Service Indicators


Local Authorities 2004


Report to the

Minister for the Environment, Heritage

and Local Government

by the

Local Government Management

Services Board



June 2005



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 Panel.


Derek Brady
Local Government Management Services Board




Pre 2000
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 actions.

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 in advance;
  • 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 and staff;
  • 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 One.

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 practice;
  • Section 4: The uses and interpretation of the data, including comparability;
  • 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 authority;
  • Appendix 1: Report of the Independent Assessment Panel.



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.

Service Provision
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 and resources.

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.

Agency Services
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.

Regulatory Role
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 this dilemma.

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 to them.

Current Expenditure
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 statutory obligations.

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 county authority.

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 outcome measurement.

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 requirements.
  • 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 and resolved.
  • 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.



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 include:

  • 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 be difficult”.

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 here are:

  • 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 of towns);
  • 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 in cities.

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 2.



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
Motor Tax
Corporate Indicators

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.

Housing Policy
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 of tenure.

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 options -

  • 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 full details).

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 5.

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 Directive.

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).

Drinking Water
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 that follow.

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 case.

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:

  1. the proposed development is of strategic or national importance;
  2. there are conflicting objectives in the development plan or the objectives are not clearly stated;
  3. 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 government;
  4. 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.

Planning Enforcement
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 one.

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 is warranted.

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.

Public Access
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 local circumstances.

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.

Building Control
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 Authorities.

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 authorities.

Fire Service
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 paragraphs.

Waste Management

Government Policy
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 Plans
  • 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 Regions
  • Reinforce the concept of integrated waste management, based on the waste hierarchy pyramid and targets contained in “Changing our Ways”
  • 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

Refuse Collection
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 be measured.

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 campaigns.

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 1994.

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 social exclusion;
  • 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.

Arts Grants
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 the arts”.

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 the country.

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 per week.

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 other sources.

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 buildings.

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 this information.

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 exhibitions.

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.

Recreational Facilities
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 participation rates.

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.

Motor Tax
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 follow up.

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 the customer.

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 and training.

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.



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 and value;
  • Recommendations.

The Process
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.







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