That Seanad Éireann notes the inability of local authorities to discharge their functions in the provision of housing and the maintenance of roads and deplores the Government policy that has led to this situation.
I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate Deputy Connolly on his appointment as Minister of State and to wish him very well in his office.
The motion I moved on behalf of other members of my party refers to the inability of the local authorities to discharge their functions in the provision of housing and the maintenance of roads. It deplores the Government's policy which has led to this situation and which was brought about solely because of a lack of finance. It is not hard to know why local authorities are short of money. One thinks of the Fianna Fáil manifesto prior to the general election, the document they put before the electorate and which the electorate accepted and endorsed. It promised the abolition of rates on dwelling houses, car tax and wealth tax. The fact that money is not being made available to local authorities from the Department of the Environment is causing the whole problem.
I have known the Minister of State since I came into this House and I am hopeful that he will do something in the Department to ensure that more money is made available to local authorities from the Central Fund. There are cutbacks in the Departments of the Environment, Health, Education, Agriculture and several other places. These are causing great problems. I do not think there is any problem as great as that created for the local authorities. They are asked to provide sanitary services, housing, fire services, local improvement schemes, maintenance and reconstruction of roads. With the limited amount of money made available to them they cannot provide all those services. A grant was introduced by the Government known as the environment grant amenity scheme for public parks, and so on. Of 60 per cent of the people employed under this scheme, one in four must be under 25 years of age. Money is well spent on public parks. I am not taking anything from them. The amenity grant scheme is probably money well spent. At the same time, it is far more necessary to spend money on the roads because of the condition they are in. The capital allocation available for housing, sanitary services, fire services and local improvement schemes is very limited. Money will have to be provided because they are all essential services.
It is understandable that the Department of the Environment should have control over local authorities. Local authorities themselves, as they will point out, have very little say at the moment. The Exchequer is now bearing the cost since the removal of rates on private dwelling houses, secondary schools and community halls. The local authorities will receive the amount of money they spent some three years ago, plus 10 per cent. A figure of 10 per cent, or thereabouts, is a very small increase when one thinks how inflation is now drifting. Some people are talking about 20 per cent by the end of the year. Some people are talking about an inflation rate of 21 per cent or 22 per cent. Having regard to the increase in wages and salaries, and in the price of materials in the order of 25 per cent to 30 per cent, and in the case of some materials much higher, automatically this means much less work is being done. I am afraid people will get up in arms about this, and it is understandable.
The Minister says it is a matter for local authorities to determine the priorities of services in their yearly programme. Local authorities are quite capable of determining priorities, but they have no means of getting money. Money is not provided and, where money is urgently needed they cannot find it, because they are limited to 10 per cent. At the same time, they have increases in staff costs, increased demands from agricultural committees, increased demands from vocational committees, increased demands from health boards, and increased demands from the Office of Public Works for drainage work. I think it was in 1978 that we got an increased demand for drainage work as high as 58 per cent. At the same time, the increase we were getting over the previous year's figure is 10 per cent. When that happens it is impossible for local authorities to carry on.
Members of local authorities are becoming very dissatisfied with the whole situation. The public are demanding better service for maintenance and improvement of public roads, footpaths, piped water supply, rubbish dumps, provision and maintenance of houses for tenants, fire services and amenities schemes. You go into an ordinary local authority estimate meeting and meet the manager and his staff who have prepared the estimate for the coming year. The manager prepares his estimate on figures given to him by members of the local authority over the year showing what they want money for. When money is provided for roads maintenance you cannot get anything to maintain a footpath, and so on. All the money is used for roads which are run down. Roads have been deteriorating over the past three years. In some local authority areas, and even here in the city, there does not seem to be money available to repair potholes. Local authorities concern themselves solely with trying to keep the roads up to a certain standard. There is very heavy traffic using our roads now. Road tax was taken off cars but not off lorries, and lorry costs are increasing substantially because of the increased cost of fuel, and so on. The tax on some of these lorries is £600 or £800 per year, and surely they are entitled to a good roads service.
If local authorities are to be limited to an increase of 10 per cent, the same limit will apply across the board to the Office of Public Works and the health boards. A figure of 10 per cent is not enough to meet the demands on local authorities for wages and materials. The demand from the Office of Public Works could be between 10 per cent and 40 per cent. The local authorities have no right to ask these people what they did with the money last year, what they will do with it next year, or how it will be spent. It is all spent on drainage areas, areas that have been undergoing arterial drainage work, and county councils are obliged to take them over or make a contribution towards the full cost of maintenance. They have no say in the formulation of drainage policy.
If the 10 per cent applies to local authorities, it also applies to the health boards. The local authority of which I am a member are unable to meet the substantial demands made by the health boards for supplementary welfare services, the services of the staff of the county medical officer and community welfare officers. I have not the figure for that percentage, but it is much higher than 10 per cent. It could be 15 per cent or 20 per cent. At the same time, the local authority are limited to 10 per cent.
