BETTER LOCAL GOVERNMENT
A Programme for Change
Summary Document published by
the Dept. of the Environment
This Programme charts the course
for local government into the new millennium. It sets out
the approaches to be followed, and the measures to be
taken, to enable local government to realise it full
potential as an instrument of democratic local
self-government and as a means of delivering quality
The need for change
Local government has served this
country well. Whether through providing an outlet for
democratic self-expression in the years before the
foundation of the State, through playing a key role in
improving housing conditions in the post-independence
years or through bringing water supplies to rural areas
later on, local government has always been a major force
for good in Irish life. Today, local authorities are
responsible for many of the essential services on which
we depend - housing, roads, water services, the planning
system, environment improvement, fire safety, amenities.
Local authorities have a record of achievement of which
they can justifiably be proud.
There is, however, a need for
- local authority functions are
too narrow, inhibiting comprehensive and
integrated responses to problems;
- the system as it has operated
has not allowed councillors to fully realise the
policy role which was always envisaged for them;
- local authorities have tended
to be by-passed by new approaches to local
development which have been pursued through the
creation of a wide range of disparate
- there have been too many
central controls on local authorities, stifling
local initiative and self-reliance; and
- resources have been so scarce
as to adversely affect performance of the
traditional functions and prevent proper use of
discretionary powers to act in new areas of
endeavour for the benefit of the local community.
There have been improvements in
recent years but now is the time for a strategic approach
to local government renewal.
The Programme is the culmination of
an extensive process of analysis and consultation about
the place of local government in our economy and society,
a process which was initiated by commitments in A
Government of Renewal to improved public services
and better local government.
Among the milestones in this
- the Government statement in
July 1995 on local government reform;
- the report in April 1996 of
the Reorganisation Commission on Town Local
Government Towards Cohesive Local Government
- Town and County;
- the report by consultants in
June 1996 on local government financing;
- the interim report of the
Devolution Commission in June 1996 and the
associated Government statement of August 1996.
The Programme sets out the
Governments decisions on local government renewal
and details of action to achieve it.
The Programme is based on four core
- enhancing local democracy and
- serving the customer better;
- developing efficiency in local
- providing proper resources to
allow local government to fulfil the role
assigned to it.
Also at the heart of the Programme
is the conviction that the renewal of local government
will not be real and lasting unless the councillors,
managers and staff in local authorities commit themselves
wholeheartedly to, and play a full part in, the process
of change. There must be self-renewal. Local authorities
will be expected to do this by embracing the
Governments Strategic Management Initiative and
implementing it in their organisations.
- The Government will support
constitutional recognition of local government.
- Ireland will sign and ratify
the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
- Local Government will be
represented on the National and Economic Social
- There will be an enhanced role
for the democratically-elected councillors
- as local government
integrates with local development and assumes
a greater role in relation to other public
services delivered locally;
- they will have a more
significant role in the strategic management
of their councils. This will be achieved
through the mechanism of Strategic
Policy Committees, based on the main
services of the council, to be established in
county and city and the larger urban
- the chairpersons of these
committees, together with the chairperson of
the council, will form a corporate policy
group which will give increased focus to the
policy role of councillors and greatly
enhance democratic control of council
- they will be given greater
support to enable them to fulfil these new
- The partnership approach to
national economic and social planning will be
mirrored in the representation on the Strategic
Policy Committees of local interests (e.g.
industry, voluntary organisations, farmers,
environmentalists) relevant to the
- County/city councils will be
encouraged to decentralise decision-making and
service delivery by building on the existing area
Widening the role of local
- The systems of local
government and local development (LEADER,
Partnerships, County Enterprise Boards) will be
more closely linked through:
- the appointment by each county and
city authority of a director of community and
enterprise development; and
- the establishment of
Community and Enterprise Groups which will
include members (at least half) drawn from local
- Community and Enterprise
Groups will promote co-ordination between local
government and local development and develop
plans for their integration from 1 January 2000.
Partnership and participation will remain central
features in this process to build on the success
of local development initiatives.
- Personnel of State agencies
will be available to attend local will be
available to attend local authority meetings to
discuss the policies being pursued locally by
- There will be greater liaison
between the Gardaí and local authorities through
structured consultation arrangements.
- The Devolution Commission will
identify a range of additional functions suitable
for assigning to local authorities.
Improving the quality of service
- There will be greater emphasis
on providing quality services and on serving the
needs of customers.
- Performance indicators will be
used to measure and compare local authority
activities in the delivery of key services and a
special working group will be established to
identify the key standards and indicators.
