Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 17 January 2023
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Local Government Performance Indicators and Public Spending Code: National Oversight and Audit Commission
Richard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source
Thank you. I am an honorary member. I thank the representatives of NOAC for their contribution and for all of their fantastic gathering of information. It is really a brilliant resource, I have to say. I will preface my questions by saying that I am aware that the commission does a lot of hard work in gathering data and I also know that a lot of ordinary workers in our local authorities are pinned to the collar trying to deal with the volume of work they have. In many cases, they are absolutely overrun, particularly in the area of housing. If any of my questions seem to be a criticism of the performance that NOAC has analysed in its report, they are not a criticism of the staff. What the NOAC reports do is raise questions about areas where positive performance is happening and where it is not and point to issues that need to be addressed. Obviously, the big issue is the performance on housing.
One of NOAC's big fans, apart from members of this committee, is Mr. Mel Reynolds, the housing commentator who uses its figures to put together an analysis of social housing output every year. He says that if one wants the facts, one should to go NOAC and its figures, where one will get the real facts. It really is a great resource. I have not read all of the latest indicator report but I have read quite a bit of it. One of the things Mr. Reynolds did, which is very useful, was to take the total local authority housing stock, about which NOAC is very concerned in its reports, and look at our progress in terms of increasing or not increasing that stock. If I understand the report correctly, NOAC takes into account demolitions, sales and all the rest of it, which cuts through some of the stuff around "we did this and we did that" and provides the net result, which is brilliant. One of the things that Mel Reynolds does is compare that with previous years. I have not seen the index but it is really fascinating when that is done. Mr. Reynolds took the NOAC report from 2017, for example, on housing stock and compared it with the 2021 report and his findings were really stark. NOAC figures show that the Dublin city housing stock was 268 less than it was five years previously, which would shock most people. That finding is based on figures provided in NOAC indicator reports. Does NOAC itself do similar over-time comparisons to assess how we are doing, not just from the beginning to the end of one year but over a longer period? I was quite shocked by the data. Cork County Council's stock was minus 302 when demolitions and sales were taken into account. Again, that is based on NOAC figures. The stock in my own area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown was plus 35 over five years, which is really quite extraordinary. Fingal County Council was a bit better, with stock up by 780. These are not good figures when one thinks about the scale of the crisis and when one hears the figures that are being bandied about regarding increased social housing output. To see minus figures over a five year period is really quite shocking. Does NOAC do that kind of comparison? Mr. Mel Reynolds has done it using NOAC data. He could only do it with data provided by NOAC but it is a very interesting exercise.
The NOAC reports differentiate between additional stock in local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs, but the main focus is on local authorities. Would NOAC remark upon the fact that a very high proportion of the new social housing is being delivered by AHBs? In many cases it is quite skewed and while the situation is different in different areas, local authority output is very low. The figures for the four Dublin local authorities have been shockingly bad in the last year or two, with new builds at zero for the first two quarters of last year for all four councils. The figures improve slightly when one looks at AHBs, particularly in purchases. Is that something that NOAC remarks upon? Mr. McCarthy has already said that NOAC cannot stray into areas of policy and I get that but to what extent does it feel the need to highlight that?
Another issue in which I am interested is quite remarkable. I am not looking for reasons to criticise anybody but I noted a stark contrast in the data provided. NOAC provides a table, H6, on long-term homeless adults and notes a very alarming rise in the number of people in emergency accommodation and so on. The table illustrates the number of adults in emergency accommodation that are long-term homeless as a percentage of the total number of homeless adults in emergency accommodation at the end of 2021. In Dublin city, 56% of the people in emergency accommodation were long-term homeless but in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal and South Dublin County Council, the figure was 0%. Am I missing something there? Is there an explanation for that? Quite frankly, even based on the case work I am dealing with - and I am not looking for reasons to be critical - that is definitely not the case. Are they all being accounted for within the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, which covers all four areas?