Local authorities have to provide new services under the Water Pollution Act and modern fire services and so on. They are being asked by the people they represent to provide water supplies to rural houses, to build more houses, to improve and maintain the roads. There is no way that this can be done. The responsible Minister will have to take a serious look at what can be done about this.
Sanitary services are a big problem in rural Ireland. My local authority prepared a new five-year development plan. Last year we submitted it to the Department of the Environment. The estimated cost was £4,369,000. This year we got an allocation of £77,000. This is not being sensible. I hope the Minister will consider how more substantial moneys can be provided. The Minister issued a circular to each local authority about charging for services and suggested that local authorities should charge people who have water supplies. If that charge happens, we will be taking money from people who are already paying rates. Perhaps the motive behind the circular is to bring back rates in a mild form. I saw recently in a paper that some consideration is being given by the Department of the Environment to charging everybody a water rate. There is not much difference in paying a water rate and paying rates on a house.
Every local authority in rural Ireland was hoping that money would have been provided this year for maintaining, reconstruction and repair of bog roads because everything should be done to encourage people to cut turf due to the cost of other energy sources such as oil and coal. Some people almost cannot afford to buy either oil or coal. Numbers of people from built-up areas come to my county and neighbouring counties to cut turf. The roads leading into these bogs are hardly passable, and money should have been provided for them.
With regard to housing, according to a public announcement from the Department or the Minister for the Environment, house repairs and improvement grants have been terminated except grants for mentally handicapped persons, and the amount of grant available to them is £2,400 or two-thirds of the cost whichever is the lower. Grants are still available for essential repairs and for group water and sewerage schemes. Grants for water supplies or water and sewerage to houses have been cut out completely from 1 February last, as have repairs or improvement grants, reconstruction grants, bathroom and toilet grants, grants for septic tanks and the provision of water to private houses. Some local authorities who have a number of houses without water and sewerage were hoping that the Department of the Environment would make grants available to them. These houses were built years ago, and it is essential that these services should be in every house.
In a number of local authority houses built six or seven years ago there is now overcrowding. I know of a case where originally three people were living in a three-bedroomed house. Now there are nine people living in the house and there is no means whereby money can be got to add a few rooms to that house. It is a desperate situation. A number of houses were built without chimneys, and the people in them will now not get a grant for chimneys. In 1978 25,000 grants were given for reconstruction and 18,000 for water and sewerage, and these did a tremendous amount of good in rural areas. They also gave part-time employment to small farmers who reconstructed houses and put in water and sewerage. In 1973 11,000 houses were reconstructed and in 1978 the figure was 25,000. It is a pity that reconstruction grants and water and sewerage grants have been withdrawn. The Minister for Education has reconsidered the decision on the school buses. The Minister here should have another look at this.
The number of local authority houses being built now has dropped. There were 8,794 local authority houses built in 1975. In 1977 the number was 6,333, in 1978 it was 6,073 and in 1979, it was 6,214. Money allocated so far this year to my local authority shows that there is going to be a reduction in the number of houses built this year. It seems that that trend is going to continue, and one must keep in mind that the withdrawal of reconstruction and water and sewerage grants will mean more people going to their local authorities looking for houses. It will cost the Department of the Environment more to rehouse these people than to give them the £600 maximum grant for reconstruction.
It is easy for the Minister for the Environment to say that he is now making money available in loans instead of grants, but there is a difference between a loan and a grant. A grant is an incentive, a loan is a burden. Grants will have to be brought back or else housing will become a major problem. In 1976 the average cost of a house was £12,258 and in 1979 the cost of the same house was £23,688. What will it cost in 1980 with costs still rising? Cement has doubled in price since this time last year. The maximum local authority loan is £10,000. The repayment on that is £1,500 a year for the maximum number of years, £128.38 per month or £29 per week. The income of a person who would qualify for a loan from a local authority is £5,500 and the poor law valuation for farmers is £44. That loan is subsidised and anybody who would have to borrow money outside of the local authority would have repayments much higher than that. Reconstruction loans are available up to £4,000 provided that the person applying for the loan has adequate security.
I do not know what is meant by "adequate security". Maybe it is the deeds of the house so that the local authority would have first charge on it. If it is the deeds of the house you would find the deeds of that house lodged against the original loan, and the only unsecured loan the borrower can get then is £1,000 and God knows £1,000 will not do very much in reconstructing a house nowadays. Very few people, if any, will have adequate security if I am right in my thinking of what is meant by "adequate security". People cannot afford to provide their own houses. Even people in the higher income group, who are prepared to borrow from a building society or a bank, will find that the money is not there. A bank will give them a very short period, roughly 10 to 12 years, to repay it, and the amount of repayment there is going to be prohibitive. The building business at the moment is on the way to folding up. I know that because I happen to be closely associated with this business. People cannot afford to buy and they cannot afford to pay people to do the jobs. It is a serious situation.