Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Letter to City/County Amalgamation Implementation Committee

Councillor Mary Roche

Waterford City Council

The Mall


Waterford City/County Amalgamation Implementation Committee

c/o Michael Walsh

Waterford City Council

The Mall


25th January 2013

Dear Committee Members,

Although I will not be meeting you as part of the City Council Delegation on February 4th I feel I simply cannot allow the publication of the Working Document on Customer Service Locations and Workforce Planning to pass without comment.

Firstly, in the interest of honesty, I wish to advise that I continue to oppose and fight the amalgamation of the City & County Councils as a travesty and something that will greatly diminish the City’s ability to compete on a national and international stage. I intend to use each and every means at my disposal to continue to have this decision delayed or overturned.

However I must also realistically accept that it may well proceed in any case and on that basis, and with a heavy heart I have some thoughts on your Working Document and the proposals contained therein which I feel are so serious that I must communicate them.

The original Terms of Reference required the Amalgamation Committee to have particular regard to:

• The need to maximise the capacity of Waterford City, in particular, to act as a strong and dynamic focus and generator of growth for the wider hinterland under the National Spatial Strategy, and that of other urban and rural areas to contribute in that regard in the context of balanced development.

• The need to ensure that that the particular status, identity, character and heritage of Waterford City are maintained and where possible, enhanced, within a balanced overall system of local government for Waterford City and County.

The sad part is that every single person I speak to – many in, or retired from positions of great seniority in local government – acknowledges that the current amalgamation strategy is wrong and will be a disaster. Yet it continues apace, given cover by the unsubstantiated claims of efficiencies and savings contained in the Report of the Waterford Local Government Committee.

It is obvious that the vast majority of submissions to that committee were ignored or the serious consequences outlined therein were simply not understood. The core failure was the belief by the committee that in any amalgamation scenario, the status of the city and its capacity to act as a generator for growth would be unaffected or improved. It is oxymoronic to divide and weaken an organisation and then to propose that as strengthening it. The Working Document further exacerbates this division and weakening and surpasses even my very worst fears of what amalgamation would mean for Waterford!

As a sop to political pressures, despite the City being ‘designated’ in name as the HQ of the amalgamated authority – in practice the City is to be divested of up to 50% of its current Senior Management Team and up to 50% of the Directorates of Service. It is even, farcically, proposed that the Gateway City should lose Planning, Roads, Finance and IS among other things, to Dungarvan. I would like to hear an explanation of how this strengthens the City.

Indeed the Committee even failed to recommend that the Council would meet continually in the so-called Corporate Head-quarters and should rotate between Dungarvan and the City. While the City is left with its name and Mayor mar-dhea, the obvious fact is that both the City/Metropolitan District and indeed the Mayor will be Junior to the Mayor/Chair of the overall joint authority and as such will have been relegated down a level from the other cities in Ireland who continue to be self-governing and with their own Senior Level City Council and Mayor. I appreciate the spirit of what the Amalgamation Committee was trying to achieve but sadly, the reality is that the City and Mayor will no longer be on a par with other cities.

I fail to see how any of the recommendations in the Working Document deliver on making the amalgamated authority anything other than weaker, less efficient and indeed, most probably more expensive – save for natural staff wastage and whatever efficiencies are in the process of being delivered via the National Shared Services Initiative currently underway.

For what it’s worth, the only correct course of action (other than reversal of the decision in its totality) is to do the job properly and completely and to make Waterford City the HQ in practice as opposed to in name only. Unfortunately this does not address the Mayoral issue unless the Mayor of the City was to be designated as the Mayor of the overall amalgamated authority, and I would certainly propose this. However I expect this too, for political reasons would be unacceptable.

Uniquely after this process, Waterford as a City will be disadvantaged geographically, economically and regionally in comparison to other Irish Cities. According to the Forfas Reports on the Performance of Gateways, there has been a lack of buy-in regionally of Waterford as the Regional Gateway.

What this Working Document proposes will exacerbate this lack of buy-in by demoting Waterford to the level of Wexford and Kilkenny and will give the perception of a shift in power in the region, despite Waterford being the largest population centre by a country mile! This will negatively affect the buy-in and indeed will feed in to that lack of ‘buy in’ regionally.

One must hope that, as a working document, this initial report is subject to change but my experience is that once something is committed to paper, change thereafter tends to be minimal. I hope I am wrong on this occasion and that the Committee has the will to correct these damaging recommendations.

If Waterford City is to be supported and strengthened through this process then at least have the courage to do the job properly and allow the amalgamated authority to be managed and led from the main population centre. With services provided 9-5 of course from Dungarvan and Tramore. No-one is suggesting that citizens in the rest of the County should experience any dis-improvement in service delivery! Otherwise the City will be the laughing stock.

