Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Budget 2020: Statements
We need to address the issue of HAP because it is unacceptable.
I welcome the provision of €17.5 million that has been set aside to provide for the Land Development Agency but I predict there will not be such an agency this side of a general election because we are only at the stage where we have the heads of a Bill. There is a long way to go to develop the Land Development Agency but I support many of its ideals. We may have a floating €17.5 million in the coffers because I do not see it happening. The Minister of State might address that. The provision of additional funding of €2 million for the Residential Tenancies Board is to be welcomed.
I would ask the Minister of State to keep an eye on the vacant sites levy. I want him to keep focused on VAT on social housing. I am particularly disappointed with the commercial stamp duty increase. I speak from experience having bought a commercial site last year. That stamp duty went up to 6% and that applied to a small commercial site. Every town and village has derelict sites and they will be subject to a 1.5% increase from midnight, bringing the stamp duty on a non-residential or commercial site up to 7.5%. I contacted the Department last year on this matter. I can understand such an increase for large commercial sites but for small sites of 150 sq. m on which one could build a three-bedroom house, the Minister is now saying that the person who buys that site must pay stamp duty of 7.5%. That needs to be reconsidered. There should be a threshold for small sites. They should not be exempt but they should be put down on the residential level. That is important. I would ask that we would consider that in the future.
I talked about local government finance. In May 2016, A Programme for a Partnership Government referred to an additional role and extra powers to be given to the Comptroller and Auditor General and that the Government would examine the possibility of extending the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General to include the expenditure of local government. I would like the Minister of State to take back to Government that it was a very sensible proposal. This is one the Government should address, particularly as it deals with public financing, which is important.
I want to touch on the issue of remuneration and support for councillors. I did hear mention in the budget of remuneration or support for city and county councillors who do sterling work. The Minister of State was one himself.Will the Minister of State examine that? Will he get his contacts in the Government to publish the Moorhead report. It made recommendations on the pay and remuneration of local government members. One might ask why I am raising this. It is important and we need to stand square on this. Councillors in Fine Gael are telling me how difficult it is for them to operate in their capacity as public representatives.
Taking Ireland Forward Together was the Taoiseach’s manifesto when he was seeking election for the leadership of Fine Gael. It is an admirable document with many great points in it. In it, he talked about the reform of local government and its financing and gave a commitment to the remuneration and support of county councillors. This is his document, not mine. He was elected leader of Fine Gael on this basis. Will the Minister of State bring this back to the Taoiseach? To be fair to the Taoiseach, he committed himself to his membership. I would like to think that it would extend to all public representatives in all local authorities, city and county councils, that they will get a fair package for the enormous work they do for their communities.