Westmeath County Council went painlessly through its own Lisbon-like mini-trauma last week with its simple adoption of the highly uninteresting draft strategic policy committee (SPC ) scheme operational guidelines.
SPCs, as they are known, have been in use nationally since 1997 and “afford both the elected representatives and local sectoral interests the opportunity to be more involved in policy formulation for the benefit of their community”, according to the Department of Environment.
Like the EU (EEC as it then was ) couldn’t rely on its founding treaty, the Treaty of Rome (1957 ) to manage all its institutions and organs as they grew and improved, so it is with the roles of the SPCs within the running of Westmeath County Council.
It was set into the SPCs founding Act to look at their guidelines on an annual basis, a review of housekeeping if you like, to keep the running of an increasingly sophisticated local authority as hitch-free as possible.
This our councillors did last Monday (September 7 ) at their first monthly meeting with a mature understanding and a minimum of fuss.
Cllr Ken Glynn (FF ) called for a greater involvement of community representatives from the north of the county on the SPCs.
“We need to have an even balance,” he said.
This was echoed by his southern colleague, Cllr Boxer Moran (FF ), who suggested these important committees should not be used for partisan purposes.
“They shouldn’t be used as an area forum,” he said.
“It was puttin’ off the private sector as the councillors were doin’ too much squabblin’ between themselves.”
Chairman Fintan Cooney (FG ) “totally agreed” with this and pointed out the good work the SPC did with the recent controversial subject of jetskis on Westmeath lakes.
“Hopefully, if we follow the guidelines as laid out here it should be an improvement,” he added.
In Westmeath there are four SPCs, covering: a ) housing, arts and culture; b ) environment and water services; c ) economic and community development and d ) transportation and planning.
Membership of each of the committees is divided up between county and town councillors and individuals from sectoral interest groups in the community nominated from within along strict guidelines.
They report on a monthly basis to the council.
As one might imagine, they are the bread and butter, if somewhat soporific engine room of the modern council.
Though the council is and remains the decision-making authority, it is the task of the SPCs to assist in the formulation, development and review of policy. The SPC system is intended to give councillors and relevant sectoral interests an opportunity for full involvement in the policy making process from the early stages.
And if you think this is boring, remembe, Lisbon and its management of the EU is this to the power of three.
Really, be grateful for the faceless bureaucrats that allow you not to have to face this on a regular basis.
That is the only fearsome thing about the Lisbon Treaty.