Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Friday, 30 Jun 2000

Vol. 163 No. 26

Local Government (No. 2) Bill, 2000: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill deals with the tenure arrange ments for local authority managers. Section 1, the only substantive section in the Bill, provides for an amendment to the Local Government Act, 1991, in order to modify the current arrangements. At present, the maximum term of a local authority county or city manager is seven years. This Bill provides an option for managers to extend that contract period for a further three years to a maximum of ten years in total. The tenure arrangements now being introduced are in line with the ten year term recommended by the Barrington report and the policy in the institutes of technology where the directors are now offered ten year appointments.

Fixed tenure arrangements for local authority managers were first introduced in 1991. Section 47 of the Local Government Act, 1991, allowed the Minister to introduce such arrangements by way of an order laid before both Houses. An order providing for a standard fixed term of seven years and for interim transitional arrangements was made in 1991. Managers are entitled to apply for other manager posts, and many of them do, in the same way as other local authority officials may apply for posts in other local authorities. There are obvious benefits to a system of open competitive mobility and it provides a readily accessible pool of experience from which local authorities can draw on the basis of merit.

There are many reasons managers apply for other posts, such as preferred location or higher pay. However, the principal reason managers apply for other manager posts during their contract period is to ensure continued employment. In order to ensure they will have a new appointment before the present term expires, the trend is for managers to start looking for new posts after approximately four or five years' service. It seems that the introduction of the seven year tenure has had the unintended effect of managers vacating their existing posts prematurely, which has given rise to instability in local authority management. This is not in the best interests of efficient and effective local government. At the most senior level of manager, a certain level of stability is essential.

The fundamental problem would seem to be that the contract periods are currently too short. A seven year contract with an option to extend by three years giving a maximum total of ten years, as proposed, is intended to address this difficulty and, subject to the relevant requirements, will be open to serving managers whose contracts would otherwise expire.

I will now discuss the provisions of the Bill in more detail. Section 1 provides for the new arrangements to be introduced by regulations in the same way as the original seven year term was introduced. Such regulations will be required to be laid before both Houses and are subject to annulment by resolution of either.

The new tenure regime will provide as follows: the basic seven year contract will continue to stand as at present; managers will, however, have the option to extend this by three years, giving a total maximum of ten years; a maximum retirement age of 65 will apply in all cases; the extension option will have to be exercised by the person concerned giving notification to the cathaoirleach within a period, the notification period, to be prescribed in the regulations; a different notification period may be specified for a transitional phase following the introduction of the new arrangements; the standard notification period for the exercise of the extension option will be specified in the regulations as the fifth year of service within the seven year tenure; the cathaoirleach must notify the members of the local authority, the Local Appointments Com mission and the Minister when given notification; where a person gives notification he or she is precluded from applying for a manager post until six months before the expiry of his or her extended term of office and the LAC is precluded from considering any application made within that excluded period; the regulations can, however, specify manager posts to which this prohibition will not apply, for example, Dublin city and Cork County, to ensure a sufficiency of suitable candidates for these top posts.

I remind Members of the Seanad that the comprehensive Local Government Bill, 2000, which was presented to the other House last month and provides for the consolidation and modernisation of local government law as well as introducing a range of reforms, will provide plenty of opportunity to this House for the consideration of all aspects of the local government code affecting councils, managers and related matters. This Bill aims to address a specific but important issue which has given rise to difficulty. I commend it to the House on that basis.

The Local Government Act, 1991, is being amended because the introduction of the seven year tenure has had the unintended effect of managers vacating their existing posts prematurely, which has given rise to instability in local authority management. It is important to have stability in local government. We are blessed to have had good local government management at the highest level, with one exception, for a long number of years. I have worked with city and county managers for 22 years and I found them to be excellent people who gave leadership. It is important that city and county managers give leadership to their councils.

However, a problem has arisen in that when people excel themselves at local authority level, whether at managerial level or at lower levels, such as director of traffic, planners or people with financial expertise, they are encouraged to move to the private sector. There is a haemorrhage of good personnel from the public sector. Many of these people move as consultants to the private sector. We must introduce measures to enable local authorities to retain the best equipped staff possible to manage them and to maintain stability. I welcome the extension from seven to ten years. After four or five years many managers will look for another appointment. If they are good managers, we should retain them for that period of time and give stability to local government.

