Local Authorities 2004
Report to the
Minister for the Environment,
and Local Government
Local Government Management
The Report - DELIVERING VALUE FOR PEOPLE – SERVICE
INDICATORS IN LOCAL AUTHORITIES - was launched in January
2004, by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The Report recommended that the Local Government Management
Services Board be given a role in external monitoring and verification
of data on service indicators, as well as compiling and analysing
a central data set of service indicators. The Board should also
make an annual report on monitoring and verification to the Minister.
An independent assessment panel to manage the process for external
monitoring and verification of the indicators was subsequently announced
by the Minister.
As Chairman of the Local Government Management Services
Board, I now have pleasure in submitting this first Report to the
Minister. It presents the data, highlights key findings and includes
comments on the experience to date and recommendations for consideration.
The Report also incorporates the report of the Independent Assessment
Local Government Management Services Board
SECTION 1: BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
A focus on performance in local government is not new.
Local authorities carry out their business generally in full view
of the public – the press cover local authority meetings - and local
elected members, in their representative capacity, ensure that there
is ongoing performance review. The elected members have a specific
role in relation to policy which is defined in law and which focuses
on the establishment of priorities and the allocation of resources
through the annual budgeting process to achieve policy objectives.
More recently, their electoral mandate has been enhanced through
the creation of Strategic Policy Committees, designed to give councillors
a more meaningful role in policy review and development.
In the document “Better Local Government” 1996,
local authorities were asked to set standards in respect of a number
of indicators and to measure progress in relation to agreed standards.
It was also proposed that service indicators be combined with financial
performance indicators, to assist in the assessment of performance
of local authorities. More recently, the Programme for Prosperity
and Fairness (2000), acknowledged the development of performance
measurement and performance management, as part of the modernisation
programme in the local government sector.
In May 2000, a defined set of service indicators was
introduced to local authority services, by which improvements in
service to the public could be assessed and tracked over time. Authorities
were required to measure their performance against the standard
set of indicators and to publish their results in their annual reports.
The Department of the Environment and Local Government indicated
that the intention of the initiative was to allow the public and
elected members judge how their council was performing relative
to other similar councils and to provide a mechanism to council
management to monitor performance over time.
In a review of Performance Measurement in Local
Government, Boyle (2000) recorded that, at that time, “performance
measurement is very much at the initial stages in local government
in Ireland. While some progress has been made, many areas are relatively
untouched by performance measurement and, of those that are, there
is recognition that the existing indicators have many limitations.
At the same time, there is recognition of performance measurement
as an issue of growing prominence and influence in local government”.
The conclusion of Boyle’s report outlined the benefits
of performance measurement. These included - establishing effectiveness
of programmes, focusing on the quality of service delivery and,
importantly, assessing the impact of services provided by local
authorities on the public generally. However, it also warned of
the limitations of service indicators – their inability to explain
why and how certain things happened. It also cautioned that performance
indicators could result in what was termed “dysfunctional behaviour”
- where the focus could be on what gets measured - often short-term
Recent Relevant Background
A 2003 review of the local government modernisation programme,
carried out by the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) for
the Committee for Public Management Research (CPMR), reviewed the
experience at that point. It recorded that most authorities were
complying with the request to report performance against service
indicators in their annual reports. It reported positively that
a number of local authorities had made a significant attempt to
develop concrete outcome measures and indicators related to their
corporate objectives and strategies.
The review found that most local authority customer
action plans published service standards and noted that the level
of openness and accountability, in terms of contact details, were
an example of good practice and well in advance of comparable plans
at central government level. It also recorded considerable evidence
of local authorities providing complaints and appeals mechanisms
and making use of customer surveys and customer plans.
Following the publication of this report, in May 2003,
a working group - representative of the Department of the Environment,
Heritage and Local Government, the local authorities and the Institute
of Public Administration - was established by the Minister for the
Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The remit of the working
group was to examine the operation of customer service initiatives
in local authorities. Within its terms of reference it was charged
with the responsibility of:
- Reviewing progress in implementing the current set of national
service indicators identified to local authorities in 2000;
- Considering the improvement/expansion of the existing national
service indicators and improved reporting of performance against
indicators by local authorities - in the light of their review
and taking into account an objective analysis to be carried out
by the Institute of Public Administration, (IPA). (Delivering
Value for People, 2004 Appendix IV).
Essentially, therefore, the mandate of the group was to review
the existing set of national service indicators, suggest refinements
that needed to be made and additional indicators that would be of
use. The group was also asked to consider improved procedures for
reporting of performance against the indicators by local authorities.
The group’s review of progress on the service indicators, which
had been identified to local authorities in 2000, found that:
- Some local authorities had used indicators and targets to track
progress in implementing their corporate plans;
- An increasing number of local authorities were now reporting
on national service indicators in their annual reports - although
a significant number still were not;
- For many local authorities, reporting only related to the year
in question, without any reference to the previous year or set
targets to allow for benchmarking - leaving the data reported
rather meaningless to all but the most well-informed reader;
- A minority of local authorities allowed for the comparison of
results with either the previous year or targets/standards set
- Many local authorities were publishing information on indicators
in a range of other reports and media - as well as in their annual
report - for the benefit of the public, elected members, management
- A large number of local authorities had proactively developed
their own local indicators to reflect local priorities;
- A limited number of local authorities reported that they used
data on indicators as part of a regular management review process
to monitor performance in different service areas;
- Responses to questionnaires indicated that the service indicators
initiative had been largely welcomed by local authorities - albeit
with a number of constructive suggestions for improvement and
refinement. (Delivering Value for People).
In an analysis of the 32 annual reports of local authorities for
2001, the group found that the approach differed among authorities.
In addition, in some cases the data was incomplete - while it was
generally not possible to compare data either over time against
pre-set standards or across local authorities.
Their report “Delivering Value for People – Service Indicators
in Local Authorities” was published in January 2004 and is the
basis for the current service indicator initiative. The Report outlined
the work of the group, made recommendations for the introduction
of a comprehensive suite of service indicators by local authorities
on which they would report annually and charged the Local Government
Management Services Board (LGMSB) with the external monitoring and
verification of the data on service indicators - as well as the
compilation and provision of analysis of a central data set of indicators.
The Minister also announced his intention to appoint an Independent
Assessment Panel (IAP) to manage the process for external monitoring
and verification of the process. The IAP was to check the returns
of a small random sample of local authorities to verify the accuracy
of the data supplied. The Report of the IAP - including its membership
and approach to its task - is included in this report as Appendix
The LGMSB was required to make an annual report to the Minister
for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This is the
first such report. It covers the calendar year 2004. Because it
is the first report - and may have a variety of readers - it includes
material which gives the context in which services are being delivered
by local authorities.
The remainder of this Report covers -
- Section 2: A short introduction to local authorities
in Ireland covering their powers and remit;
- Section 3: Background on the introduction of the initiative
and description and commentary on how the process has worked in
- Section 4: The uses and interpretation of the data, including
- Section 5: The findings under the 42 indicators;
- Section 6: Comments on the process and experience to
date - and recommendations for change;
- Part 2: Contains Tables for each indicator for each
- Appendix 1: Report of the Independent Assessment Panel.
SECTION 2: THE ROLE OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Before moving to review the results of the service
indicators for 2004, it is important to understand the role of local
authorities in Ireland - including their powers.
Callanan and Keogan (2003) outline a number of roles
which have been recognised for local government. These are, as:
- An instrument of democracy;
- A provider of services;
- An agent of central government;
- A local regulator.
Local Authorities’ Role in Democracy
Local government is a key part of the Irish democratic system, with
local authorities representing the interests of local communities.
Many commentators have taken the view that this role has, to a large
extent, been replaced by an emphasis on local authorities as providers
of services only. A recent positive development of note was the
White Paper “Better Local Government” - published in 1996
- which had, as one of its core principles, the aim of enhancing
local democracy and, since then, there have been a number of other
developments - including changes in legislation and a constitutional
referendum - which have reasserted this role for local authorities.
