Introduction to response to Moorhead’s concerns re governance

One of the striking findings of the Moorhead report is that

” It is apparent from the results of the survey that the representational role including representing constituents in areas where the Councillor could have no real effect on outcome, remains the greatest barrier to the development of a robust and independent Councillor’s role.

Moorhead SC goes on to state that,

“…While I appreciate that there needs to be some structural reform to assist Councillors in the carrying out of their duty and perhaps more devolution to Local Government, none of this can achieve anything if the Councillors themselves do not see their role in policy formulation, governance and representation on external bodies. This is illustrated by some stark statistics in the survey such as that only 5% of survey respondents felt that governance and compliance, including statutory functions, were a priority in their role as Councillors with Respondents indicating that it accounted for 12% of their overall work schedule”

In fact, many councillors share her concerns about their role in policy formulation and in particular around their governance function and their role on external bodies, but for different reasons. I categorically reject her conclusion that structural reform would not be sufficient to change the focus of councillors’ work. One of the reasons many councillors don’t see themselves as having a more substantial governance role is because at every turn efforts to exercise their governance role is met with obstacles, silence or even mis-information. The barriers to exercising their governance role are numerous, some of which I address under the heading below ‘ Structural Gaps -the system changes required for councillors to effectively exercise their governance function’. Structural reform is not only desirable, it is an absolute necessity if councillors are to be permitted to exercise their governance function.

As a councillor with a particular interest in the governance aspect of our role I can attest to the lack of supports, the lack of understanding and the lack of training around councillors’ oversight and governance role. I can also attest to the structural impediments to councillors carrying out their governance function.

Cllrs are appointed to a range of external bodies from private companies eg LEADER partnership companies to public bodies eg an Education and Training Boards. They are often appointed with insufficient training or testing of their understanding of their roles as board members on those bodies. For example Councillors across the country are appointed as Chairs of Education and Training Boards, organisations with budgets similar to those of local authorities. Chairing these boards and providing reassurance to the Minister for Education around the governance and operation of such an organisation is an onerous one. And there is no requirement that the Chair be selected on the basis that they have the appropriate skillset to Chair the board. Nor is there the requirement to complete training/basic testing before taking up the position of Chair. This is just one example but an important one challenging Moorhead’s contention that structural reform is not key.

Structual reform IS key to changing both the role of the councillor and councillors’ perception of their role. The two go hand in hand. Moorhead’s conclusion that there is almost no point introducing structural reform is both flawed and dangerous. It provides an easy ‘get out’ for the state which should be providing the appropriate supports, training and services to assist councillors in their governance role.

Why bemoan the lack of sufficient focus on governance and on councillors’ roles on external bodies while at the same absolving the state of its responsibility to enhance their role and performance through structural reform, education, training and supports in these areas.

From personal experience I can attest to the structural gaps that exist which undermine and act as obstacles to councillors being permitted to effectively exercise their governance role . My response is informed by my experience in Kildare County Council, as a board member of anEducation and Training Board which is currently the subject of an investigation by the Garda Economic Crime Bureau, as a board member of school boards of management to which I was appointed by the ETB and as a board member of a LEADER Partnership.

Structural Gaps – the system changes required for councillors to effectively exercise their governance function

1) Councillors must be entitled to sufficient responses from staff including from the Chief Executive within an appropriate time-frame. In terms of measurement of council performance, CRM systems referred to in the report are only as good as the protocols informing them. Councillors must have a key role in framing the protocols informing CRM systems. The alternative is that reports may be used to skew results re the performance and effectiveness of local authority staff in dealing with queries. For example councillors have complained in Kildare that the executive may decide when an issue is ‘closed’ on the CRM system, whether the councillor agrees that it has been closed satisfactorily or not.

– The protocols informing local authority CRM systems could also deal effectively and simply with the time wasted by a system that currently has no bar to TD’s carrying out the same role as Councillors, as highlighted by Moorhead.Protocols for responses from council staff can and should prioritise replies to councillors as officials of their local council. Open and transparent protocols informing and prioritising responses to councillors would free up a significant amount of time for local authority staff as TD’s and constituents would quickly come to realise that councillors are the appropriate route for a quicker response on council related functions. Clarifying in writing a local authorities commitment to its councillors over and above local TDs would free up TDs to focus on their role as national representatives and less on making representations around potholes and public lights over which they have no function.

