I welcome the Minister of State to the House. While all politics is local, all funding and decision making certainly are not. When it comes to local government, the perceived, and I fear very real, erosion of local independence and the continuance of the "Dublin knows best" mentality is constraining and restricting county and city councils' development. There are slim pickings for local government in the 2007 Estimates. Despite the fact that, according to the Government's own report, there will be a €1.5 billion shortfall in local government funding by 2010, it will receive a miserly 2% increase in budgetary funding this year. The Minister should get real. Control on one hand and a closed purse on the other is not realistic.
What does the Minister for State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, suggest? He says local authorities must get better value for the miserable funding allocation for this year. Is he advocating the cut-price, low-cost store approach to local services? He has the nerve to suggest this while the Government is pushing the sale of local authority land banks to private developers. At the same time, as has often been said in this House, the homeless cannot even get a roof over their heads or young people cannot get a foot on the property ladder. I cannot emphasise often enough that we can see people sleeping rough in alleyways not 100 metres from this House.
Local government provides a wide range of services, including housing, water, sewerage, roads, planning, fire services, environmental protection and the provision of recreational facilities. The major challenges facing local councils are restrained by their regrettable over-dependence on central government. The aims of local government, which are being frustrated by the Minister, are to improve the quality of the environment and to provide for diverse development. Local government is an essential element in a democratic state and it is the machinery by which important services are provided.
Once again the shortfall will fall to the taxpayer as stealth taxes are forced on hard-pressed councils. Householders and businesses will be forced to make up the massive shortfalls which the 2007 budget will not even come close to addressing. The tax burden on working families has increased under the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. The figures in the Estimates show that this, allied with a greater lack of delivery, is bound to continue. As always, these charges will hit the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society but it is manifestly obvious that the Government simply does not care.
The chief executive of Chambers Ireland has said that the 2% increase in the Exchequer contribution to the local government fund will not even cover the increase in wages, let alone services. As local authorities look to meet the shortfall through increasing commercial rates and other business charges, this will inevitably feed into higher costs and drive people out of business. I am thinking particularly of small stores throughout the country that must pay exorbitant rates. I am also thinking of rural publicans who are crippled with heavy rates and very little business. The Exchequer's annual contribution to local government should increase at the same rate as expenditure in other public sector areas. That is a rate of 8% for 2007. These Estimates highlight the hallmark of this Government to tax more and spend more but deliver little, except on one money wasting fiasco after another such as electronic voting and the PPARS system. I could spend the next half hour highlighting the Government's waste over the past nine and a half years in office.
The record of a lack of delivery from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, continues. The increase for local authority housing programmes will not even come close to meeting the demand for housing from the 50,000 households on the waiting lists. The fiasco of decentralisation, doomed to failure since its initial announcement with a triumphant fanfare in the 2003 budget, has proven to be an empty promise for most areas.