The most visible sign of local government is as a provider of services
- many of which are concerned with development and the physical
environment. These services, therefore, have a very real impact
on the lives of citizens. They are organised in a programme group
structure, the components of which are:
- Housing and Building;
- Road Transportation and Safety;
- Water Supply and Sewerage;
- Development incentives and control (Planning);
- Environmental Protection;
- Recreation and Amenity;
- Agriculture, Education, Health and Welfare.
Most of these services are local in character – for instance, provision
and maintenance of housing, maintenance of local roads, planning
and development control and the provision of community facilities
- including parks and libraries.
Because these services are delivered locally and impact on the
daily lives of people, they are the most visible manifestation of
the existence of local authorities. As a result, the quality of
provision of these services forms the basis for the judgment by
the customer of the effectiveness of local authorities. A key point
to note is that, increasingly, local authorities do not provide
these services directly themselves – they do so in partnership with
or sometimes by contracting out to the private sector. However,
the responsibility to ensure that services are provided and are
of a high quality, remains with the local authority.
In dealing with these services, however, local authorities are
not always free agents – they operate within a national policy framework.
Nowadays, that framework is often derived from the EU - with many
of the EU Directives being transposed into Irish legislation. This
means that the overall policy direction and objectives may be set
at national level, with local authorities having some freedom to
interpret the policy to take account of local needs, conditions
Under the Local Government Act, 2001, the local authorities were
given what is described as a power of general competence – meaning
that local authorities have the legal power to do whatever they
consider to be in the best interests of their communities. This,
clearly, opens up an additional range of activities, in which local
authorities engage and has been most evident in the involvement
by local authorities in the promotion of social inclusion and in
the broader social, economic and cultural areas. It means that,
across the country, local authorities - through the elected members,
who have the primary role in policy making - are engaged in very
different activities and have different priorities designed to meet
the particular local needs. In measuring and assessing performance
of authorities relative to one another, this is an important point
to bear in mind.
There are a small number of areas in which local authorities simply
act as an agent of central government – basically enabling the public
to access services at a local level, but with the services being
provided in a uniform way. Examples of this are the administration
of Higher Education Grants (on behalf of the Department of Education)
and the collection of motor tax - services which impact on the public
in a very immediate and visible way.
In many of their activities, local authorities are carrying out
a regulatory role – either in the specification of standards, monitoring
to ensure compliance with standards - or, where necessary, taking
action on enforcement of standards. This is an increasing area of
work and is highly visible. It has grown through the adoption by
Ireland of EU legislation and regulation - much of which requires
systems of monitoring and reporting.
In addition, local authorities have powers to adopt bye laws (for
instance, in areas such as environmental pollution and litter control).
Some of the activities of local authorities under this heading,
give rise to considerable controversy and media attention. Planning
is an example of an activity in which the powers of the local authority
- where they are required to adopt and have regard to a Development
Plan - are often subjected to comment.
It is always difficult for local authorities to get the balance
right, in carrying out their regulatory role. On the one hand, the
individual customer has a right to expect high quality service –
for instance, in relation to the processing of a planning application.
On the other, wearing its “regulatory hat”, the local authority
is obliged to take an objective, detached decision - which may not
be regarded as a positive outcome by the individual applicant. The
recent debate on the provision of rural housing is an example of
Although the four roles, outlined above, are carried out by local
authorities, the extent of their involvement in each is influenced
to a considerable extent by the financial and other resources available
Current expenditure of local authorities is met from four main sources
- Government grants, the Local Government Fund, charges for services
and Rates. In overall terms, approximately 24% of current income
is met by rates from the commercial sector. Local charges - e.g.
planning fees and building control fees, traditionally comprise
a relatively small portion of local authority income; waste disposal
and other charges for services have begun to play an increasing
role in local authority income.
Where capital expenditure is not met from exchequer grants,
or EU funds, it is met by borrowing - the repayments on which,
of course, fall to be paid by the local authority.
The element of central government funding to local authorities
is distributed on the basis of a needs and resources model
- intended to reflect the position of each authority.
The impact of the current arrangement is, that the resources actually
available to local authorities throughout the country, vary considerably
– dependent on the socio-economic profile of the area, the rates
base, the number of commercial ratepayers, etc. This means that
inevitably, individual local authorities - through the elected members
- must make choices and take decisions to allocate funding to what
are regarded as local priorities, once they have provided for their
This, in turn, means that the standard of service is not uniform
throughout the country. Recent debates on, for instance, Disabled
Persons Grants, highlight this fact.
In summary, the role of elected members is to make decisions that
reflect the needs of their electorate - taking into account the
resources available. This is the essence of local government.
Section 3: The Service Indicators Themselves
The Choice of Indicators
The report of the working group, referred to earlier, outlined a
set of 42 national indicators and provided initial guidance on the
method of data collection and a clear definition of terms. These
indicators - some new and others reflecting changes to existing
ones - incorporated suggestions for improvements or additions to
the list received from local authorities and the DEHLG, as well
as indicators adapted from those used in other countries.
The indicators span a wide range of services, including - housing,
planning, environmental services (including water, waste, and litter
and fire services), roads, motor tax, libraries, arts and culture,
recreational services, revenue collection and corporate issues.
In agreeing the list, the intention was to provide information
that would be meaningful and understandable to the public, elected
members and officials, would be relevant to local authority services
and would show a trend over time. The list was also formulated taking
into account the availability of data and ease of data collection.
A decision was made to allow for information that may already be
available to local authorities (and which they may already have
to provide to other monitoring and regulatory agencies) to be used
for some of the indicators.
Finally, it was decided that the data in respect of towns would
be collected locally and incorporated in the return from the relevant
What do the Indicators Measure?
Some of the indicators focus on numerical outputs, measuring the
scale of operations of local authorities - i.e. the number of applications
for service. Several measure an aspect of the service being provided
- e.g. the length of time it takes to deliver a service. Still others
demonstrate the practice by local authorities of the regulatory
function - e.g. the levels of enforcement of regulations and bye
laws. A small number measure the impact - e.g. pollution of rivers,
litter, etc. At this point, the emphasis is on output rather than
They do not, in any sense, reflect the full range of local authority
functions. In particular, they do not reflect the increasing involvement
by local authorities in social inclusion/community activities -
nor do they cover the key role played by local authorities in driving
economic activity in their area.
Development of the Definitions and Methodology
Considerable efforts were expended to ensure that there was clarity
of definition and that the methodology applied by local authorities
was clear, robust and uniformly and consistently applied by each
local authority. Consistency had been identified by Boyle (2000)
as being central to the development of comparative performance indicators.
This was achieved through a number of mechanisms:
- The establishment of a National Implementation Group, to assist
in steering the initiative in its first year of operation - including
giving any necessary assistance and guidance to local authorities.
This group – representative of both senior managers and practitioners
in local government, as well as the Department of the Environment,
Heritage and Local Government, the Local Government Computer Services
Board (LGCSB), the LGMSB and the IPA - met several times during
the year. It provided relevant feedback on an ongoing basis and
its deliberations and influence resulted in minor amendments to
the methodology, to reflect the practical, operational and system
- The publishing of amendments to the methodology throughout the
year - together with specific worked examples - with a final,
detailed paper issuing in November 2004.
- The holding of a number of seminars and workshops during the
year. The first of these was held in April 2004, to ensure that
there was a clear understanding of the background to the initiative
and the requirements on local authorities. These seminars also
enabled the local authorities to network with each other and identify
common approaches to problems. A final national workshop was held
in November 2004, so that any outstanding issues could be identified
- The LGCSB was tasked with the development of appropriate IT
Systems to support the initiative. (Whilst most of the data was
captured through the use of ICT, there were some indicators where
manual collection of the data was necessary).
- Ongoing coordination and close liaison between the Department
of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the LGMSB
and, through the Board, with the County and City Managers’ Association.
- Liaison between the Department of the Environment, Heritage
and Local Government and the EPA and the Motor Tax National Office,
to ensure that data on specific indicators would be made available
from their sources.