2) Councillors should be provided withcustomised training (as opposed to information sessions), to help them understand and execute their oversight role and governance of their local authorities. Moorhead refers to training. However, I would go further to recommend that training can only be deemed to be training if there is basictesting on the training provided. Testing should include important ‘ what if’ scenarios that councillors may come across in the course of their work eg around lobbying, county development plans, disclosures or allegations of wrongdoing etc. Appointment to an external body or remaining on an external body should require evidence of having passed the test demonstrating a basic knowledge of the important rights and responsibilities attaching to a councillor’s role on these bodies.

3) Councillors must be given access to the minutes of the County and City Managers Association meetings (CCMA). Discussions relating to and which impact on each local authority take place at these meetings including most recently the Regional Economic and Spatial Strategy. Managers at these meetings are managing budgets between them of over €4 billion of public money. Transparency International Ireland has also called for the minutes of the CCMA meetings to be made accessible publicly. There can be no governance or accountability in the absence of transparency. Moorhead is silent on this significant structural gap in councillors’ ability to exercise their governance function.

4) Risk reporting should be introduced as a regular monthly item on the agenda for council meetings.

5) Introduce sanctions for local authorities that fail to comply with legislation requiring reports to be provided to the council. For example, all councillors should be notified annually of their requirement to submit to the council for report, their Section 141 report on the operation and activities of the external bodies to which they have been appointed. Although a statutory requirement, not all councils have been asking for those reports.

6) Introduce a sanction for councils who fail to demonstrate to councillors compliance with legislation or with terms and conditions of the council’s own funding agreements requiring groups to report to council eg Twinning committees ( statutory reporting requirement) and other examples could be Town Halls, Arts centres etc ( arising from terms and conditions of council funding )

7) Make it mandatory for the Chair of Local Authorities’ Audit Committees to present the Annual Audit Committee Report in person to councillors. Reports are as good as the ability to question them. It is worth noting that the Internal Audit Unit reports to the CE. The Audit Committeereports to the councillors and not the CE. I have had personal experience of my right to put questions to the Chair of the Audit Committee being challenged. All audits/reports completed by the Audit Committee should be available to councillors.

8) For similar reasons, the Local Government Auditor should report in person to councillors and be available for queries on her/his annual audit of the local authority in question.

9) Pay-related transactions should be included on councils’ annual reports. Part of the governance role is knowing and understanding where there may be conflicts of interest and then managing those conflicts of interest. If a member of staff is benefitting from providing a service to the council, it should be declared and obvious to councillors. Pay-related transactions are not currently required on council annual reports.

10) Communications with external Chairs and external members of council committees including but not limited to councils’ Finance Committees and councils’ Audit Committees should be FOIable. Again I have personal experience of communications not being FOIable for no other reason than that the Chair was using a personal email address in his role as Chair. If the use of personal email addressess hinders FOI or Data Protection then council emails should be provided to external members before the role is taken up.

11) Councillors should have access to independent governance experts to advise in relation to their oversight and governance role as a member of their local authority and in relation to their roles on external bodies. Governance advice should be independent of the executive. Some thought needs to be given to how this might be provided independently.

12) Councillors must have access to independent legal advice and representation if required to advise and protect them in the execution of their oversight and governance role. There is minimal discussion of this important structural impediment in the Moorhead report. The signifcant imbalance of power between any councillor/s who needs legal advice and representation to exercise their oversight and governance function appropriately on the one hand against any of the bodies referenced who have unlimited access to legal advice paid for by the tax-payer . See cases taken and won against Wicklow County Council for example, where councillors who took the cases bore the financial burden of paying for legal advice and representation in the public interest. In all cases, the councillors seeking to protect public assets were at risk of losing their homes in the event that the court found against them. Wicklow County Council, whose legal advisors are paid for by public funds bore no such risk. Access to legal advice for councillors under certain criteria would act as a counter balance to the power of Local Authorities and public bodies who have unlimited access to legal advice and representation paid for out of public funds .

See for reference

1996 chairman Thomas Cullen vs County Manager and Wicklow County council. ( Justice McCracken HC)
2002 elected members vs The Manager and Wicklow County council. ( Supreme Court)
2004 Cllr Deirdre de Burca vs The Manager and Wicklow County Council ( Justice McGuigan HC)
2007 Cllrs Cullen and Doran vs The Manager and Wicklow County Council ( Justice Le Foy HC )
2016 Cllrs Cullen and Nevin vs the Manager Wicklow County Council ( Justice Baker HC)

All these cases were taken at elected members personal expense. The manager had full immunity in all cases from any personal costs of litigation while the democratically elected councillors bore the burden of legal costs personally.

