Dan Boyle: All Politics Are Local

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From top: Significant cuts to services are on the cards at Cork City Council; Dan Boyle

There is no public manifestation yet, but the effect of the necessary additional Covid payments will most readily be felt in the level of public services being provided in the coming year.

It isn’t being acknowledged that among the largest levels of cross subsidisation has been in the amount of income foregone by local authorities, mostly on the basis of decisions made by the government.

The deferral of business rates has been an appropriate response. It has, though, brought about a huge hole in the finances of local councils. There is promised government compensation, but no one believes this will come anywhere close towards meeting the income gap that has been created.

Consideration of the estimates of local councils, difficult enough at most times, will this year become near impossible to make the figures add up.

Budget preparations in most councils tend to be farcical in any year. Elected members want neither to increase income or decrease expenditure. Sometimes this is due to political posturing, most times it’s an unwillingness to assume any type of responsibility at all.

The ability to run away from these responsibilities will be less available this year. One of few direct powers of elected councillors, that of producing a fair balanced budget is about to be tested.

The likely result in most cities and counties will be unwanted and unloved half way house of both increasing charges and instigating severe cuts. This will please no one.

The income base of local government is unsustainable. It has been since 1977 with the election promise of the last single party majority government (Fianna Fáil), when domestic rates were abolished.

Every single attempt since then to ‘reform’ local government finance has spectacularly failed. The main effect of each initiative has been to further weaken local government, making it ever more reliant on national government.

A second outcome has been the willingness of many local councils to outsource the provision of their services and the management of many of their facilities.

This has created an unnecessary distance between the public and their local councils. It has also produced more than a few false economies.

This will be a persistent and perennial problem until we have real local government reform.

This should mean a system of local government that has actual autonomy. The system of local government that exists in every developed democracy.

I don’t have much hope that this will happen. The organ of the State that should be providing the most necessary public services is most incapable of doing so.

The funding mechanism for most countries centre around property. For us in Ireland we have never had the stomach for a proper property tax to fund our local government services. It seems a particular bugbear for our ‘socialist’ parties.

It’s an ideological pincer movement. An administrative system that doesn’t want change and will obstruct its happening, helped by student politics that exist to avoid anything that resembles responsibility.

Bring back the Limerick Soviet I say.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic: 96FM

10 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: All Politics Are Local

  1. Truth in the News

    An emphasis is focused on Local Authorities agreeing and voting on a book of Estimates, we
    never have the same scrutiny on how the money is spent even wasted in some instances
    Where is the Local Government Audit Service in protecting the Public Interest….?

  2. Cian

    A second outcome has been the willingness of many local councils to outsource the provision of their services and the management of many of their facilities.

    This has created an unnecessary distance between the public and their local councils. It has also produced more than a few false economies.

    Can you provide examples for this please?
    – where has outsourcing created an unnecessary distance between the public and their local councils
    – where has outsourcing more than a few false economies?

    1. Truth in the News

      Sligo County Councils secret contract in respect of water charges signed
      with none other than Veolia long before Irish Water arrived and got
      drowned in a swamp of public opposition, that in turn buried the Labour
      Party and Fine Gael and left in the swamp too.

      1. Otis Blue

        Didn’t the County Manager who retired in 2013, having presided over Council with a €120m debt, subsequently take up employment with Irish Water/Ervia?

  3. Joe

    Dan appears to be advocating more localtaxes, in this case increased LPT on ordinary decent taxpayers already crippled with the economic effects of Covid. Dan and his FG lickspittles of the Green party need to be educated that taxation needs to be fair and equitable in a society. The hated LPT is neither fair nor equitable and is probably the most unfair tax robbery ever devised by political non entities. Idiotically basing a tax on a taxpayers address is unfair and needs to be scrapped as it does not take into account a tax payers income. General taxation is the only fair form of tax based upon a taxpayers income rather than based on an abitrary address but the Greens being FG on bikes favour LPT as it ensures the wealthy pay the least in tax and the poorest the most. Local government for essential services can and should be financed directly from general taxation. Time for LPT to be eradicated.

  4. Q Celt

    Outsourced services is typically cheaper and better than in-house services, the problem is the poor level of contract management by civil servants of these contracts, failure to enforce KPIs and penalties with suppliers, etc. Lack of understanding by civil servants that’s these contracts are not partnerships but contractual relationships where some conflict may be necessary with the supplier

  5. Gabby

    The financing of local government is important. In addition to potholes and other parish pump stuff, elected council members nowadays have to exercise their minds on the arts, heritage, tourism and environmental matters. In the USA, individual states levy local sales taxes on consumer goods. Irish local authorities may have to be given additional income-generating powers. I suggest powers to levy charges on commercial buildings that have lain idle for certain number of years – empty shops, hotels, factories and properties with heritage attractions. Old school and creamery buildings could be seized by local authorities and leased to developers or community groups.

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