- Ongoing monitoring by the LGMSB of the process.
- The appointment, in each local authority, of a named “liaison
person” who coordinated the collection and transmission of
the data. In addition, many local authorities appointed teams
representative of all relevant sections.
- The “testing” of indicators in a controlled and monitored way
in a number of authorities supported by the LGCSB, ensured that
any “teething” problems were identified early on and dealt with.
While these actions were very helpful in terms of securing a high
level of support for and commitment to the process by local authorities,
there are a number of factors in relation to the operation of local
authorities that should be borne in mind in reviewing the data.
These are outlined in the following section.
SECTION 4: REVIEWING AND COMPARING THE DATA THAT
Experience from other countries shows that a number of local factors
- over some of which a local authority has little or no control
- can have an influence on certain indicators. These factors may
- Levels of poverty, unemployment or deprivation - which could
affect, for example, the demand for social housing or use of recreational
and cultural facilities, including libraries;
- Financial resources – which affect the capacity of individual
authorities to provide certain services and which means that standardisation
of some services is not possible;
- Population density, which can affect certain services - e.g.
refuse collection, response times for fire service, etc;
- Geographical factors – for instance rural areas may have very
different needs and priorities from large urban areas. Distance
may also affect the cost to local authorities of supplying services.
Boyle (2000) emphasises the fact that - “The context within
which authorities work, can also make certain comparisons crude
and meaningless…Differing starting points, regarding the resource
base of local authorities, can make crude comparisons meaningless.
Ensuring consistency of data collection across authorities can also
Section 2, earlier, outlined some of the key features of Irish
local government. One of these is the reflection of local needs
and expectations in the policy and practice of the local authority.
No two local authorities are the same - they have different characteristics
- including location, population, wealth, industrial and commercial
bases, etc. So, while local authorities may have a statutory obligation
to provide certain services and may act as an agent of central government
for others, there are many reasons why direct comparison of results
on performance is not possible. Other factors which are relevant
- Regional factors – some services may be organised and provided
on a regional basis;
- The method of delivery of services – in some cases, local authorities
provide services directly. In others, they may be provided in
partnership with - or exclusively by - the private sector;
- The difference between the needs of urban and rural communities;
- The profile of counties – i.e. the number and size of towns
within boundaries. Examples would include - Louth, which has two
major boroughs, Drogheda and Dundalk and the impact of Ennis in
Clare. There are, of course, many more. (It is important to note
that the data in respect of counties incorporate data in respect
- The fact that some indicators - e.g. housing and roads - have
a very different impact in cities or large towns, compared to
rural authorities. For instance, the roads indicator basically
does not apply in towns and cities while there are major differences
in the delivery of housing in major population centres relative
to rural areas ;
- The financial resources available locally. For instance, a county
with a low rate base, will find it more difficult to provide discretionary
services and may have to apply scarce resources in a particularly
focused way. On the other hand, the payment of a high percentage
of commercial rates may be reflected in the type and quality of
service being demanded by the business community and provided
Finally, it can be argued that the essence of local government
is the freedom for individual authorities - given the restrictions
within which they operate - to make policy decisions and choices
that serve the interest of their particular community. Difference
is to be expected and the diverse approaches of individual local
authorities is, in fact, a sign of a thriving system.
Uses of Performance Indicators
In the report on Performance Measurement in Local Government
(2000), Boyle highlighted the importance of using performance
indicators in local government in a developed way so as to optimise
their effectiveness. He outlined their benefits as a tool to challenge
conventional wisdom and to encourage the development and surfacing
of new ideas and approaches.
He advocated their absorption into the environment of local government
and their use by staff, management and clients, as a mechanism for
assessing performance, identifying areas of weakness or poor performance
and seeking improvements. In this way, service indicators can be
viewed in a positive way, rather than being seen as a negative tool
to be used to isolate poor performance.
The data, which has emerged through this process, is of considerable
value to the local authority system as a whole, but especially to
individual managers. It enables them to focus on services and areas
where improvement could be achieved - it will inform decisions in
relation to allocation of resources. The data may serve to identify
areas where the adoption of different processes and systems can
make a significant impact on service quality. In a more general
sense, it will encourage the sharing of information on systems and
processes within the local authority sector. Although the policies
and priorities can vary among authorities, there is much common
ground. It is to be hoped that this initiative will lead to further
improvements in the years ahead and that the ultimate benefit will
be seen in the quality of service provided to the customer.
Local Authorities in the Vanguard
Finally, it is important to note that, with the adoption and implementation
of this initiative, local authorities are leading the way in the
public service in Ireland. At the launch of the initiative in 2004,
the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government,
Martin Cullen, T.D., acknowledged this when he said - “I believe
this initiative shows that local authorities are not afraid to stand
up and be counted… I know that local authorities will see this initiative
as one where they can put their best foot forward and show-case
their commitment to quality public services and value for money…
Local government is blazing the trail in the public sector on service
standards and performance reporting. No other sector has gone so
far in sector-wide service indicators, open reporting of performance
and independent monitoring and verification of the performance reporting”.
The next Section of this Report summarises the data which has emerged,
while the complete Tables for each indicator are contained in Part
SECTION 5: FINDINGS UNDER SERVICE INDICATORS
In this section of the Report, an attempt is made to capture the
key data, which local authorities submitted for each of the service
indicators. Particular areas are highlighted and the national picture
is presented in summary form. In some cases, data from other relevant
sources has been included to enhance the reader’s understanding
of the background and context.
In all cases the data are referenced to the Tables in Part 2. The
footnotes to those Tables contain more detailed information on the
definitions and methodology for each indicator and also explanations
- or supplementary material - submitted by individual local authorities.
They should, therefore, be accessed in conjunction with the material
presented in this section so as to gain a full and accurate picture.
In the following section, each of the main areas is covered briefly
in the following order:
|Culture, Recreation and Amenity Facilities
Housing is one of the most important social functions undertaken
by local authorities. Local authorities play a major role in the
direct provision of housing - by assisting persons to meet their
own housing needs and by working with Voluntary Housing Bodies and
Co-operatives, whose aim is the provision of housing.
Until recently, the emphasis was on house building, but the emphasis
has now shifted to meeting a broader range of housing needs and
there is a range of options offered by local authorities.
County Councils, City Councils and Town Councils are all Housing
Authorities with responsibility for the planning and development
of public housing within their functional areas. County Councils
and City Councils have responsibility for all housing functions
while there are some limitations to the powers of Town Councils
in this area.
The figures in the service indicators for county authorities, include
those for towns in the authority’s area. It is important to bear
this in mind in reviewing the figures, as the housing needs of urban
and rural communities vary considerably - requiring different responses
from local authorities.
The overall aim of housing policy is to enable every household to
have available, an affordable dwelling of good quality, suited to
its needs, in a good environment and, as far as possible, with choice
The general strategy for realising the overall policy aim is that,
those who can afford to do so, should provide housing for themselves
- with the aid of the financial incentives available - and that
those unable to do so from their own resources, would have access
to social housing or income support to rent private housing.
Housing authorities promote home ownership through the following
- Tenant Purchase Schemes
- Shared Ownership Scheme
- Affordable Housing Schemes
- Loans for acquisition/construction
- Mortgage Allowance Scheme
- Sale of low-cost housing sites.
In recent years, a strong emphasis has been placed on the management
of the local authority housing stock, on improving the quality of
the stock - including the provision of planned and responsive maintenance
programmes - and on providing quality service to local authority
clients. The latter area includes ensuring that clients have access
to good information and advice on the range of options available
to them. Transparency and simplification of procedures have also
been targeted by local authorities.
What do the Service indicators Measure?
Given the breadth and complexity of the involvement by local authorities
in housing, it was difficult, inevitably, to select indicators which
would convey the extent of local authority performance in this area.
In the event, a number of indicators were selected that focus on
the management of the existing housing stock of local authorities,
rather than on the construction of new houses. The indicators cover
the actual size and use of the local authority housing stock, the
management of that stock - and, finally, the speed of service available
to customers of the local authority. (Full details in relation to
each of these are included in Tables 1.1 to 4 - the key information
is summarised in the figures that follow).