I apologise for the extreme negativity in this submission but in my opinion, what we are at here, is damage limitation. Our historic city is under threat that will have century long consequences and whatever noble (if naive) aspirations the Amalgamation Committee may have had with regard to the protection of Waterford, they are now being sacrificed on the altar of political parish pumpery.

It is hard to see how any of this can be justified bearing in mind the Amalgamation Committees Terms of Reference.

It is hard to see how any member of the Implementation Committee can stand over this Working Document as delivering a strengthened City.

It is hard (indeed it is laughable if it wasn’t so serious) to see how any informed decisions could possibly be made without a detailed cost benefit analysis being prepared – in contravention of the Department of Finances’ own guidelines.

But here we are. This process certainly does not do what it said on the tin.

Yours sadly and sincerely,

Councillor Mary Roche

Former Mayor of Waterford City

Sunday, January 13, 2013


My thoughts following further examination of the Waterford Amalgamation Committee Report, Putting People First, Waterford City & County Council Implementation Committee Terms of Reference, Limerick City & County Council Implementation Committee Terms of Reference and Implementation Report and the Draft Waterford Implementation Committee Working Document on Customer Service & Workforce Planning:

(I wish to preface this article with the caveat that I completely oppose amalgamation but in the event of it proceeding there are questions which must be posed. I also acknowledge that the latest Working Paper is a Preliminary View and in theory, open to change. However I also know from experience that once the ink has reached the paper very little tends to change, in reality.)

Issues for City:

Who will wake up every morning thinking about how to drive Waterford city forward? Not one senior staff will remain dedicated solely to our city. Currently there are 4 Directors and one City Manager doing this day in day out. Post amalgamation, the City Manager, Directors Of Service and Senior Staff will have to worry about everything from Ferrybank to Youghal Bridge. In my opinion the City Manager himself will have so many distractions already he will not be able to dedicate the time required (as he does currently) to driving the city as the regional economic Gateway. What has this focus delivered in recent years? Well, the House of Waterford; two World Class Museums; Winterval and the tourism they have generated – to name but a few! These have been serious game-changers for Waterford City.

The Document talks about the amalgamated authority being split between Dungarvan and the City with the Manager and (some) Directors having offices in both. There are financial implications but more importantly, time implications. Time spent on potholes in Knockanore is time not spent on our city. Time spent driving is time not spent on our city. But we aren’t dealing only with potholes. Waterford County Council has massive projects in planning which will require huge time and energy to deliver. From my memory some of these include, the seven villages sewerage scheme, and the no small matter of a €6.9 MILLION Euro deficit. From the Citys’ point of view this will take away from the time and energy that needs to be spent on the City agenda.

In my opinion one of the greatest strengths of Waterford City Council has been its CAN DO attitude and its ability to think outside the traditional Local Authority box. I fear this innovation will be lost due to the sheer workload which will come with the merger.

The end result of any product directly relates back to the amount of time, effort and detail put into it in the first place. Six Directors simply cannot do the same amount of work as nine and they can’t be expected to especially with hugely increased workloads. Waterford City has built its reputation as a Local Authority (best in Ireland according to Chambers Ireland in 2010) on quality and delivery. The House of Waterford Crystal, Viking Triangle, Medieval Museum and Nature Park are five star attractions for Waterford City. There is simply no way all of these would have been achieved in the same timeframe, in a merged authority.

The Amalgamation committee promised a stronger Unified Authority. What they’re now proposing is a far cry from that. What is actually happening is Waterford will be left with a split, depleted authority operating from two ‘Headquarters’ 45 Kilometres apart. No other City Council (including Limerick) will suffer this disadvantage. And in my opinion this would not be viewed as best practice by any private business.

If, as proposed, the Council meet alternately in the City & Dungarvan there are cost implications. Also in terms of meetings, City members will move from a current 15 person Council to a 32 person Council while for County Councillors it will move from 23 to 32! The meetings, in my opinion, will be ungovernable, with consensus being very difficult to achieve and likely to break down on city/county lines.

The main reason being given for merger is ‘efficiencies’ and ‘cost savings’. The City Manager has already said he doesn’t agree that the extent of savings according to the Amalgamation Report are achievable and that there will be significant costs involved before any savings will be made. In any organisation before you would undertake the level of change we are being asked to make you would simply HAVE TO HAVE the costs fully documented. Why has no cost/benefit analysis been produced? We are operating in a complete vacuum when it comes to the costs and indeed, the savings.

The Amalgamation Document mentions Shared Services. There is a Shared Services exercise being undertaken across all Local Authorities at National Level at present. Some savings being attributed to the merger will happen anyway under this initiative, in my opinion.

