Councillors defend €116m rise in expense payments

COUNTY councillors and local authority managers yesterday defended the increase in expenses paid to them over the past decade, totalling €116 million.

Official figures show the payments have quadrupled with councillors earning over €25m in allowances and expenses last year compared to €6m in 1994.

The cost of sending councillors to conferences abroad came to almost €1.2m last year three times as much as it cost in 1994. And expenses and allowances paid to councillors over the past decade have risen by 318% nearly six times the average industrial wage.

Although the job is part-time, nearly 300 councillors received more than the average industrial wage of €28,000 for their work last year.

Consumers Association chairman Michael Kilcoyne said the increases in councillors' pay was "excessive" because it had not been matched by an increase in workload or productivity.

But the General Council of County Councils (GCCC), which represents all 883 county councillors, defended the payments.

GCCC director Liam Kenny said that while the media was very quick to publish the expenses councillors earned they were not so quick to publish the time given by councillors to represent their communities.

"A survey carried out by the GCCC revealed that many councillors spent over 34 hours a week on community business and much of that time at unsociable hours," Mr Kenny said.

The Small Firms Association (SFA) accused local authorities of "gross failure" in their ability to manage their affairs efficiently.

SFA director Pat Delaney said these increases in councillors pay were excessive when you looked at their record and the erosion of their powers they now have no control over waste management or national roads.

"It is taxpayers and businesses who are left to foot the soaring bill and commercial rates rose by 15% last year way above inflation of 4.5% while councillors continued to see their payments rise," Mr Delaney said.

But the City and County Managers Association chairman Willie Soffe defended the increased payments to councillors and said they earned every penny of it.

"The cost of the service they give is relatively small when you consider the number of hours they put in particularly when finalising draft development plans in our own case of Fingal County Council the members had to put in 30 hours of meetings before we reached agreement," Mr Soffe said.

While he accepted councillors have lost control over waste management, Mr Soffe said this was necessary to secure agreement on regional policies. And the average increase in business rates last year was in line with inflation at about 4.5%, he said.

The Department of Environment and Local Government said the rise in councillors' expenses since 2002 was because of the introduction of representational allowances.

This includes a taxable salary of around €13,000 for this part-time work and an annual allowance of €6,000 for attending meetings and conferences. On top of that those who hold the chair of committees get €5,000.

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