The overall net growth in the local authority housing stock over
the last number of years is depicted in Figure 2 which shows an
increase of 8% from 1999 to 2004.
The returns from local authorities show that, in 2004,
there were a net total of 107,257 houses let by local authorities
(i.e. a total of 111,457 houses - minus those unavailable for letting).
The city authorities have 37% of all local authority housing stock
in their ownership. Dublin City Council has almost 27,000 in its
housing stock. Figure 3 shows the actual number of houses in each
county and city council area.
At any point in time, there will inevitably be some
local authority houses vacant. There are many reasons why this might
be the case. These include - the challenge of matching household
size and profile of applicants to houses available, the fact that
some houses can be difficult to let because of location or other
reasons and that many houses require extensive repairs before they
are deemed ready to be re-let. (In such cases, it can be difficult
to get local contractors to carry out the work speedily).
Some authorities retain houses for emergency temporary
letting. In a small number of cases, there are plans for a major
refurbishment - which means that the existing units have to be emptied
to allow the development to take place - and this may take some
time to achieve. Figure 4 shows that the national average of empty
houses across all local authorities is 2.97% (see Table 1.1 for
Table 1.2 gives a further breakdown of this figure
and isolates the percentage of empty dwellings that was actually
available for letting. The Figure below also shows that the average
time taken by local authorities to re-let those dwellings available
for letting, is 5.08 weeks. Table 2 shows that twenty authorities
take, on average, four weeks or less to re-let dwellings and, in
three cases, the average time is one week. Local circumstances play
a role in this case and, depending on the number of houses in the
local authority’s overall stock, a small number of difficult cases
can impact disproportionately on the result.
A further indicator required local authorities to
submit information on the percentage of housing repairs completed,
relative to valid repair requests received – focusing on response,
as distinct from planned maintenance. This information is at Table
3. However, the indicator does not measure the time taken to respond
to the request.
Given the increasing stated emphasis by local authorities
on the provision of speedy and high quality responses to applicants
for local authority housing, it was decided to include an indicator
to measure the average time taken to inform applicants on the outcome
of their application for different categories of housing - shared
ownership, housing loans and local authority housing.
In submitting their returns, local authorities described
the local processes which they use to deal with applications. These
vary considerably across the country and involve many stages – including
involvement of outside agencies to examine and verify various aspects
of the application. In the case of this contribution from outside
agencies to the process, there is no existing service level agreement
in place and this means that local authorities may be dependant
on the external resources applied to this area of work. The local
practices, which are designed to enhance the quality and preserve
the integrity of the process, obviously affect the time taken and
this means that comparison between authorities on this indicator
is not practicable. (See footnote to Table 4 for fuller details).
It was also pointed out by a number of authorities
that the increased number of applications in recent years, allied
to changes in Supplementary Welfare Allowance, have affected their
performance in this area.
Nonetheless - and bearing these factors in mind -
on examining the returns, we find that, in the case of decisions
on shared ownership, the national average is 15.44 days, with thirteen
authorities notifying their decision in ten days or less and only
five taking more than 25 days, In the case of applications for housing
loans , the national average is 16.28 days, with seven taking less
than ten days and three taking in excess of 25 days. Finally, in
relation to local authority housing, the national average is 61.85
days. However, the factors outlined above affect this last figure
and a number of authorities supplied detailed explanations which
are included in a footnote to Table 4. The summary is at Figure
Accommodation for travellers has become an increasingly important
issue for housing authorities in recent years.
There has been a greater articulation of traveller
issues by representatives and increased media interest. A number
of important court decisions affecting the housing functions of
local authorities have also been issued. The decisions of the courts,
coupled with widespread media attention on the unacceptable living
conditions of travelling families, have influenced Government policy
in this area. The Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community
(July 1995), which made a number of significant recommendations,
was also a key influence and the Strategy announced in March 1996
reflected much of its thinking.
Housing Authorities were required to adopt a five-year
Traveller Accommodation Programme by 31 March 2000, for the period
1 January 2000 to 31 December 2004. The programmes were to be prepared
in consultation with the Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee,
consisting of Council members, officials and Traveller representatives.
What did the Service indicators Measure?
The intention of the indicator was to see how much progress local
authorities had made, relative to their own traveller accommodation
programme. In many cases programmes contained an overall objective
for the period 2000 – 2004, rather than an annual target. For this
reason, local authorities provided data in different ways and the
results in Table 5 of Part 2 are, therefore, not directly comparable
with one another. However, the figures show that ten authorities
either met or exceeded the target outlined in their programme. A
summary of the position is included at Figure 6.
The issue of the quality of water is a key one for Ireland. The
EPA Report “Water Quality in Ireland - 1998-2000" pointed
to the need for further major programmes to be introduced to improve
the quality of water in rivers, lakes, estuaries and groundwaters.
The two EU Directives which impact on local authorities
in this area are the Water Framework Directive and the Nitrates
Directive. The Water Policy Regulations ( 2000) transpose
the provisions of the Water Framework Directive into national law.
These regulations assign responsibilities to the EPA, local authorities
and other public authorities - for implementation of the Water Framework
What did the Service indicators measure?
The intention of the indicators was to measure the extent of pollution
of rivers on a county basis.
However, under the Water Framework Directive, planning
for the management and protection of the aquatic environment is
based on river basins and RBD Districts - rather than administrative
areas - e.g. county boundaries.
The competent authorities in relation to a River Basin
District are -
- the local authorities acting jointly for the purpose of the
establishment of environmental objectives or measures and the
making of river basin management plans
- the EPA, for the purposes of reporting to the EU Commission.
This is reflected in the figures (supplied by the EPA) contained
in Table 7 of Part 2 - which shows for each of the River Basin Districts,
the percentage of pollution in four water quality classes – unpolluted,
slightly , moderately, and seriously polluted. This data is captured
in the illustration. (Figure 7).
The framework for the approach to water supply protection in Ireland
derives from EU Environmental policy.
Local authorities have a key role to play in implementing
the directives in relation to the quality of drinking water - which
are both consumer and environmentally driven. The Drinking Water
Directive relates to the final quality of water supply to consumers
and requires local authorities to ensure that all drinking water
meets stringent quality standards in respect of various physical
chemical, toxic and microbiological parameters.
The Regulations, introduced in 2000, include requirements
on sampling frequency, methods of analysis, the provision of information
to consumers and related matters. They also bring all group schemes
serving 50 persons or more within the remit of the Directive and
set new parameters which applied from 2004. These schemes are now
subject to a water quality monitoring scheme under which samples
are collected at the consumer’s tap on a quarterly basis and the
laboratory results are available from county councils.
The EPA Report on Drinking Water Quality for 2002
concluded that the overall quality of drinking water in Ireland
was generally satisfactory - with an overall compliance rate, at
that time, of 95.9% (97.4% in the case of public schemes) with prescribed
standards. Figure 8 below summarises the picture derived from the
service indicator data for 2004, while the detailed information
is contained in Table 8.
Source: The Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland.
EPA, April 2005
Planning authorities include - County and City Councils, Borough
Councils and Town Councils. An Bord Pleanála deals with appeals
of decisions made by a local authority. Planning permission is required
in respect of any development of land, not being exempted development
and, in the case of development which is unauthorised, for the retention
of that unauthorised development.
The role of local authorities in planning is concerned,
not only with carrying out the day to day operation of their regulatory
role (planning control), but also with the developmental aspects
of planning (forward planning).
As a result of the economic performance of the country
generally in the past decade, there has been a huge increase in
the number of planning applications handled by local authorities.
Figure 9 over shows the growth in planning output between 1992 and
2004 - with the number of applications determined increasing by
almost 100 % over that period. These figures do not capture the
growing complexity and scale of commercial and residential applications
which has an impact on local authority operations.