In all these cases the Law Agent of the Council, funded by public monies acted solely in the interest of the County Manager without any regard or dialogue with the elected members notwithstanding the fact that the elected members are constitutionally recognised by the state in relevant legislation as ‘the council’. The 1999 constitutional referendum on Local Government gave particular recognition to the democratic role of county councillors to represent constituents. Councillors are hindered in their constitutional role by the unequal access to the law agent of the council and the legal resources available to them. This democratic deficit has lead to a serious imbalance in the ability of councillors to carry out their duties and functions.

Summary

The percentage of time different councillors spend on their governance and oversight role and on their roles on external bodies varies considerably. Moorhead’s survey would I believe have benefitted from an additional interaction or qualitative element to her investigation. This would certainly have been more revealing in terms of the reasons behind the answers provided and would have helped better inform both the findings and recommendations of the report. This in turn could have facilitated and shaped the type of local representation Moorhead would obviously like to see.

I am strongly of the view that

“only 5% of survey respondents felt that governance and compliance, including statutory functions, were a priority in their role as Councillors with Respondents indicating that it accounted for 12% of their overall work schedule”

because it is communicated all too easily to councillors in the absence of structural reform that those who attempt to exercise their oversight and governance role including holding local authorities to account may be knocking their heads off a brick wall potentially exposing themselves to personal liability and to the risk of losing the roof over their heads.

Draft Kildare Litter Management Plan – Public Consultation

Have your say!

Kildare County Council’s Draft Litter Management Plan 2020-2023 is currently available for public consultation.

The plan proposes to address the impacts of litter on our county, and how to enhance our commercial and tourism potential through the effective and efficient enforcement of legislation and regulation, management and maintenance of our public realm, and through a programme of communication, education and awareness.

Your comments are important to this process and we look forward to hearing from you. All written submissions will be considered before the plan is finalised. Submissions may also be made through our online consultation portal available on the council website https://consult.kildarecoco.ie/en. To make a submission, you will need to register first (a very easy process). The draft plan is also available to view at your local library.

The closing date for receipt of submissions is 4.00 pm on Friday 4, September 2020.

Draft KCC Litter Management Plan 2020 – 2023 PDF 24072020

Gardening for Biodiversity

The aim of this booklet is to introduce some of the ways you can help biodiversity in your own garden – no matter how big or small the space – and no matter where you live. There are lots of ways in which you might want to open your garden up to nature – even in very small ways – perhaps by hanging up a bird box; or in larger ways, such as making a wildlife pond. Gardens of schools,businesses, religious properties and hospitals can also become biodiversity-friendly.

Garden-Wildlife-Booklet

Department of Rural and Community Development – COVID-19 Emergency Fund

Guidelines
Please read the following guidelines carefully before completing the application form.

Introduction

The COVID-19 Emergency Fund is a grant programme to provide funding to groups that are directly involved in the Community Call response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development (the Department) and administered by the Local Authority (LA) in each area.

The Department provides funding to each LA area and the LAs then administer this funding locally to ensure funding is targeted appropriately.

The grants are for expenditure of a capital nature related to the COVID-19 response work.

It is intended that the majority of the funding that is allocated to each LA area will be ring-fenced for grants of €1,000 or less.

Applications can be made (by groups directly involved in the Community Call response) to the relevant LA.


2. Who is eligible to apply?

Groups that are directly involved in the Community Call response to the COVID-19 pandemic can apply.
Commercial organisations and individuals are not eligible for funding.

3. What is eligible for funding?

The funding covers capital type work related to the response to COVID-19.

4. Requirements of the Programme

The following conditions apply to all projects. Depending on the nature of your project (and the group applying), there may be further requirements that must be met. The LA will discuss this with you, if your application is successful.

Tax Requirements
The applicant group/organisation does not have to be registered for tax purposes.
Any applicant group/organisation that is registered for tax purposes must be tax compliant. In line with revised tax clearance procedures, which came into effect in January 2016, the Tax Clearance Access Number and Tax Reference number must be submitted for verification purposes.

Statutory Consents – Applicants must ensure that all necessary statutory permissions or consents have been obtained before any works commence, in cases where this is required. This includes but is not confined to planning permission.

Insurance – Written evidence of a valid insurance policy may be requested by the LA, where relevant, during the applications review process.

Acknowledgment of funding – The Department should be acknowledged where possible.

Match-funding – this is not a requirement under this programme.

5. Selection Criteria

Applications will be evaluated by the Local Authority to ensure eligibility. Projects must be in keeping with the ethos of the programme, which is to provide funding to groups that are directly involved in the Community Call response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Local Authority will give priority to organisations which deliver frontline services.

Applications may be judged having regard to how they help in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Projects may also be judged having regard to additional criteria deemed appropriate by the Local Authority which demonstrate the added value of the project or element of a project in suitably addressing the programme’s aims in each LA administrative area.


