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 Header Item Local Authority Finances (Continued)
 Header Item Schools Amalgamation

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 810 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan] Apropos of nothing, in general I do not agree with the principle that taxation should be spent where it is raised. That is unconstitutional. However, in the case of an authority at local level that has done its job well and achieved savings for a particular purpose, it is difficult to explain why it should not be allowed to spend that money. It is unfair. The only reason is the change in the administrative areas in the proposal to abolish town councils, notwithstanding their replacement by extra membership on local authorities.

I ask the Minister to consider the situation because of the good management of the authority in question. We must recognise what it has done so far and acknowledge its good management and practice in keeping with the best international traditions. Would it be possible to allow the town council to spend the money on the capital projects and programmes it has identified that would be of benefit to the local community, rather than spending the money in the wider amorphous area that will exist after the local elections?

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan Before I go into the detail of the case Deputy Durkan raised, I will give him some background information about certain controls in place since 2009 when a circular was issued by my Department in respect of the control and monitoring of local authorities' contribution to the general government balance, or GGB. The GGB is the measure of the borrowings and surpluses or deficits across the wider government sector, including local government.

The downturn in the economy and the pressures on Government funding generally require a sharp focus in all sectors, including local government, to ensure effective control and management of the public finances. In this context, the Department of Finance advised in 2009 that there was a deficit limit within the national GGB assigned to local government. That limit was set at €200 million. In February 2009, my Department set out details of the financial requirements for local authorities relating to their overall management of capital and current accounts. These requirements flow directly from the requirement for government finances, as a whole, to be managed in accordance with the EU-wide limitation on budget

In order to stay within the overall GGB limit, it is necessary for local authorities to maintain both their current and capital accounts broadly in balance in any one year. The only restriction on local authorities is that, in aggregate, capital income should equal capital expenditure in the year. Balance is only required at an overall level and this allows considerable scope for authorities to draw on their existing capital reserves as an element of their overall investment programme. The precise manner in which capital and current accounts are managed in order to achieve the overall balance necessary is a matter for individual local authorities. Within these overall limits, however, there is additional capacity for non-mortgage borrowing and the expenditure of capital balances on hand by local authorities. The process of prioritising applications for such projects for 2013 has been completed and my Department was guided by local authorities in respect of priority projects requiring funding this year.

While I appreciate that these GGB requirements impose limitations on local authorities, there are considerable funding constraints at all levels of Government. It is a matter for every local authority, including Leixlip Town Council, to determine its own spending priorities in the context of the annual budgetary process, having regard to both locally identified needs and to the available resources within the GGB limits, as outlined.

I checked further into the accounts for Leixlip. Deputy Durkan may wish to note that no request has been received from Leixlip Town Council to spend the balances in hand this year, although I have received a request to meet a delegation from the council. Leixlip has a non-rating town council. In 2012 its overall expenditure budget was €355,725 and its own local income was €3,000. In order to bridge the gap it would have submitted a schedule of town charges to Kildare County Council. The council has been transferring money from its revenue account - €41,000 in 2012 - towards capital projects to deal with matters such as the town hall fund, election costs, a playground project, town improvement and the Leixlip spa. I also inform the Deputy that the balance on the capital account at the end of 2012 was €348,167.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank the Minister for his comprehensive and informative reply. If I were a thinking person - which I am not - and on the ground, I would come to the conclusion that the Minister would be open to a submission from the town council seeking permission to spend the moneys in an appropriate fashion in concert with its entitlement and requirements, that due regard would be had to its adherence to good fiduciary policies in recent years and that, as a result, it might be possible to work out an equitable solution.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell Is the thinking man correct?

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I assure the Acting Chairman that Deputy Durkan does not interpret me correctly. I have set out clearly that Leixlip Town Council has sufficient money in its capital account, as it had in 2012, to do some of the things it wishes to do. It should not take money from the revenue account in order to achieve the same purpose.

Schools Amalgamation

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan The very important amalgamation of the two primary schools in Kanturk has been a long-running issue. Much work has been done in the past three or four years under the stewardship of Canon Jackie Corkery, who has brought great impetus, fairness and transparency to the ongoing issue. A considerable effort has been made by the VEC. In 2010 the Department of Education and Skills sanctioned a site and asked the VEC to look for one. It has been engaging with the county council, the planning authorities and so forth in regard to securing that site.

What I am trying to find out in this debate is the exact current position, the commitment of the Department to the project and the discussions that have taken place between the Department and the various stakeholders in the past month or six weeks. There had been a planning issue. The Department must be very clear about this. Will the Minister of State in the Department, Deputy Ciaran Cannon, outline clearly to the House the Department's commitment to this project, and will he ensure that everything that can be done at that level is being done to move the project steadily along?

There is no doubt this project is necessary and is a priority for Kanturk. As is the case with all amalgamations that reach category 1 within the Department, it should move sharply off the agenda. Again, I stress the commitment at local level on the part of the two boards of management, given the stewardship and hard work of Canon Corkery and the goodwill he has garnered in recent years, which is great to see. We now need to establish the facts. Both schools need a clear time guideline for the amalgamation. It has been discussed for a long time and there has been much interaction with the Department, the OPW and local bodies. The OPW was in discussions about the proposed site, entry and exit to it and the need for a second entry and exit point. In discussions with landowners and the OPW it was clearly indicated that there was a logjam and those concerned were asking the Department to commit to buying other land where there would be safe access. The OPW constantly gave the impression it was taking its instructions directly from the Department of Education and Skills.

Will the Department commit completely to the project and ensure there is no logjam on its side? This is a very important infrastructural project for the town of Kanturk and its hinterland and there have been many attempts over the years to try to bring it to fruition, with goodwill present on all sides, especially within the past three or four years, if perhaps not beforehand. That is a different issue we need not go into, although I could keep the Minister of State entertained all night in regard to what was done at the time.

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