Councils angry as Gormley fails to act on expenses cap

THE country’s local councillors have expressed frustration with Environment Minister John Gormley for failing to act speedily on their offer to cap a controversial allowances’ regime.

The councillors recently proposed a personal ceiling of between €5,000 and €6,000 on training expenses each year. This would be spent on the cost of courses and the expense of attending conferences. It would be policed by internal oversight committees in each council.

The councillors’ representative said they expect new national rules to be introduced before December’s budget.

The new regulations are understood to be imminent but many local authorities have already finalised their own budgets for 2010.

President of the Association of City and County Councils, Michael Fitzgerald, said they had brought plans to the Department of the Environment and Mr Gormley in the autumn.

The Tipperary South councillor said the old regime was not transparent enough and was open to abuse by councillors.

However, Cllr Fitzgerald said training was still necessary to ensure councillors acted effectively but this had to be regulated and represent value for money.

He said the councillors’ representative bodies were of the understanding the department wanted to act on it urgently but nothing has happened in two months.

“We brought forward a realistic figure which we thought would be acceptable. But if the minister had come back with a figure of €3,000 we would have gone with that. But nothing has happened.

“We were trying to get away from the conferences but still look at education because a lot of abuses were taking place. But now most councils have done their budgets and to date nothing has come from the department,” he said.

The three representative bodies for councillors, the Association of City and County Councils, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland and Local Authority Members Association, produced a common strategy document on the issue last year.

This outlined a common approach local authorities and borough councils should take on requests to travel for conferences and training days.

They proposed a tiered system which would set three different allowance levels for 26 town councils, 54 urban district/borough and 34 county/city councils.

The organisations asked for flexibility in the regulations to allow councillors take up different opportunities once all requests were dealt with by in-house committees.

It is believed the minister supports the three-tier system. However, it is not clear if he will follow the €6,000 guideline suggested by the councillors.

A statement from the department said that work was still underway on the issue and had not been finalised yet.

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