Athlone and Mullingar Town Councils could be consigned to the history books if the recommendations of ‘An Bord Snip Nua’ are taken on board.
The body, which was set up to recommend areas where public expenditure can be reduced, published its much-anticipated report yesterday afternoon.
Among the report’s key proposals is the abolition of all town councils and regional authorities. If this recommendation came into effect, it would mean the end of both Athlone and Mullingar Town Councils, in addition to the Midland Regional Authority which takes in Westmeath, Longford, Offaly, and Laois.
The roles of these authorities would be subsumed by county councils, in what the report terms a “single local authority tier” system. Overall, the number of local authorities should be reduced from 34 to 22, according to the report.
Reacting to the group’s proposals, Mayor of Athlone and county councillor, Cllr Mark Cooney, said the abolition of Athlone Town Council was simply “not an option”.
“A town the size of Athlone should have its own council that is separate from the county. It is very important to have a separate council to deal with matters pertaining to the town, and which has an independent ratings and planning role,” he said.
However, Cllr Cooney said he would be content to see the demise of regional authorities; “I have always believed that regional authorities are a bureaucratic layer that serve no function,” he added.
The ‘Bord Snip’ report identified scope for reducing the current expenditure of local authorities by 10 per cent, while freezing commercial rates to alleviate pressure on local businesses. It also recommended that local authorities should be self-financing in the long term.
“Any curtailments to local authority spending need to be looked at, as local authorities are stretched as it is. We need to operate in as efficient a way as possible, but not just by curtailing expenditure,” said Cllr Cooney.
“The idea that local authorities should be self-financing would make them more efficient. I have no great problem with having to raise finance from the local area, but for this to happen the money that now goes to the national exchequer would have to be diverted to the local authority. This of course would have a knock on cost.”
While presenting its proposals, the report does, however, admit it is not in a position to make any “detailed recommendations” without engaging with local authorities. A review of local government structure is currently underway through the White Paper on Local Government Reform, it says.
Overall, the report from 'Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes’, nicknamed ‘An Bord Snip Nua’, recommends €5.3 billion in potential savings, including a 5 per cent drop in social welfare payments, a €30 per month cut in child benefit, and the loss of 17,300 public service jobs.
It calls for significant cuts in education, such as reducing the number of special needs assistants and English language support teachers, the merging of smaller primary schools, and increased pupil teacher ratios.
The group also recommends that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs be closed down, and that the need for a Department of Arts, Sports & Tourism be “critically examined”.