Apart from the increased volume of applications, the
provisions of the Planning and Development Act, 2000 have
had a significant impact on the processes which local authorities
are required to follow in dealing with planning applications. Because
of the importance of the planning function, the service indicators
measured several aspects of the service provided by local authorities
under this heading. These were, broadly -
- The volume of applications dealt with by local authorities;
- The time taken by local authorities to deal with applications;
- Analysis of the outcome of applications by the local authority
in the first instance and by An Bord Pleanala in the case of appeals;
- Activity of local authorities on enforcement;
- Accessibility to advice and consultation on planning.
These headings are used to summarise the material in the paragraphs
Volume of Activity
The service indicators examine the number of applications determined
by each planning authority in a number of categories and record
the time taken by the authority to determine the application.
This data is summarised in the figure below. Figure 10 shows the
breakdown, by type, of the total of planning applications determined
by the local authorities in 2004. It should be noted that "new
housing developments” is for applications for two or more dwellings
- while applications for extensions to dwellings are included in
the category “Not requiring an EIA”.
Almost 53% of all applications in 2004 were for individual houses
The Planning Process
The procedure to be followed in determining planning applications
is clearly laid out in legislation. Where an application is made
to a planning authority for permission for the development of land
and all requirements of the regulations are complied with, the authority
may decide to grant the permission subject to or without conditions
- or to refuse it. In making its decision in relation to an application,
the planning authority is restricted to considering the proper planning
and sustainable development of the area.
The planning authority is obliged to make a decision
on a valid planning application within eight weeks from date of
receipt of the application, or within four weeks from the date of
receipt of further information requested by the planning authority.
If a decision is not given within an appropriate period, the applicant
has permission by default. The minimum period for determination
of an application is five weeks from receipt of the planning application.
The permission granted may be subject to any number
of conditions. The range of conditions that can be attached is set
out in the Planning and Development Act, 2000.
Local authorities are very aware of the onus on them
to comply with the legislative requirements and of the serious implications
arising for failure to do so.
The detailed information on the performance of individual
local authorities in relation to time taken to determine valid applications
and applications, where further information is requested is summarised
in the figures that follow.
Figure 12 summarises the data on refusal of planning
applications by category.
Role of An Bord Pleanala
The 1976 Act provided for the establishment of an independent
appeals body, An Bord Pleanála, to adjudicate on planning appeals,
references, etc. The Minister may give the Board general direction
as to policy but he has no power to issue a directive in any individual
Section 126 of the 2000 Act sets out that: “It
shall be the duty of the Board to ensure that appeals and referrals
are disposed of as expeditiously as may be and, for that purpose,
to take all such steps as are open to it to ensure that, in so far
as is practicable, there are no avoidable delays at any stage in
the determination of appeals and referrals”.
The Board may, in determining an appeal, decide to
grant a permission even if the proposed development contravene materially
the development plan in the planning authority area. However, where
a planning authority has decided to refuse permission on the grounds
that a proposed development materially contravenes the development
plan, the Board may only grant permission where it considers that:
- the proposed development is of strategic or national importance;
- there are conflicting objectives in the development plan or
the objectives are not clearly stated;
- permission for the proposed development should be granted having
regard to regional planning guidelines for the area or Ministerial
guidelines or policy directives, the statutory obligations of
any local authority in the area and any relevant policy of the
- permission for the proposed development should be granted, having
regard to the pattern of development - and permissions granted
- in the area, since the making of the development plan.
Decisions of An Bord Pleanála can be appealed, on a point of law,
to the High Court.
The 2000 Act has substantially changed enforcement procedures and
introduces a new concept of a warning letter. This amalgamates the
provisions previously in use under the 1963 and 1976 Acts. It provides
that ,where a representation in writing is made to a planning authority
by any person that unauthorised development may have been, is being,
or may be carried out, or that it appears to the authority that
unauthorised development may have been, is being, or may be carried
out - the authority must issue a warning letter to the owner, the
occupier or any other person carrying out the development. This
warning letter must be issued not later than six weeks after the
complaint and the complainant is entitled to a copy if he/she requires
This statutory requirement may have a major impact on planning
authorities and has led to the setting up of special enforcement
units. The warning letter must indicate the land in question and
allow for submissions in writing within a four-week period. It must
also warn that an enforcement notice may be issued, state that officials
can enter on the land for the purpose of inspection at any reasonable
time and explain the penalties and likely court costs if a prosecution
Following this procedure, a planning authority has a duty to ensure
that a decision - on whether to issue an enforcement notice - is
taken as expeditiously as possible (max 12 weeks). The decision
made by the planning authority, including the reasons for it, must
be entered into the planning register. Whether the decision is to
serve an enforcement notice or not, the authority must inform the
person who made the initial representation in writing. In urgent
cases, the planning authority can immediately issue an enforcement
notice or use the mechanism described hereunder.
Local authorities recognise clearly their duties in relation to
enforcement. However, again, this is balanced with their general
obligations in planning and the level of staff resources available.
The national summary figures are contained in Figure 13. Of the
total number of complaints that were investigated (10,176), 16%
were dismissed, 67% resulted in warning letters, while 7% resulted
in successful prosecutions. Some local authorities point out that
they engage in various strategies to achieve compliance with the
planning code and, thus, in some cases, may achieve resolution without
resorting to the enforcement procedures. Some others acknowledge
that insufficient resources have limited their activity in this
area. Others cited delays in the legal process.
As outlined, the planning process itself is driven by very specific
legal and administrative requirements, which must be complied with.
These are lengthy, time-consuming and resource intensive. They are
carried out within planning offices - out of the public eye. This
has to be balanced with the desirability of ensuring the public
have access to the planning office. Figure 14 below, which provides
summary data, shows that almost all authorities are open to the
public for more than 30 hours per week - with eighteen open for
35 hours or more.
Accessibility to Advice on Planning
Applying for planning permission is a key decision - the outcome
of which affects the quality of life of the applicant. Local authorities
recognise this fact and, for many years, have engaged in pre-planning
enquiries and consultations with people who may wish to lodge a
planning application. Some local authorities actually set up special
clinics to advise on planning procedures and, in exceptional cases,
to advise on design, etc. Others have published design guidance
and manuals. Such advice is extremely valuable to the client (prospective
applicant) and can result in plans not being proceeded with or material
alterations being made to plans.
The Planning and Development Act, 2000 specifically
provides in law, for the first time, for these consultations and
provides a strict set of rules outlining - in the interests of openness,
transparency and accountability - how such consultations are to
be recorded and put in the public domain. Each planning authority
must now keep a record, in writing, of any consultations that relate
to a proposed development - including the names of those who participated
in the consultations and a copy of such record shall be placed and
kept with the documents to which any planning application in respect
of the proposed development relates.
Figure 15 shows that most local authorities provided
an opportunity for a consultation within 10 days. In a very small
number of cases, the waiting time was in excess of 20 days. In one
case, the waiting time was almost 80 days. This was due to exceptional
Because of the demand for and acknowledged usefulness
of this service - and taking account of the various demands on planning
officials - a number of local authorities have indicated their intent
to make provision in different and innovative ways to improve this
service in 2005 and beyond.
The Building Control Act, 1990 and the Building Regulations/
Building Control Regulations came into effect on 1 June 1992
and established that City and County Councils were Building Control
The purpose of the Building Regulations is to promote
good practice in the design and construction of buildings in the
interests of health, safety and welfare of persons who use buildings.
The Regulations apply to all new buildings, extensions, material
alterations and certain changes in use of existing buildings commenced
on or after the 1 June 1992.
Whilst the Act confers the power on the local authority
(as a Building Control Authority) to inspect buildings, the primary
responsibility for compliance rests with the owners, designers and
constructors of buildings.
Figure 16 below, summarises the activity of local
Each major local authority has been designated as a fire authority
and provides cover on either a fulltime or part time basis in its
area. There are 37 fire authorities in the country - in a number
of cases with adjoining authorities making arrangements to provide
fire cover. The service is provided by a mix of fulltime and retained
firefighters across approximately 220 fire stations nationwide.
There are full time fire services in a number of authorities - mainly
the cities. The overall involvement by the fire service in fire
and non-fire incidents is captured in the Figure below.
