Any benefits of major savings scraped together by the Galway County Council is not being felt within the county, with the maintenance of roads and services suffering as a result of the “sledgehammer of Minister Hogan”, according to Tuam based Independent councillor Seán Canney.
Galway County Council announced this week that it has secured savings of €5.25 million in the 12 month period ending March 31, 2012, savings which consist of €3.05 million in pay and €2.2 million in non-pay, including savings made in the areas of procurement and work practice changes. A statement received this week said that these savings together with major efficiences and savings of almost €2 million achieved in the period from April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011, mean the “Galway County Council is among the local authorities that are now leading the way in delivering savings and efficiencies”.
While praising the council for its efforts in cost-saving and efficiences, Cllr Canney said that the local authority has received little or no thanks from the Department of Environment. He added that there are now concerns for the future of essential services provided by the council.
“Since 2008 there have been a lot of highly experienced and skilled people lost from the council after contracts were not renewed, or people have retired. While the savings and efficiencies made by the council should be praised, they were made on behalf of the Department and the benefits are not being felt within the county area, it’s a saving for the exchequer. There is now a serious lack of area workers on the ground to sort out various problems. There is the added problem that the council are now using more contractors to carry out the works than they did in the past. The council may be the leading light in making savings but the only thanks it gets from the Department is to get another €3.1 million taken away because of the department’s failure to collect the household charge. The Department is now blackmailing local authorities to collect the charge. Money is being taken off the council when it has done nothing wrong. That’s the thanks it gets for saving €5.25 million.
“There are groups out there not getting the grant money they need, there are sections of the county which are very lightly staffed and some departments have lost a lot of experienced people, the effects of which will come home to roost in the next few years. There isn’t the skill set there to manage,” said Cllr Canney, who added that many roads are not being maintained to an adequate standard and there are concerns that not enough money will be available to cope with the effects of a harsh winter.
However county manager Martina Moloney has said: “The focus of all local government reforms is to maximise efficiencies while minimising impacts on front-line services and supporting local enterprise.” Ms Moloney went on to to explain that the savings were mainly achieved through significant efficiency gains, with payroll costs similarly substantially reduced due to the council reducing its staffing numbers by 283 between September 2008 and March 2012.
While acknowledging that the reduction in staffing numbers has had an impact on the council’s capacity to deliver services, the county manager stated that the potential impact has been mitigated by the willingness and flexibility shown by the remaining staff to meet service priorities. The statement went on to explain that the council’s commitment to the Government Reform Agenda “is clearly demonstrated from the savings achieved to date” and “this reform process will now enter its second stage consisting of an extensive programme of shared services”. The council will “actively engage in the process as a means to further enhance the services available to citizens and businesses, while also delivering further savings”. However, Ms Moloney noted that this is an ongoing process and “that the council recognises the need to continue to implement the policies and changes necessary to deliver first class services at minimal cost and to achieve the maximum benefit from the resources made available to the council, both through central funding and the funding provided by local communities through payment of the household charge.”