Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Local Authority Employment.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

8 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment if the Government is considering any proposals for expanded employment by local authorities in view of the growing unemployment crisis; if his attention has been drawn to claims made by a person (details supplied) that the loss of 3,500 jobs in local authorities has created major gaps in their ability to provide services; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The reduction in local authority employment referred to was in manual grades and the bulk of it occurred as a result of the application of the voluntary redundancy early retirement scheme under which local authorities offered the terms of the redundancy package to staff. The level of employment in manual grades required by local authorities to maintain services is a matter for the authorities themselves.

A number of initiatives involving local authorities should lead to additional employment this year. These include the substantial increase in the public capital programme, which will lead to additional employment on roads, housing and sanitary services schemes; increased funding of social employment schemes, of which local authorities are substantial sponsors; and the development of projects under the county enterprise partnership boards, on which local authorities will be represented.

Would the Minister accept that the haemorrhage of jobs from local authorities over the past five years, at around 3,500 or the equivalent of three Digitals, is a gross addition to the level of unemployment here? Would he accept that it would make better sense for the State to invest in the restoration of these jobs and the improvement in services that those jobs would produce than by relying on temporary employment, casual employment schemes and other measures which are a poor substitute for properly paid permanent employment in local authorities?

Deputy Gilmore is correct. The figures were of that order over the past five or six years primarily in 1988, and in the first half of 1989, under the voluntary redundancy schemes. It was entirely a matter for the management of local authorities to decide who should and could avail of that scheme. I am sure, in relation to the activities of the local authorities, decisions were taken where they could afford them and where that option was possible. It is clear now that arising from the public capital programme increase of 14 per cent, £154 million, the announcement in relation to public housing starts and the social housing increase of £10 million, employment in these and related areas will be considerbly enhanced this year.

Would the Minister accept that employment as a result of the increase in the public capital programme will arise mainly in the form of contracts undertaken by local authorities and will not result in increased direct employment in the carrying out of normal local authority services where the 3,500 jobs were lost?

I agree that, in the main, it will be in the private area. I have sought, in the sanctioning of various schemes in the sanitary services area and in relation to certain roadwork programmes, that activity by the local authority be embraced as far as possible and to allow for consideration in relation to the draw-down of Structural Funds.

As a result of the recently published Government Estimates, which do not show any real increase in the level of rate support grant for local authorities does the Minister accept that it will not be possible for local authorities to employ additional staff in the normal way? Will he agree that it is very poor value for public money having regard to the social welfare payments which are paid, the loss in tax revenue and the expenditure on social employment schemes not to have people employed by local authorities?

In relation to his reply about the county enterprise boards, and the strategy behind them, will it be possible for local authorities to obtain funding through the county boards for any employment schemes which they may wish to undertake?

The rate support grant referred to by the Deputy was increased by almost 3 per cent.

It was 2 per cent.

It was the first increase, because of very difficult financial constraints——

The increase was lower than the inflation rate.

——for several years. That will enable local authorities to maintain employment this year.

Up the wage bill.

Where the schemes relate to direct employment activities for the county councils — road and sanitary services — that will give a direct boost to employment. As regards county partnership boards, the local authorities are very much involved in how these boards will develop. It will be a matter of some time before the details can be finalised. I envisage the distinct possibility of having additional resources which would enhance local authority activities whether by private or direct involvement in new employment.

Could I ask the Minister to answer the question?

The Deputy must be very brief. The Deputy has had a fair innings. I am moving on to other questions.

Will the local authorities be permitted to apply for funding from the county enterprise boards for employment creation schemes? The Minister did not answer that question.

If I were expected to give a "yes" or "no" answer, I would be inclined to say it is a matter directly for the Minister for Enterprise and Employment. There are opportunities which will have to be developed in agreement with people who will be involved in how these boards develop. I said I envisaged the possibility and I do not want to go beyond that now. I am looking at it in the context of overall Government responsibility to see where worthwhile works can be developed close enough to the lines of that suggested by the Deputy.

May I ask a question?

I am sorry, but I cannot permit the Deputy. These are questions for priority, and are confined to those Members who tabled the questions.