€25m councillors’ bill defended

THE General Council of County Councils (GCC) yesterday defended the €25 million bill for county councillors’ expenses and allowances last year.

However, the GCC, which represents over 550 councillors, believes there should be more stringent controls on the type of conferences that their members attend.

GCC chairman John Egan said: "There must be tighter controls on conferences to ensure they give value for money and it would be better to spend the rest of the money on training."

The biggest earner was Mayo county councillor Jimmy Maloney who netted €75,056. Former Cork County mayor Paula Desmond was the second on €74,618, both of whom got an extra allowance for being mayors.

Most of the top earners were mayors and also have good paying jobs, they include auctioneers, solicitors, hoteliers and farmers.

Cork councillors as a group made the most money, netting €1.92 million last year, but Cork is the biggest county geographically and has the largest number of local authority members, according to a Farmers Journal survey.

Environment Minister Martin Cullen yesterday ruled out forcing local authorities to carry out a value-for-money audit on all conferences and foreign trips taken by county councillors.

ISME, the small business representative group, called on the minister to order local authorities to carry out a value-for-money audit on all trips that councillors take before they sanction them.

"We had a ridiculous situation recently of eight councillors going abroad to a cost reduction conference to learn how local authorities could save money," said ISME chief executive Mark Fielding.

In future, councils must not sanction such extravagant junkets, because there is no return to the taxpayer or commercial benefit, Mr Fielding said.

"Councillors' pay has gone up from €8 million to €25 million in one year this is a ridiculous increase by any standards and it is businesses and the consumer who will have to pick up the tab in the form of higher charges," Mr Fielding added.

Mr Cullen's spokesman said the minister could not order local authorities to carry out a value-for-money audit on any trip that councillors take because they would be interfering with their autonomy.

"The Department respects the autonomy of all local authorities to set their own rules and regulations in this regard," the spokesman added.

The main reason for the massive increase in councillors pay was because it was the first time they received a taxable salary of €12,500 a year. On top of that they also received back pay of over €15,000.

All councillors also receive:

€4,500 more as a yearly allowance;

a conference budget that is worth well over €5,000;

and varying mileage expenses for travelling to meetings.

All mayors of councils can earn up to €28,000 a year and most of the top earners who netted up to €60,000 were also mayors of their local authorities.

Councillors can also become chairpersons of five Special Policy Committees and earn €5,000 a year.

The Farmers Journal survey also included the money councillors get for sitting on health boards, regional authorities and port authorities.

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