Figure 18 below shows that, in the case of fulltime
stations, the average time for brigades to be mobilised (i.e. the
time taken from the time of the fire call-out - the notification
of the location of the fire - until the time when the vehicle leaves
the station) was 2.2 minutes - the corresponding figure for part-time
stations was 5.28minutes.
The second service indicator for fire measured the
time taken from the time of the fire call-out to the arrival of
the first fire tender at the scene of a fire. Based on summary data,
more than half of fire emergencies were attended to by brigades
in less than 10 minutes.
There are many factors that influence these figures.
These include - whether it is an urban or rural area, the number
and location of stations, the size of the county, the nature of
the terrain, etc.
Under the Building Control Regulations, there is an
obligation to submit the specified design data of all buildings
other than houses and certain agricultural buildings, to the local
authority to obtain a Fire Safety Certificate - which, essentially,
means that the building will, in the opinion of the authority, comply
with the requirements of the building regulations.
The returns from local authorities, show that, in
2004, local authorities received a total of 8,322 applications for
fire safety certificates and processed a total of 8,016.
The issue of the protection of the environment has
become increasingly important over the last number of years. The
emphasis on sustainable development and the increasing impact of
EU regulations, have resulted in a key role for local authorities
in this area.
An Action Programme for the Millenium (1997)
included the statement that concern for the environment would be
central to all policy decisions of government and this is reflected
specifically in the National Development Plan 2000-2006.
Against this background, the service indicators were
selected to measure the performance of local authorities under a
number of environmental headings. These are covered in the following
The current overall policy of the government in relation to waste
management is set out in An Action Plan for the Millennium and related
policy documents - e.g. Recycling for Ireland and Sustainable
Development – A Strategy for Ireland. It is based on internationally
recognised options for waste minimisation, reuse/recycling and environmentally
sustainable disposal of waste that cannot be prevented or recovered.
These policies were restated and re-affirmed in a policy statement
- Waste Management – Changing Our Ways - published in September
1998. It stressed that there is an urgent need to modernise waste-management
practice and secure the provision of environmentally efficient infrastructure.
Proper waste management is a fundamental requirement for sustainable
development and environmental protection.
The thrust of Changing Our Ways is the need for a dramatic reduction
in reliance on landfill - in favour of an integrated waste management
approach, which utilises a range of waste-treatment options to deliver
ambitious recycling and recovery targets. The primary purpose of
the policy statement is to provide a national framework within which
local authorities and the waste industry can plan ahead with confidence.
In April 2004, the Government published a document on Waste Management
Policy entitled - “Taking Stock and Moving Forward”. It was
accompanied by the National Overview of Waste Management Plans,
which focused on the status of each of the regional waste management
plans to date.
The documents, inter alia -
- Detail progress on implementing Local Authority Waste Management
- Include data on recovery facilities such as - bring banks and
civic amenities, landfilling and recovery rates of MSW (Municipal
Solid Waste), the status of thermal treatment capacity in Ireland
and the existing landfill capacities in the different Waste Management
- Reinforce the concept of integrated waste management, based
on the waste hierarchy pyramid and targets contained in “Changing
- Confirm that waste management planning will continue to be delivered
through local authorities in their regional groupings, as against
a national Waste Management Plan.
In addition to the policy documents outlined earlier, there are
a number of relevant legislative changes which affect the remit
of local authorities in this area. The Waste Management Act,
1996 establishes basic legal structures and assigns functional
responsibilities to public authorities, provides for a meaningful
system of waste-management planning by local authorities and the
EPA and introduces a strict system of licensing by the EPA, in respect
of all significant waste recovery and disposal activities.
For the first time, it provides a comprehensive legislative framework,
within which local authorities can define and give effect to progressive
waste-management policies. The growth in importance of this area
is reflected in the figure which shows the increased level of expenditure
on environmental services between 1995 and 2003.
Source: Local Authority Estimates, DoEHLG 1995 – 2003
The provisions in the Waste Management Act, 1996, place a duty on
city and county councils to collect or arrange for collection of
household waste, whereas town councils are empowered, but not placed
under a duty to do so.
However, the duty imposed on city and county councils
does not apply in the following circumstances:
- where there is an adequate waste collection service in the local
authority’s functional area
- where the estimated cost of collection of the waste concerned
by the local authority would, in the opinion of the authority,
be unreasonably high
- where the local authority is satisfied that adequate arrangements
for the disposal of the waste concerned can reasonably be made
by the holder of the waste.
During the 1960s and 1970s Local Authorities generally expanded
their refuse collection service. However, financial restrictions
in the 1980s witnessed a reduction in the service provided by local
authorities and, in many counties, private contractors began to
operate. Indeed, some local authorities have now totally withdrawn
from the service and private contractors provide a collection service
on a fee-paying basis. This should be borne in mind when examining
the data in the following section.
What do the Indicators Tell Us?
The activities of those local authorities (20) who, themselves,
provide a waste collection service are reflected in the figures
which follow. Figure 21 (from Table 17) reflects the percentage
of households provided with a segregated waste collection directly
by the local authorities. It shows that in the case of a number
of local authorities (six), more than 95% of households are provided
with a segregated service. There are a number of local factors which
influence the results in this case and these are recorded as footnotes
to Table 17.
Table 18 shows the amount of household waste collected
which was sent for recycling and to landfill in 2004.
During the year, considerable discussion took place
between local authorities and the Department of the Environment,
Heritage and Local Government about this one particular indicator
– the percentage of household waste recycled. Essentially, the indicator
captures only household waste which is collected from individual
dwellings (and excludes other means used to recycle - e.g. bring
centres, civic amenity centres, central green waste facilities,
etc.). It, therefore, does not represent the overall recycling
figure for authorities.
The EPA reported that the total amount of household
waste recycled in 2003 was 13.1% - up from just 9% in 2002 (EPA
National Waste Database 2003: Interim Report: 2005:12). The footnotes
to Table 18 provide some additional relevant information.
A further note of caution, which needs to be issued
in this case is, that the figures may be affected by the method
of collection (i.e. private/direct provision by authority) applying
in a particular authority area, which may result in comprehensive
and accurate figures not being available. (See Tables 17 and 18
for further explanation).
Provision of Recycling Facilities
A key element of government strategy in relation to waste, is the
provision of infrastructure to support greater reuse and recycling.
A capital grant scheme for this purpose was included in the National
Development Plan 2000-2006.
Because of the importance of this in promoting recycling
, the service indicators concentrated on assembling information
under a number of relevant headings. The following series of diagrams
summarises the data at national level and compares it over time,
so that the extent of the progress made by local authorities can
Figure 22 shows that the number of bring banks provided
by local authorities has increased from 426 in 1995 to 1,767 in
2004 - an increase of 315% over the period. This increase resulted
in the figure for the number of persons per bring bank reducing
from over 8,000 to just over 2,000 ( See Table 2).
A similar trend is evident in relation to the provision
of Civic Amenity centres across the country - where there has been
an increase of almost 150% in ten years. In a relatively short period,
local authorities have achieved 77% of their target number of civic
amenity sites under the Regional Waste Management Plans, with a
further two centres under construction.
The detailed data for each local authority area -
including a breakdown, showing facilities for glass, cans, textiles,
batteries and oil and other - are contained in Tables 20.1 to 20.6.
Table 3 captures the overall numbers of facilities
in each category.
Source: 2004 Service Indicators
Awareness of the importance of protecting the environment
has been a key feature of government policy and local authority
activity over the past number of years. In this connection, local
authorities have recognised the importance of getting the message
across effectively to young people.
Staff of local authorities work closely with various
bodies - principally an Taisce - in this work and a key aspect is
the active engagement of primary and secondary schools in environmental
Figure 24 shows the increase in the number of schools
participating in the Eco-Schools campaign between 1998 and 2005
- the break-down by local authority area, is depicted in Figures
25 and 26 following. On average, there are 50% of primary schools
and 53% of secondary schools participating in these campaigns.