6. Corporate Governance

6a. Monitoring:
Grantees will be required to comply with the highest standard of transparency and accountability as documented in Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Circular 13/2014 – Management of and Accountability for Grants from Exchequer Funds http://circulars.gov.ie/pdf/circular/per/2014/13.pdf
The overall principle is that there should be transparency and accountability in the management of public funds, in line with economy, efficiency and effectiveness. The circular outlines, for example, that grant recipients should not dispose of publically funded assets without prior approval.

6b. The Code of Governance for Community and Voluntary organisations

The Department is encouraging funded bodies to adopt the Governance Code, a Code of Practice for Good Governance of Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations, which will assist in achieving excellence in all areas of your work. The Governance Code asks organisations to agree to operate to key principles in order to run their organisation more effectively in areas such as leadership, transparency and accountability and behaving with integrity. Further information on the Code is available at www.governancecode.ie

7. Approval Procedures

All applications for funding under this programme received will be reviewed and assessed by each LA.

In deciding the final allocations of funding to projects, the LA may take account of a number of factors including geographical balance and the desirability to fund a variety of different projects. The Local Authority will give priority to organisations which deliver frontline services.

Following the decision each approved project, subject to the completion of legal formalities and other requirements, will receive an offer in principle of grant-aid. This will be subject to compliance with the relevant conditions and subject to the satisfactory acceptance by the applicant of that offer.

The right is reserved to reassign the funds offered to another approved project if all requirements are not met within a reasonable period.

The Department and/or the LA reserve the right to carry out an audit of expenditure or conduct inspections from time to time.

Please Note:
Requests for assistance usually exceed the funds available and it is important therefore that the process of evaluation is rigorous. The purpose of this process is to ensure that the best projects, taking all factors into account, emerge and receive support. It is Departmental policy to ensure that every application is treated fairly and impartially.

Offers of funding may be for a lesser amount than that sought by the applicant. Applicants should be aware that the Programme may be oversubscribed. Therefore, in such circumstances, all applications fulfilling the conditions may not be successful or may be for a lesser amount.

The LA in evaluating proposals received may seek advice and consult with other agencies, and may disclose information on projects under consideration to those experts and agencies.

8. General

The information provided in this document is intended to give applicants an understanding of the process by which applications for funding are assessed and approved and does not purport to be a legal interpretation.

Freedom of Information Act 2014
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2014, details contained in applications and supporting documents may, on request, be released to third parties. If there is information contained in your application which is sensitive or confidential in nature, please identify it and provide an explanation as to why it should not be disclosed. If a request to release sensitive information under the legislation is received, you will be consulted before a decision is made whether or not to release the information. However, in the absence of the identification of particular information as sensitive, it could be disclosed without any consultation with you.

Site Visits
The Department or LA may carry out unannounced site visits to verify compliance with Programme terms and conditions.

Further information may be requested
The LA reserves the right to request further information from you in order to assess your application if so required.

Usage of information

The information provided on the form will be utilised for the purposes of evaluating and administering the grant process, and to facilities audits and any site visits. When evaluating the applications received the LA may seek advice and consult with other agencies, and may disclose information on projects under consideration to those experts and agencies.

Other
Under the programme it is intended that the majority of the funding that is allocated to each LA area will be ring-fenced for grants of €1,000 or less.

Applicant groups shall self-certify that they do not have the funding to undertake the work, without the grant aid, or alternatively that with the grant they will now undertake more work which they otherwise would not be able to afford.

If the funding application is for one element of a project, applicants will be required to provide documentary evidence of the availability of the balance of funding for that particular element of that project.

There is no limit on the number of applications for different projects from any organisation. However, applicants should be aware that an equity/fairness approach will be taken by the LA to ensure an even distribution of funding.

The Programme is 100% exchequer funded. Applicants are free to leverage other funding/match funding for projects (e.g. with LEADER, Tidy Towns, Town and Village Enhancement funding, etc.) although that is not a requirement of this new programme.

It is the responsibility of the administrators of/body responsible for any other funding scheme or programme to ensure that using this Programme to co-fund a project does not contradict the rules of that other scheme/programme.

VAT will only be paid where it is included in the application amount. No further requests for VAT payments or repayments will be accepted.

9. How to apply

Application Form
The application form is detailed and is designed to ensure that it has the necessary information to evaluate each proposal accurately and fairly.
Please ensure that you complete the COVID 19 Emergency Fund application form in full and that any documentation in support of your application is submitted with your application.

Only projects that meet the criteria outlined above will be considered eligible.

