Cork council merger: Uniting Cork councils could bring huge savings

A possible merger of Cork city and county council into a single, unified super-council is being considered as part of the landmark review of the region’s local government structures.

The Cork Local Government Review group is due to issue its recommendations on new structures within weeks. Environment Minister Alan Kelly has said he plans to act on the recommendations immediately.

The Irish Examiner sets out here some of the key arguments from those calling for the creation of a unified local authority — the so-called ‘One Cork’ approach — to govern Ireland’s second city and largest county.

As well as examining a possible merger or amalgamation of the city and county councils, the Smiddy group is also considering the first extension of the city’s boundary in 50 years.

Issues as diverse as as commercial rates, planning, and unnecessary duplication of administration are being addressed.

Supporters of the single authority approach argue that a super-council for the entire county will eliminate duplication of services, streamline the delivery of services, and help deliver huge savings to the exchequer.

Mr Alan Kelly says the option is being considered in view of the potential benefits, such as strengthening local government, elimination of administrative duplication, improved service delivery, greater efficiency, economies of scale, and a more cohesive and effective economic development role.

Review group chair, Alf Smiddy, has declined to be drawn on which option the review group favours.

But he said what has become clear from the process to date, is the almost universal desire for the creation of a much larger metropolitan area in Cork to take in a population which could extend to between 230,000 and 290,000 people.

What the group has yet to decide is whether the entire region could then be governed strategically by a single unitary regional authority with a number of key divisions, or alternatively by two separate authorities — one for the metropolitan area and the other for the rest of the county.

“We will be examining all of this very thoroughly in the weeks ahead with a view to recommending to government the best possible local government structure for Cork that will stand the entire region and its citizens and local economy in good stead for the next 50 years,” Mr Smiddy said.

In its submission, the county council has scored several options under various headings, including financial impact, service delivery, savings, and staffing configuration, with the merger or unification of the two local authorities emerging as the favoured option.

If a boundary extension is recommended, the county would lose vast swathes of land — and that means a loss of ratepayers and income.

It has been argued that the ‘One Cork’ approach would provide for an appropriate governance structure that gives due recognition to the need for a strengthened focus on the development of Cork city, while at the same time recognising that the wider metropolitan Cork area is a significant driver of economic growth for the entire region.

However, the council says it would be absolutely necessary to ensure that the remaining areas of the county, particularly those geographically at the periphery, would be an integral part of the overall governance structure so that their vulnerabilities and their strengths to the local economy are equally provided for.

Other arguments to support the county council’s argument are presented here.

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