The Managers’ Minutes


Cuffe localFormer Green Party TD and former Dublin City Councillor, Ciaran Cuffe, top, has written a blog post calling for the minutes of the meetings of the County and City Managers’ Association to be made public.

It follows a report in The Irish Times this morning that Dublin City Council, who has paid more than €32million to consultancy firm RPS for its services over the last ten years in relation to the proposed Poolbeg incinerator, is terminating its contract with RPS, after the European Commission found the contract didn’t conform with EU law.

Mr Cuffe writes:

“They’re one of the most powerful organisations in the country. Their 39 members have much of the responsibility for the spending of about €4billion a year on running local authorities, and around €3billion a year on capital expenditure. That’s serious money. Clearly they’ve a lot to talk about. And yet when you try and find out how often they meet or what decisions they make make it can be quite a challenge.”

“The Local Government Management Agency (pictured above) hosts the CCMA’s web pages which state that the CCMA works “to ensure that the influence of Managers is brought to bear on the development and implementation of relevant policy.” It goes to say that “CCMA represents its members on external committees, steering groups and organisations and develops evidence-based positions and makes submissions on relevant issues.” That all sounds good and worthy, but it would be useful if the minutes of their meetings and any associated reports were made available to the public so that we know what is discussed. Greater transparency could improve the quality of the decisions that are made, and reduce legal challenges and appeals.”

I served for over a decade on Dublin City Council as a councillor, and had the opportunity to watch managers exercise their power and influence over major investment decisions on transport, waste, water and other issues. After the Local Government (Dublin) Act 1993 was enacted, three new County Managers were appointed to the new counties of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin. These Managers meet on a regular basis to discuss matters of common concern. It stands to reason that these Managers have to liaise with each other and co-ordinate what they do, but the public interest would be better served if the minutes of these meetings were placed in the public domain. In theory the powers of the managers and those of the council are balanced, however the growing complexity of decision making means that many issues have been resolved before they are presented to the Council. I sometimes got the feeling that the meetings before the council meeting were the ones that really counted.”

All too often when it comes to the big decisions that will affect the city for the next hundred years there appears to be an over-emphasis on solutions that favour large new-build engineering projects. The future to our water woes requires a large new pipe to the River Shannon; The waste problem demands a major incinerator; Sewage treatment can be solved with another huge wastewater treatment plant in Ringsend, and on it goes. Might this be put down to the managers meeting in conclave on a regular basis? I suspect it is. On many occasions I’ve found myself arguing for conservation measures, rainwater harvesting, recycling instead of new mega-projects, yet the City Manager insisted on the silver bullet of the major project that will solve all our ills. I suspect this is partially due to the heavy engineering and administrative background of many of these individuals. It may also be influenced by the outsourcing of many of these large decisions to consultancy firms that like to present the single large solution to the problem.”

“The problem in these uncertain times is that we can’t quite predict the level of growth or demand that over the next five years, let alone the next twenty. This creates a challenge for decision-makers. It may mean that spending half a billion euro on building a pipe to the Shannon for Dublin’s future water supplies is not be the most cost-effective solution. Perhaps we should be investing money in fixing more of the leaks that waste 36% of our water before it gets to the taps. Perhaps we ought to have considered alternatives to a single large incinerator in Ringsend where the EU has had to call a halt to a client management and public relations contract that has cost us €30m before the project has even been built. Who knows?”

The CCMA Executive tells us that they lead on the key issues to be tackled – mainly “big picture” / high level issues. In fairness to them they did open a twitter account last April but it has only had nine tweets over the last eight months. That’s a start, at least, but in the twenty-first century in the interests of transparency the details of their deliberations should be available to all.”

Read the full post here.

Previously: ‘The Contract Did Not Confirm With EU Law’

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