Recent legislation – notably the Litter Pollution Act, 1997
and the Protection of the Environment Act, 2003 - has strengthened
the powers of local authorities in this area.
In addition, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage
and Local Government has set up the Litter Pollution Monitoring
Committee and guidelines have been issued to local authorities in
relation to identification of litter black spots and ancillary matters.
Given the importance of this issue and its impact
on tourism and the image of the country generally, it is important
to record the level of resources allocated to this area of work
by local authorities and the results.
The day to day monitoring of litter is carried out
by litter wardens. Nationally there is a total of 287 wardens engaged
in this activity, of whom 136 are full-time and 151 are part-time.
(See Table 21.1). The number of litter wardens per 5,000 population
shows considerable variation across authorities - with most local
authorities having less than one.
Figure 28 summarises the activities of local authorities
in relation to the issuing of on-the-spot fines. A total of 20,842
fines were issued in 2004. Follow-up action in respect of non-payment
of fines, resulted in a total of 1,940 prosecutions being taken,
of which 764 were secured.
Several authorities pointed out that the number of
on-the-spot fines issued, does not truly reflect the level of activity
in this area. They highlighted the real difficulty they face in
tracing offenders - in spite of thorough searches. Other action
- e.g. written or verbal warnings may also be used and these may
be an effective deterrent. The figure in relation to prosecutions
secured during the year, may be affected by delays encountered in
getting court dates. ( See Table 21.2).
The National Litter Monitoring System is an
internationally recognised method of measuring the extent and severity
of litter pollution on a comprehensive basis. Under this measure,
litter pollution has decreased significantly between 2002 and 2004.
The percentage of areas ‘litter free’ has doubled, from an
average of 5.5 % in 2002 to over 11 % in 2004 - while the percentage
‘grossly polluted’ remained at 1.9%. On average, just over
10% of areas surveyed are now significantly or grossly polluted
- a fall from 12.3% in 2002 - while those areas either ‘litter free’
or ‘slightly polluted’ rose from 48.1% to 54%.
Under the Waste Management legislation, local authorities
have power to take proceedings for infringements. The infringements
measured and reported on in the service indicators, include infringements
under the Waste Management Act, 1996, the Litter Pollution Act,
1997, the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts, 1977 and 1990,
the Protection of the Environment Act, 2003 and the Noise Regulations
The activity of individual local authorities in relation
to complaints, investigations and enforcement procedures, is outlined
at Table 22 of Part 2. The summary figure below, shows that, in
total, local authorities investigated a total of 44,964 cases in
2004. It is important to note that, on investigation, some complaints
may be found to be vexatious, others unsubstantiated - while, in
many other cases, the matter can be resolved satisfactorily through
action agreed between the offender and officials.
Culture, Recreation and Amenity Facilities
In drawing up the service indicators, there was a consciousness
of the desirability of including some indicators to reflect the
wider role of local authorities in those areas which would not be
regarded as part of their traditional role or with which they would
not necessarily have been associated.
In fact, local authorities provide a wide variety
of such services - very much addressing local needs and priorities,
while at the same time, reflecting national policy. These include
the direct provision and maintenance of public libraries, swimming
pools, parks and open spaces and the provision of grants or other
assistance to artistic, sporting and community groups. These have
increased in importance in recent years and provide an opportunity
for local authorities to complement their role in community development.
Factors which have influenced the increased involvement
of local authorities include:
- Increased demands from the public for such services, arising
from their greater awareness and appreciation of artistic, heritage
and natural amenities;
- The growth in leisure time and the need for recreation and
amenity facilities especially in urban areas;
- The recognition that the provision of these services is an essential
ingredient in creating stable and vibrant communities and in combating
- The opportunities being taken by local authorities to work in
partnership with existing organisations and state agencies, so
as to maximise the impact and resources in this area.
It is important to note that much of the expenditure on these areas
is discretionary and this means, of course, that they are dependant
on the overall level of finance and resources available to individual
local authorities relative to the requirement for funding of essential
services - such as roads, housing etc.
The areas on which the service indicators focused in this first
year are on the arts, library , play and swimming facilities.
Local authorities have become increasingly involved in the area
of the Arts in recent years. Section 12 of the Arts Act, 1973 enables
local authorities to “assist with money or…by the provision of
services or facilities…an exhibition or other event the effect of
which when held would, in the opinion of the authority, stimulate
public interest in the arts, promote the knowledge, appreciation
and practice of the arts, or assist in improving the standards of
Most local authorities now employ an Arts Officer, in cooperation
with the Arts Council, which recoups 50% of the cost.
Whilst the Figures below summarise the number and value of grants
allocated by local authorities, in accordance with the service indicators
selected, it is important to note that local authorities provide
assistance and support in many other ways – e.g. by providing or
supporting the cost of venues, by the provision of rates relief
and staff time. In fact, several authorities pointed out that the
number and total of arts grants allocated, reflects only a very
small proportion of the vast and varied programme of arts activity
directly provided and supported. It was also clear that some local
authorities confined their return for the indicator to Arts Act
grants only, while others interpreted it more widely. For these
reasons care should be exercised in interpreting the data.
The total of arts grants reported under this heading
was 1,978, an average of 58 per authority. Four authorities reported
allocating one hundred or more grants.
There are approximately 350 libraries in Ireland - an increase of
25 branches since 1998.
Over many years, the public library service has provided
the principal means of access to information and leisure reading
facilities and has played a role in the advancement of education
and literacy in our society.
There is an extensive branch network and mobile facilities
which give the library service the capacity to serve citizens throughout
Local authorities try to match the provision of the
service to the level of need and demand. In many areas, the service
is provided on a part-time basis. The service indicators chosen
reflected a number of aspects of the library service - opening hours
of both full and part-time libraries and the usage of the library
service-measured through the number of users.
Figure 33 summarises the opening hours and shows that
the average number of hours on which fulltime libraries are open
is 38.67 - the corresponding figure for part-time libraries is 14.88
hours. Almost all of the fulltime libraries are open for more than
30 hours per week, with three opening for in excess of 45 hours
Whilst this is a very positive situation, it has been
pointed out by one local authority that it is also important to
examine the actual “hours of opening” to ensure that libraries are
accessible at times which are suitable to their target population.
An Chomhairle Leabharlanna ( The Library Council)
- whose members are appointed by the Minister for the Environment,
Heritage and Local Government - is responsible for the improvement
of the library servic and the provision of capital grants for library
buildings, mobile libraries and book stocks. It also advises the
Minister on library matters.
A maximum grant of 75 % of the capital cost has been
available to local authories for libraries approved by the Minister.
Local authorities are required to provide the balance of the capital
funding on approved projects from their own resources and /or through
Increasingly, taking into account constraints and
resources, local authorities are looking for innovative ways in
which to make library services available to their communities -
by astute siting of libraries and by their incorporation into civic
In its Report - “Changing the Schedules”( 2005)
- An Chomhairle Leabharlanna measured the number of hours for which
all libraries were open in the years 1998 to 2004 - it also recorded
the number of libraries in each of those years with lunchtime opening.
This data is presented for information in the following figures
Membership and Usage of Public Libraries
In 2002, An Chomhairle Leabharlanna reported that there were
809,158 registered members in the public library system - equivalent
to 21% of the population.
The usage by the public of the library service varies
considerably across the country and the service indicators captured
Figures 36 and 37 show the position on library membership
for each authority. In the case of most authorities, the range of
registered members is between 10 and 20% of their population five
have more than 30% with one of these having 44%. This data is in
line with An Chomhairle figures for 2002 referred to above.
However, membership figures alone, do not reflect
the increasing level of usage by adults of the reference, information
and other services in public libraries - such as local history and
In recent years, libraries have expanded their range
of services and nowadays many library premises are used for local
and visiting exhibitions. The modernisation of the library service
is bringing Internet and computer facilities to people who might
not otherwise have access to such services. This development was
captured by the Service Indicators (See Figure 37). It is very encouraging
to note that, in a relatively short time, virtually all libraries
in the country offer this service, with plans in place to extend
it to the balance.