- High level project teams will
be established to develop within six months,
proposals for one stop shop centres covering a
wide range of public services to be implemented,
on a pilot basis. These gateways to
government will be public offices to which
people can go to transact business with their
urban council, their county council and other
public services such as social welfare, health,
tax. The project teams will take full account of,
and build on, existing initiatives in this area.
- Local authorities will
undertake quality initiatives to improve
- A quality awards scheme will
be introduced to encourage local authority work
in this area.
- A comprehensive list of public
rights to information from local authorities will
- The general public will be
given a legal right to attend council meetings.
Paying for local government
- A new system of funding will
- The full yield from motor
taxation will become a dedicated local authority
revenue source from 1 January, 1997. A proportion
of this revenue will be used to finance an
equalisation fund which will be established to
ensure fair treatment of all local authorities
and no reduction in resources for any local
- Central Government will still
set the rates of motor tax but, for 1998 and
onwards, county and city authorities will have
the power to vary the national rates. The
variation will not exceed six per cent and this
will be limited in the first year (1998) to a
maximum of three per cent. There will be no
increase in motor tax in the interim.
- The rate support grant to
local authorities will be discontinued.
- Charges for domestic water
supply and sewerage facilities will be abolished
with effect from 1 January 1997.
- The new arrangements have two
buoyancy, as local authorities will benefit on a
continuous basis from growth in car ownership;
- discretion, as local
authorities will be able, within reasonable
limits, to raise additional revenue locally in
accordance with local needs and priorities.
- Targets will be set for local
authorities to reduce and eliminate their
- A major programme will be put
in place to ensure maximum efficiency and
effectiveness in local authorities:
- more extensive value for money
- greater use of
- a new financial
- a comprehensive
efficiency audit of county council operations in
the roads area will be undertaken shortly; and
- legislation for prompt
payment by local authorities.
- Proposals will be developed
for a local contribution for a defined period
towards discretionary developmental projects or
The human dimension
- The 30,000 people employed by
local government are its most valuable resource.
They need to be allowed and enabled to reach
their full potential in the service of the local
- Consultation with staff
interests on human resources proposals will be
- There will be further
devolution of decisions on human resources issues
from DOE to local authorities.
- A new management tier will be
created in local authorities with clear
responsibility for individual programmes and a
leading role in servicing the Strategic Policy
- A Local Government Management
Services Board will be established from 1 January
1997 to support human resources management in
- A special development
programme will be established with the aim of
increasing the number of women managers in local
- The distinction between
officers and non-officers - archaically referred
to as servants - will be abolished.
- Further flattening
of clerical and administrative grades will be
- A unified staffing structure
will be the aim for town and county authorities.
- With the development of the
new management structure, greater opportunities
will exist for the involvement of engineering and
other professional/technical staff in the
management of local authorities.
- Recruitment will be subject to
a major review; greater opportunities will be
provided for graduate entry to local government.
- More investment will be
required in training and development; local
authorities will be expected to devote at least
three per cent of payroll to staff training and
- A code of practice will be
developed in relation to the employment of people
with disabilities. Local authorities are required
to meet the three per cent employment target at
Getting the organisation right
- The regional authorities will
be assigned new responsibilities for promoting
- Measures are proposed to
improve the level of commitment of public bodies
(including local authorities) to the regional
- The Dublin and Mid-East
regional authorities will have a role in drawing
up land use planning guidelines for the greater
Dublin area which will have to be respected by
the local authorities in the area when
considering development plans. This will be
extended to other areas as necessary.
- The county and city
authorities will remain the principal units of
local government; but action is proposed to take
account of services requiring co-operative
efforts on a larger scale; to encourage
decentralisation to area level and to address
service delivery where boundaries intersect.
- The development of town
authorities will be supported and their capacity
enhanced to play the fullest role possible in
local government affairs.
- There will be greater
co-operation between county councils and town
authorities with the provision of services in
towns on a harmonised basis and co-ordinated
plans of action for town improvement.
- Local government law will be
consolidated and modernised.
Implementation of the Programme
will be driven by DOE in consultation with local
authorities and other public bodies. There will be
regular progress reports on implementation which will be
The need for change in local
government has been on the policy agenda for a long time
- too long. Ireland needs a strong and vibrant system of
local government which empowers people to decide matters
which are best decided locally and provides quality
This Programme contains the most
comprehensive series of measures ever for change in Irish
local government. By confronting the difficult issues and
giving a detailed action programme to tackle them, it
sets the agenda for delivering better local government.
The aim will be to create a system which delivers its own
services efficiently, has a real input to other public
agencies delivering local services, engages meaningfully
with the community, and plays a far more central role in
the democratic system. This aim will be realised by the
measures detailed in the Programme and by the commitment
to self-renewal from local authorities themselves.