be applied in different circumstances or that certain options could be tested on a pilot basis. Unlike in other situations, one can revert from a pilot basis. From initial soundings with LAMA members, there does not seem to be overall agreement on the question of directly elected mayors among the counties. The question of municipal or city authorities other than Dublin having directly elected, full-time and salaried mayors may be agreed for implementation, which will be stressed by the AMAI in its representations. LAMA may also recommend this measure, but the executive must agree to it on 5 July.
As the balance of power between the manager and the elected representatives has been a recurring theme, I will not discuss it. The ending of the dual mandate has had an impact on the role of councillors, with most considering that they are under more pressure to provide services to their constituents on local authority issues. The operation of local governance, with increases in the number of meetings and the requirement to take time off work, makes it more difficult for elected members to perform their functions. The Green Paper identifies a range of financial supports provided for councillors in recent years, but a recurring theme noted in our consultations is the increasing workload in meetings and a more demanding electorate. Councillors should be properly remunerated with pensions.
For many, these factors have made the role of a councillor unmanageable. I draw the committee's attention to the number of resignations, most notably in Dublin City Council, but also reflected elsewhere. On South Dublin County Council, two young councillors who could not keep up with the council's demands resigned in as many months. We must ensure that not only retired personnel are capable of devoting time to local government.
The question of full-time councillors is mentioned in the Green Paper, with a subsequent reduction in the number of councillors. LAMA has not decided on this matter, but there seems to be no enthusiasm for the proposal for all councillors to be full-time per se. Getting leave from work is also mentioned, as is the recommendation of a full-time corporate policy group. However, this matter must be discussed by LAMA. Diversity in membership is an important point to bear in mind because one could rule out several valuable people who, due to reasons of other work, would not be able to join a council full-time.
An independent secretariat for councillors for research purposes and so on has been recommended. LAMA's members find making submissions such as this one difficult because they must conduct research themselves.
The Green Paper notes that, while there are more than 1,500 local councillors, there seems to be no great call for the number to be increased. It is noted that a move to reduce numbers in areas with small population to compensate for increases elsewhere could give rise to significant opposition. The Green Paper states that there may be arguments for some minor adjustments to reflect, for example, population changes within the Dublin local authority areas. Given that every city has experienced a considerable increase in population, this issue is coming to the fore and must be examined. We will press this point in our submission.
The Green Paper comments that the system of financial support for conference attendance "may need to be revised to encourage more in-house training, reduce incentives in the system which encourage undue travel, and ensure fuller participation in conferences". LAMA believes that ongoing councillor training is necessary and that regular self-development and community development courses should be provided. However, the methodology for their delivery must be outlined. With other representative organisations, we have agreed to prepare a joint submission to the Minister on this issue. We will have further meetings in this respect. Remuneration, compensation, increases in representational payments — or whatever methodology to ensure participation — and incentives for training and development are important.
I respect and appreciate the opinions of the AMAI, which is the representative body for town councils, and stress its work. We may express particular biases when we discuss each other's counties or towns. My comments refer to the initial findings of LAMA's working group regarding new town councils. The impression is that the area committee system is a positive feature of local government that should be further strengthened to enable area committees to carry out their role more efficiently and effectively. The further devolution of functions for appropriate functions to be delivered on an area basis must also be considered. There does not seem to be any eagerness or appetite to provide for further urban or town councils, even in areas where the population has increased dramatically.
The Green Paper outlines a number of options around encouraging civic participation in local government decision making, such as participatory budgeting, petition rights, plebiscites, town-area meetings, community groups and participative and representative democracy. It has been agreed that we and the other bodies will make specific joint recommendations in this regard. Diluting the power of the councillor must be avoided at all stages.
Members all know about the importance of serving the needs of the citizen. Customers' charters are in vogue in many local authorities. It is important that what is written down in them is implemented and regular revision is necessary. We may even recommend putting this on a statutory basis. Recruitment and staffing policies is another area exercising the minds of our members.
On the issue of regional governance, I spoke about the Dublin Regional Authority, but LAMA has noted that the larger gateway cities such as Limerick, Cork, Galway and Waterford are referred to in the Green Paper as another option. That is another matter altogether. This matter is the subject of serious discussion in LAMA. It is not necessarily the case that what goes for Dublin would definitely go for other major regions. The only comment I can make is that initial soundings do not appear very positive. The Green Paper suggests a pilot scheme in, for example, the Limerick-Shannon area. As our LAMA secretary is Limerick based and one of our four working groups is Clare based, we might be well qualified to comment on this, but again we could be accused of being biased.
With regard to local government and national Government working together, the Green Paper refers to the link between the Department and the City and County Managers Association. It identifies the requirement for constant effort to ensure that results come from this engagement to ensure that good initiatives and ideas are followed up and implemented. Councillors and members also have good ideas. Where is the equivalent link for members? The question of a statutory system of consultation should be provided between national Government and local government for members and this is under consideration by LAMA.
Where initiatives being introduced by central government impose new obligations on and cause great difficulties for local authorities, the implications of these obligations, as stated in the Green Paper, "should be clearly set out. In particular any additional costs for local authorities should be set out." The Green Paper does not mention the provision of funding following the setting out of these obligations. That point that needs to be considered.
The role of a separate legal adviser is under discussion by LAMA for recommendation.
On the issue of the Local Government Commission and boundaries, the LAMA executive has not met since the recent review was published. Suffice it to say local government was not to the fore in its recommendations. Dáil constituency boundary lines took precedence over any consideration of area based governance, as was the brief given. If the establishment of a Local Government Commission reflected some of the same attitude as a boundary commission, it would not inspire confidence and would need careful consideration on whether the provisions, as already outlined, which provide for the commission could be repealed and new processes put in place. LAMA will make a considered response on this.
On the issue of finance, recommending local taxation right before a local election, which may be laudable, might be problematic. It is noted that a new Commission on Taxation has been established. The proposal regarding a betterment tax is noted for consideration. The section on collection efficiency in the Green Paper is also noted, namely, that any form of local taxation would have to be examined in the context of efficiency of collection, ease of payment and adjustments for the less well-off. It is stated in the Green Paper that such mechanisms may be difficult to put in place at local government level, but I will not comment further on funding other than to say that the current needs and resources model of funding, which helps inform the allocations under the local government fund, needs a radical overhaul and for transparency to be built into it. There was reference to discretionary decisions on funding in the Green Paper, which we would welcome, subject to agreement by LAMA.
On the issue of ethics and expenditure limits, it has been agreed that a joint position from the representative associations will be submitted on this. From discussions it is considered that expenditure limits should be put in place for local elections. On-line exposure for members, as outlined in the Green Paper, was a strong concern expressed by many members.
Local authorities should be given more co-ordinating roles where other agencies are involved in service delivery. We have heard of the vast number of agencies, quangos being another name for them, exercising the minds of all members. I will finish on that note.
On behalf of LAMA, our chairperson, Mr. Billy lreland, who had to leave, the working group in attendance, Councillor Tom Costello, Councillor Colm Wiley who had to leave, John Carey and Councillor Alan Mitchell, I thank the members of the committee for listening to our presentation. We will take any questions members may have on it.