Genuine reform of local authorities has never been attempted, but it needs to happen if we are serious about eliminating waste and duplication in our struggling economy.
A white paper in September lifted a corner of the rug and then dropped it back again, afraid to offend the party hacks and wannabe politicians at local level with their snouts in the expenses trough. It suggested the “sub-county tier” was “ineffective, lacks focus and is not delivering for the citizen”. I couldn’t agree more, so why have the dozens of glorified residents’ associations that describe themselves as town councils not been abolished already?
In essence, these bodies do little more than insert an additional layer between the decision-makers and the citizens.
But why stop there? The existing structure of local authorities, based largely on county boundaries, leads to inefficiencies and is wasteful of resources. It needs a fresh look, taking into account population numbers and geographical spread in order to attempt to deliver value for money for taxpayers and to counteract wastage.
Delivering local services within a rigid county-based structure might have been appropriate when clerks rode around their territories on bicycles, but it needs to be revised to take account of population shifts and the realities of a modern economy.
If a management team can run a county of the size and population of Donegal (147,000), then a smaller area such as Sligo-Leitrim (total population 90,000) can be managed effectively with a similar structure.
The citizens of Sligo and Leitrim do not need two county management teams – one would do the job just fine. I believe a total of 18 local authorities would suffice in managing the provision of local services for the entire state, with no diminution of service levels. Further efficiencies could be made by centralising payroll, personnel, transport management and other similar facilities for the local authorities.
Central contracts for supplies and services would reduce costs and eliminate some of the cronyism that costs us dearly. A centralised accounting structure with an effective auditing function might also help reduce or eliminate corruption and favouritism.
It is interesting to note that the only voices raised against the white paper were those of local politicians – not a single word of protest was heard from the public at large.
That should encourage the Government to follow through on the bigger picture, giving us the kind of services we want, eliminating inefficiencies and putting our taxes to work in areas where they are needed.
Why wait, Mr Cowen? Unfreeze yourself from the headlights and do it now.