National Issues:

Putting People First is the policy document on Local Government launched by Minister Hogan late last year. There has been no decision at national level on many of the proposals contained in that document. There are issues about the Transfer of reserved functions, budgets and the ability of districts to raise additional funding which they would have local discretion to spend . None of this has been decided yet at National level - we are designing our system prematurely – effectively blindfolded!

Incidentally, if functions are not transferred (and I suspect they will not be) then the districts are, in effect, nothing more than glorified area committees, regardless of whether you call yourself a city or a Metropolitan District, or whether you have a Mayor or Chain or any other meaningless words and paraphernalia.

I see too, in Putting People First, that King Phil intends to issue his own Charters for Metropolitan Areas...what’s the bet that Kilkennys current Borough Council (the area they refer to as their City with a current population of 8,700) will be expanded to the required Metropolitan Area size of 20,000? Long live the King!

Economic Development:

While some in favour of the merger will hold up the position of Director of Economic Development as one of the major advantages of the amalgamation, this as far as I am concerned is very disingenuous as all gateway cities will have this Directorate according to Putting People First.

The ‘if it’s good for Limerick surely its good for Waterford’ argument:

The wording of the Implementation Committees terms of reference for Limerick & Waterford are almost identical except for two glaring differences. Section 14 of the Limerick terms of reference state that the new Limerick authority will “establish appropriate joint arrangements with Clare County Council under local Government law to ensure the most effective discharge of functions in the areas which the Local Government Committee recommended for transfer to the new Limerick Authority”. Interestingly there is no mention at all of this in the Waterford document in relation to South Kilkenny. This can hardly have been an oversight as otherwise the document is almost word for word, identical. Also interestingly the Limerick amalgamation committee actually looked at this issue whereas the Waterford amalgamation committee decided (or were directed!) very early on that they could not look at the Kilkenny issue....

You might ask, if this is good for Limerick, why is it not good for Waterford. The issues for Limerick & Waterford are NOT the same:

• In Limerick the two HQ’s are in the City so geography is not an issue.

• There is NO county town in Limerick.

• There will be hardly any change in service delivery or structures. Main base of COUNTY is in Limerick CITY with area offices. There will be no change.

Overall Local Government Reform:

Originally the plan was to reduce from 34 to 24 City & County Councils. Phil Hogan in Putting People First has now decided that there will be no more mergers after Waterford (a reduction of just 3!). If Minister Hogan believes that the savings will actually be so great with mergers, why not implement the original numbers?

WHY OH WHY if this is such a good idea, isn’t Galway being merged????

Back to Waterford:

The only other difference between the Limerick & Waterford Implementation Committee Terms of Reference is that Limerick are also to put in place new arrangements to merge other bodies such as the City & County Development Boards, Joint Policing Committees, Enterprise Boards, and Local Development Companies (Section 11). There is no mention of this in the Waterford terms of reference. Why? Will we need yet another Committee after this one to do that?

For what it’s worth: I accept no-ones’ bona-fides in this. I accept NO re-assurances that what is right is being considered, for I see with my own two eyes that it has not been considered to date and therefore will most likely not be considered now.

Over 95% (from what I hear) of all submissions to the Amalgamation Committee were against it. (I have been unable to access copies of the submissions despite requesting them both from the Secretary to the Committee and from Phil Hogans’ Department.) Yet, those submissions, from what we can see in the resulting recommendation were ignored and the Committee proceeded in doing its masters bidding.

Now that even they can surely see that they have created a monster; still they persist. This does not augur well for any consultations or for my (or your) input at this stage to be properly considered now. Indeed I question at all why I am even bothering to consider engaging. But persist we must, if only – if this monster is allowed to gain life – to try and ensure that it does as little damage as possible!

Bottom line:

Waterford City Council is currently one of the best & most dynamic Local Authorities in the Country – by any Independent measure. It is now to be broken up in a manner which will seriously disadvantage the city for decades to come. We are being delivered a ‘Frankenstein Council’ (FRANKEN-COUNCIL) made up by cutting and splicing two councils together in a most inefficient manner.

Our energy & focus will be dissipated while other cities forge ahead with their agenda and development. And finally we will be reduced to County Town level, with our shiny Mayoral chain, playing at being a city while other cities secretly laugh at us, while they surge further ahead.

Reform of Local Government? Not for us, I’m afraid. Not in Waterford.

The Minister and most particularly the Implementation Committee have, and are continuing to create, a MONSTER. It matters to me and to every citizen in Waterford who can figure out that in this instance, the Emperor has no clothes.

Sadly our ancient city will continue to be eviscerated with the Minister’s, the Government’s and sadly, our local Government TD’s blessing.

I can hardly bring myself to watch...