Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Local Government (Amendment) (Transparency in Allocation of Funding) Bill 2021: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Local Government Act 1998 and provide for a statutory review of the demographics and socio-economic profile of each local authority in order to assess required funding and determine funding allocations.
I welcome the opportunity to introduce this Bill which deals with a hugely important issue for all local authorities, none more so than my local authority in Meath West. The Bill seeks transparency in regard to local government funding. It will ensure that a review of the current demographics, projected demographic change, socioeconomic profile and infrastructural needs of each local authority is carried out with a view to identifying the level of current and future funding required by each local authority in order to meet essential service demands, that such a review is undertaken every 48 months, at a minimum, or more frequently at the discretion of the Minister, that a report of the review is laid before the Oireachtas, and that such report includes the funding provided to each local authority in the previous five years and the proposed or current allocation for the year of the review.
I was a member of Meath County Council for six years. The biggest issue every year was why Meath does not get its fair share of local government funding. The Ceann Comhairle's county is not too far behind Meath in that regard. In terms of expenditure per head of population, Meath expenditure per head is €713 and the national average is over €1,000. In terms of grant income per head of population, Meath receives the lowest level of grant support per head in the State. This has placed substantial strain on the local authority's ability to provide infrastructure and services to meet the demands of an expanding population. Population growth does not appear to be taken into account when funding is being allocated. Meath has a population of over 200,000. In the 20 years from 1996 to 2006, the population of the county increased by 78%. This is the fastest rate of growth in population in the State and it should be a significant factor in considerations regarding the allocation of funding.
Meath County Council has the lowest number of staff per 1,000 population of all local authorities in the State. Counties with low staffing levels are under the most pressure to provide a decent level of services to their citizens. If we can review this funding on a more frequent basis, we could see other local authorities, like Meath County Council, brought up to then national average.
Most of the funding sourced from central government can be grouped into broad programme categories. In regard to housing and building, Meath County Council receives 45% of the national average; for road transport and safety, 90%; water services, 60%; development management, 62%; environmental services, 48%; recreation and amenities, 43%; agriculture, health and welfare, 56%; and miscellaneous services, 77%, with an overall total of 61% of the national average. The county faces funding challenges across all service divisions and expenditure per capitain the county is less than the national average for all service categories. It is worrying that expenditure per capitafor three of the eight service categories is less than 50% of the national average. Meath is not the only local authority area affected by funding issues and, consequently, I seek the support of all Members for this Bill.