Submission of false or misleading information at any stage is treated very seriously. Any organisation that does not comply with the terms and conditions of the Programme may be subject to inspection, have their grant withdrawn, be required to repay all or part of a grant and/or be barred from making applications for a period of time. All serious breaches of the terms and conditions of the Programme will be notified to An Garda Síochána.

Applications should be forwarded to:

Local Authority – www.kildarecoco.ie

For any queries please email: customercare@kildarecoco.ie

Council arrange for a yellow box to be installed outside St. Conleth’s Day Care Centre in Kildare Town

My second motion at yesterday’s (19th February) Municipal District meeting; “That the council arrange for a yellow box to be installed outside St Conleth’s Day Care Centre in Kildare Town

Report: There is an existing yellow box in front of the care centre. There is also double yellow lines both sides of the road. There are no plans to install a yellow box on the public road.

Council provide wheelchair parking at Stack’s Pharmacy in Monasterevin

My first motion at yesterday’s (19th February) Municipal District meeting; “That the council provide wheelchair parking as near as is safely possible on side of Stack’s Pharmacy in Monasterevin.

Report: There are two disabled parking spaces across the road. There is very restricted parking spaces at this location and no room for a disabled bay at
requested location.

My Motions & Questions for February Municipal District Meeting

Motion 1
That the council provide wheelchair parking as near as is safely possible on side of Stack’s pharmacy in Monasterevin.

Motion 2
That the council arrange for a yellow box to be installed outside St. Conleths Day Care Centre in Kildare Town.

Question 1

Can the council explain why the repairs to potholes in the Cul De Sac in Maryville, Kildare Town are only lasting a month or two at most?

Question 2

Can the council inform the residents of the Oaks when their traffic calming, for which monies were set aside last year, will be put in situ?

Review of unfinished estates

Allenwood

Cushalla

Woodlawn Phase V

Whitethorn Park

The Willows

 

Robertstown

Annsborough Court

Lowtown View

 

Kilmeague

Castlebawn

Allen Manor

 

Allen

Ballantine Park

Allen Court

 

Kilmeague

Bodkin Place

The Village

 

Caragh

Caragh View

The Streams

Old Chapel Wood

Gingerstown Park

Old Chapel Grove

The Streams (Extention)

Carragh Heights

 

Two Mile House

Cluain Lara

Dowdingstown Lawns

Stephenstown Court

 

Newbridge 

The Village

College Orchard

Beechmount Estate

The Elms

Riverside Grove

Curragh Grange

Walshestown Abbey

Watercress Manor

Crotantstown Grange

Roseberry Hill

Old Abbey Manor (Liffey Lodge)

Millfield (Hazelwood)

Walshestown Park

Kilbelin Abbey

The Meadows

Millfield Extension

Roseberry Construction

Millfield Manor – Final Phase

Montane – Rickardstown

Walshestown Meadows

 

Athgarvan

Millers Weir

Whitethorn, Athgarvan

 

Kildare 

Tower View

The Plains Estate

Crockanure Avenue

Dunmurray Drive

Loughminane Green

Curraghbeg Meadows

White Abbey Court

Cloghgarret Abbey

Rathbride Close

Ridewood Manor

Cunaberry Hill

Oak Glebe

Leinster Square

 

Monasterevin

Togher Wood

Ros Glas Avenue

Rose Terrace

Abbeygate

The Pastures

Barrow Close

Mount Rice Park

Kill Manor

The Glebe

Old Mill Race

Ferns Bridge

Mountrice Millls

Old Grange Wood

Distillery Court

Moores Wood

Moore Abbey Court

Brocan Wood

 

Ellistown

Red Hills Park

 

Nurney

Castle Raven

Kildoon

Nurney – Cois Caislean

Brookfield

 

Rathangan

Glebe Court

Sheghan Estate

Woodview

Yellow Lough Park

Newtown

Temple Mills

 

Curragh

Hazelwood Grove

The Grove

Brownstown Manor

 

Suncroft

Ashfield

Askinraw Drive

Newtown Grove

Hawthorn Wood

Eascanrath Brook

 

Kilcullen

Kilcullen Bridge

Curragh Close

Cnoc na Greine

Riverside Manor

Hill Crest

Cnoc na Greine Woods

Mill Stream Court

 

Calverstown

Deerpark Lane

Carrighill

Blackhall

Carrighill Lower (Phase 1 & Phase 2)

Lugatana Park

Burrow Manor

Cluain Aoibhin

 

Kilmeade

Cluain Ard

Cluain An Iarla

 

Castledermot

St. John’s, Castledermot

The Friary

Abbeylands