I have difficulty with only one aspect of the Bill in section 1. If a manager is seeking an extension, he or she must notify the cathaoirleach. Has the council a right to refuse him or her the extension? We can take the hypothetical case of a manager who is unhappy with his or her council. If other councils do not want him or her and he or she applies to his or her own council for an extension, has it the right to refuse him or her an extension for a further three years? A council should be given the authority to do so when extending a manager's contract.

When the House comes back in the autumn the Local Government Bill will be introduced which will give the public the right to elect lord mayors or cathaoirligh. It is important that people are elected to that position who can work with the manager and the council. We should establish that linkage between the manager, lord mayor or cathaoirleach and the council. The directly elected mayoral position will work only if we fulfil that criterion. I realise I am deviating from what is contained in the Bill but I wanted to make that comment. The Bill is very short and I have no difficulty with it passing all Stages today.

I, too, welcome this legislation. It is a short but necessary Bill. As has been said by Senator Doyle, getting good quality managers is not easy and there is a major drain in terms of top management posts in the local government system. If one employs a good manager it is important to try to hold on to him or her as long as possible. I welcome the legislation to extend the seven years to ten years. I commend the Bill to the House.

I want to thank the Senators for accepting the Bill, which is very straightforward. Some of the points raised by Senator Joe Doyle will be addressed in the Local Government Bill later in the year.

Local authorities, in common with other public sector bodies such as the Civil Service and health boards and many private sector companies, are currently operating in a labour market that is buoyant, and one where there is a notable skills shortage. We are all aware of the difficulties in recruiting clerical staff, engineers and planners, as has been referred to. There is a need, therefore, to review recruitment procedures to ensure that each local authority is in a position to attract suitably qualified and experienced staff to enable it to provide a full range of services in a professional manner. It is equally important that, once recruited, such staff are fully trained and developed and that measures are in place to retain them in the sector.

The development of modern human resources practices in local authorities is being undertaken by my Department in partnership with the Local Government Management Services Board and the local authorities. I understand that the human resources sub-committee of the board has been examining the recruitment and retention of staff in the local authority service with a view to making recommendations to assist local authorities in competing for and retaining new recruits, and is due to report to the board in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, local authorities have been proactive in the matter and have been examining new ways of attracting staff. In addition to adver tising far and wide to fill posts, in particular professional posts, some local authorities have actually conducted interviews in the United Kingdom and near European countries with some success.

A number of local authorities also took part in the public service open day which was held in the RDS on 28 May last to promote the Civil and public service as a challenging and rewarding career choice.

Local authorities were also having particular difficulties in recruiting clerical officers. This has been due mainly to the low starting pay for the post vis-à-vis other jobs in the private sector. However, following the coming into force of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, which outlawed age related remuneration as a feature of employment, the Department of Finance took the opportunity of addressing the problem of low starting pay for clerical officers in the Civil Service, health boards and local authorities. They have eliminated the three age points on the scale, which means that clerical officers will now start on what was the old fourth point. This is an increase of over £1,500 per annum and will ensure that local authorities will offer a competitive starting salary when recruiting such officers in the future.

Senator Doyle raised the question of the extension option and the council's role. The option of extension will be available to a manager under section 47A. The old arrangements which most Senators will remember saw a manager appointed and he – it was always a man – remained in office until his 65th birthday. In the early 1990s, a seven year contract was introduced and the new system will allow the manager an option to extend this contract by a maximum of three years. This option is available as an intrinsic part of the new system. It is not subject to approval by the council or the Minister but where it is exercised, the manager does so in the knowledge that he or she is formally and statutorily committed to remaining with the authority and is prohibited from applying for most other manager jobs.

The option is exercised by the manager giving a formal notification to the cathaoirleach who must then notify the Local Appointments Commission and the Minister, and inform the elected council at its next meeting. Current law allows the elected council the right to suspend or to remove a manager from office. In the event that there is a valid reason for suspension or removal, the mechanisms exist for the council to take the appropriate action.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I would like to thank all who contrib uted to the debate. Local government is always a matter of intense interest to this House and that was reflected in the range of issues raised in the debate. The Bill received a broad welcome in the Dáil and in this House. It aims to deal with a particular difficulty and does not encompass many of the matters raised. I have no doubt it will deal effectively with the difficulty targeted and I look forward to a debate later this year on the Local Government Bill, 2000, across the whole local government sector.

I again thank all the Senators for their input and wish all involved a pleasant and well deserved break during the recess.

Question put and agreed to.