As indicated earlier, local authorities recognise the importance
of supporting recreational and play facilities for public use. This
can be done through either direct provision, in partnership with
other groups or by facilitating local or community endeavours. In
March 2004, the role of recreation and play was highlighted through
the development of a National Play Policy by the National Children’s
Office and local authorities have developed local play policies
in line with its requirements.
Local authorities have been providing or supporting
swimming pools in their areas for many years – indeed from the 1960s.
At that time, the Minister for Local Government launched a programme
of swimming pool construction throughout the country. Initially
projects were financed by way of loans with a 50% subsidy on loan
charges available. Since 1988, capital grants at up to 80% of the
cost were available. More recently grants were made available from
the Department of Sports and through lottery funding. The Sports
Council have supported the development of Sports Partnerships at
County level to promote projects and programmes for the widest possible
Figure 39 over reflects the current activity of local
authorities in play facilities. The method of provision of these
facilities varies - and may reflect the demand, the level of existing
provision and the resources available to individual local authorities.
In a number of cases, local authorities work in partnership with
local community groups providing financial assistance or equipment
with the community running the facility.
As outlined earlier, there are a number of areas where local authorities
act as an agent for central government in the delivery of service.
Motor Tax is one such area – with the local authority providing
the service and transmitting monies collected to central government
– in this case, to the Local Government Fund for redistribution.
In practice this is one of the most highly visible
services and one where the performance of the local authority impacts
on a great number of people, who in this case are very much “customers”
in the real sense of the word. The number of vehicles registered
has risen significantly in recent years, resulting in a greatly
increased level of business in motor tax offices. (See Figure 40).
Local authorities have placed a strong emphasis on
providing a high quality speedy accessible service to customers,
whether they choose to visit the office to do their business in
person, have their application dealt with through the post, or renew
their registration on line.
A number of local authorities in recent years have
opened local offices, so as to provide a service point closer and
more convenient to their customers and some of these offices also
include motor tax service. Online renewal of motor tax is carried
out centrally at Shannon.
Figures supplied by the DoEHLG for 2004 show that
13.2 per cent of transactions are carried out online, as summarised
in Figure 41.
It is interesting to note that 69% still choose to
do their business by calling personally, even though there are a
number of other options available to them. It is not clear whether
there is a relationship between the number and location of the motor
tax offices and the numbers who choose to visit the office personally.
However, it is interesting to note that Donegal County
Council, which has four access points available across the county,
has the highest number of over-the-counter transactions (85%).
Figure 42 below, gives the summary of the time taken
to process postal applications and gives a very positive picture
with an average of two thirds (66.5%) of postal applications being
dealt with on the same day, almost 90% within three days and only
6.5% being over five days.
In fact, six authorities deal with 95% or more of
their applications on the same day. Table 34 gives the number of
hours on which each motor tax office is open to the public. It shows
that 18 of the offices are open for 30 or more hours.
As indicated, earlier figures provided by the DoEHLG
show that in 2004, 445,000 online transactions took place. Of that
number, approximately 61% of the transactions were carried out in
Cork, Galway, Kildare and Dublin. It is likely that this facility
will be extended and used to a greater extent over the next few
years, and it provides an excellent example of using IT to provide
high quality customer service.
The current expenditure of local authorities is financed through
state grants, rates on ommercial and industrial property and miscellaneous
income - e.g. charges for services, housing rents, housing loan
repayments etc. It is crucially important that there are systems
in place to maximise their income through effective collection and
There has been a major investment in recent years
in a new Financial ccounting System. The system provides greatly
improved management information. This enables local authorities
to account for transactions and extract information that will allow
for more effective financial management generally. The system provides
improved management information.
The service indicators concentrated on the performance
of local authorities in collecting monies due to them under 5 headings
– housing rent, housing loans, commercial rates, refuse charges
and non-domestic water charges. In each case, the measure outlines
the amount collected as a percentage of the amount due in 2004 and
presents data on the arrears situation.
In the case of housing rents, 14 authorities had collected
more than 90% of the amount due at year end - with three in excess
of 95%. The average was 88.8 %. For housing loans, 15 had more than
90% collected, with 4 in excess of 95%. Almost all authorities recorded
a collection of more than 90% of rates due, with 12 exceeding 95%.
The collection rates for non-domestic water were somewhat
lower. In this case, the average percentage collection was 68 %.
Finally, in the case of the autho rities involved directly in refuse
collection (17), the average collection was 94%.
In respect of each of the headings, in many cases
there were local factors that influenced the situation. These are
included as footnotes to the relevant tables and should be read
in conjunction with this summary.
It is envisaged that this information will be especially
useful to local authority managers in controlling finances generally
and in monitoring performance over time.
Internal – Corporate Indicators
Not surprisingly, most of the Service Indicators on which local
authorities are required to report, focus on the delivery by local
authorities of their core services, which impact most directly on
However, in this initial phase, it was considered important also
to include a small number of indicators that focused on the internal
operations of local authorities and especially on staff. The two
areas that were selected for reporting on this year were absenteeism
due to sickness and the spend by local authorities on staff development
In the case of absenteeism, the focus was on the percentage of
days lost due to certified and uncertified (i.e. casual) sick leave.
The mean in relation to certified sick leave was 3.1% of working
days lost because of certified illness and, in the case of uncertified
sick leave, the figure was 0.55%. In a small number of cases, it
was not possible for local authorities to differentiate between
the two categories of leave, as systems to do this were not in place.
It is also important to note that, in this case, a small number
of staff on long term sick leave can have a disproportionately adverse
impact on the overall figure.
These figures can be compared to those in private
industry. An IBEC Survey on Workplace Absence (2004) found that
the average absence rate was 3.38%, with that in manufacturing industry
at 4.36% and that in services 2.54%.
Nowadays it is considered good practice for organisations
to accord priority to the ongoing development of their staff, so
that they have the skills and competencies necessary to deliver
high quality services. Throughout the public service, and indeed
in business generally, it is normal to allocate a percentage of
payroll costs to staff development.
In the case of the local authorities, the agreed action
plan for the implementation of the “Sustaining Progress” social
partnership agreement 2003-2005, had set a target for local authorities
of achieving a minimum spend of the equivalent of 3% of payroll
on staff training and development. To ensure that local authorities
adopted a similar approach to measuring their spend in this area,
a Working Group was established, which developed best practice guidelines
for calculating training and development expenditure/costs as a
percentage of total payroll.
With the exception of one, all authorities are spending
in excess of 3% on training and development, while 11 are spending
in excess of 5%. It should be noted that expenditure in this case
includes both direct and indirect costs. The data is summarised
in Figure 44.
SECTION 6: CONCLUDING COMMENTS AND
The opening section of this report recorded that this was a key
initiative and that local authorities were leading the way in relation
to objective measurement of their performance using service indicators.
At this point, it is worthwhile reviewing the experience to date
and offering comments and suggestions for the future.
The observations are offered under the following headings:
- The process itself;
- The indicators - Relevance, specific issues and problems; use
From the evidence available to the LGMSB, it is fair to say that
there was a high degree of engagement with this process by each
local authority. This was clear throughout the year and is also
the subject of comment in the Report of the Independent Assessment
Panel that is appended to this Report.
Local authorities valued the level of engagement, networking and
support in this start-up phase. They appointed key personnel to
manage the process internally and at Management Team level, the
process itself and the data emerging was monitored on an ongoing
basis. There was active participation in the workshops and seminars
and the LGMSB monitored the process on an ongoing basis. The Board
also interacted with the key stakeholders involved – the Department
itself, the LGCSB and the CCMA. It was helpful that the representatives
of local authority management, who had been involved in the selection
of the indicators, continued to be engaged in the process.
The compilation of the data required considerable resources on
the part of local authorties at a time when there are restrictions
on staff generally. There was, therefore, a real need to make sure
that, whenever possible, the data was captured through electronic
means. The involvement and commitment of the LGCSB was critical
and much work was done throughout the year to streamline the systems
and processes. This involvement will continue to be necessary.