My Department is supporting Sligo County Council to meet the ambitious objectives for Sligo as envisaged in the National Planning Framework. To this end, I visited Sligo earlier this year with a multi-disciplinary team from my Department to meet with a similar delegation from Sligo. The Council has ambitious plans itself and my Department is working with the Council to support their achievement. In this regard, as a follow up to the Sligo meeting, we have put Sligo forward to participate in the Joint Assistance to Support Regions programme, under the auspices of the European Investment Bank, which will, inter alia, help maximise the potential of the €8.5m allocated to Sligo by my Department under the Urban Regeneration Development Fund.
As regards funding, the elected members have direct responsibility for adopting the annual budget, and are democratically accountable for all expenditure by the local authority. It is a matter for Sligo County Council to manage its resources and determine its own spending priorities having regard to needs and available resources. While it is a matter for individual local authorities to manage their own day-to-day finances in a prudent and sustainable manner, my Department works closely with Sligo County Council in relation to both its financial position and overall staffing requirements.
Sligo County Council has a financial plan in place and is working towards financial sustainability. In this context, my Department has supported the Council with an additional annual allocation from the Local Government Fund for the years 2014 to 2019 on the basis that agreed targets in the Plan are met. In March 2014, following a meeting with my Department wherein a draft financial plan was submitted, it was decided to provide Sligo County Council with €250,000. However, in the absence of the detailed plan being finally agreed before the end of 2014 it was not possible to make a further payment to Sligo at that time. Subsequently, the financial plan for the years 2015 - 2019 was agreed in late 2015. Sligo County Council advised my Department in early 2017 that the “revenue cumulative surplus” as profiled in the plan for delivery in the years 2017 onwards was no longer achievable. As a result, the plan was extended, including revised targets, to 2027.
An additional amount of €1 million had been paid for 2015, 2016 and 2017 but the payment for 2018, was reduced to €200k to reflect the reduced surplus that could be achieved in 2017 based on the information available at the time. As the actual 2017 surplus was ultimately higher than was anticipated by Sligo County Council, a higher payment of €700,000 was made by my Department.
Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each Chief Executive is responsible for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he or she is responsible. It is therefore, a matter for each individual Chief Executive to apply for sanction from my Department and, once approved, to recruit and assign staff to specific divisions within their organisation. Staffing sanction requests are examined on a case by case basis having due regard to the continued delivery of key services in the context of staffing and budgetary constraints. My Department is working with Sligo County Council on the staffing requests mentioned in the question.
Significant additional resources were made available to Sligo County Council in the context of the financial plan, far in excess of additional support to any other local authority. Any further funding for Sligo County Council, will be considered within the overall framework of the Financial Plan. In this regard, Sligo County Council’s audited Annual Financial Statement for 2018 is currently under review in order to determine the amount of the next payment. The allocation that will be due when that review is complete will be for use at Sligo County Council's discretion and can be directed towards the costs of establishing a Land Asset Team, if that is the preferred approach.