Roche warns councils to mind their manners

BAD manners and the “voicemail scourge”, which infuriate those trying to get information from city and county councils, cannot and will not be tolerated, Environment Minister Dick Roche has warned.

Addressing local authority members yesterday, he said voicemail and emails cannot be used as veils behind which local authority officials can hide and refuse to answer questions from the public or local representatives.

It is an issue he has asked county managers to address, he told the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA) annual congress.

“In my travels around the country, I hear from people reporting their frustrations with individual local authorities. These complaints range from being subjected to bad manners, which is never acceptable in my book, to being ‘victims’ of voicemail,” Mr Roche said.

“I am delighted that local authorities are able to benefit from 21st century communications. What concerns me, however, is to see modern devices such as voicemail or email apparently being sometimes used to avoid dealing directly with councillors or members of the public.

“At the very least, local authorities should have systems in place that provide speedy responses to those who contact them by voicemail or email,” he said.

“I will be asking managers to ensure that when they install these systems, that they are adequately monitored and not used inappropriately.”

The recent Indecon report on Local Government Financing underlined performance as an issue, Mr Roche said.

“Specifically, it pointed to the need for increased measures to be taken to improve efficiency and value for money in how local authorities go about their business.

“Given the e9 billion spend level in local government, it’s important to note that a 1% efficiency gain in the sector would yield the equivalent of a €90 million saving,” the minister said.

The re-investment of such an efficiency gain into key areas would have substantial implications for local communities in improving and enhancing much needed local services.”

Mr Roche said he would not put up with complaints from authorities that they did not have the money to do necessary infrastructural work.

“I have given more funding to local authorities than any of my predecessors. Huge increases have been seen in housing, roads and general purposes grants, which were way ahead of inflation,” he said.

“There is no excuse, therefore, for anyone saying that local authorities don’t have funding for simple jobs such as footpaths, roads and lighting...

“I firmly believe that you as elected members, armed with the information I have just outlined, will be in the best position to do this and you can count on my full support in this regard.”

The Government is fully committed to tackling anti-social behaviour, an issue which is of key concern to local authority members, Mr Roche added.

He said the forthcoming Housing Bill would increase the power of local authorities to deal with those who are a source of continuous nuisance. He said money had also been set aside for CCTV and creating joint policing committees.

But on a topic which is set to be top of today’s conference agenda, the minister said pensions for local authority members were not included on the agenda of the current review of expenses and payments for council members.

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