Saturday, June 10, 2017

Good Enough for Waterford but NOT Good Enough for Cork.

The McKinnon Report on Local Government arrangements for Cork released yesterday overturned the recommendations of the Smiddy Report which recommended the amalgamation of both Cork City & County Councils. It is interesting  - both because Cork got a second bite at the cherry in terms of a second report at all and because it takes a completely opposite view on the proposed merger presumably with the same supporting information.

The first report was not well received in Cork City and now, it seems, the local view has prevailed with the second report and recommendation much more in line with local demands. Note the essence of the recommendation with this quote from yesterdays McKinnon Report. “The Group has concluded that Cork would be best served by a City Council that is focused on the development of the city and its immediate hinterland…with the potential to drive the development of the city region, and a County Council that is focused on the needs of county towns and rural parts of Cork.”

Now cast your mind back to the Aylward Report in 2012 which recommended a merger between Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council. This recommendation too was very badly received in Waterford generally and in both Councils which had unanimously rejected it. It is interesting to note the difference even in tone of the recommendation to merge both Councils in the Waterford Report with the following quote. “Whilst proposing one local authority for Waterford City and County, the Committee notes the major concerns of those opposed to amalgamation voiced in the submissions and outlined at the beginning of this section. For the merger to deliver the proposed benefits and savings, and at the same time respond to the concerns raised, it is the Committee’s view that merger must be accompanied by a number of other initiatives relating to sub county structures of government, political representation and the status of the City, rating and deficit issues, and Waterford’s Gateway status. These issues are elaborated in Section 4, and it is the Committee’s view that these issues must be addressed for merger to be successful.”

The Waterford committee seems to have been very taken at the time with an IDA submission in favour of the merger, even quoting it in their conclusions, saying  “the proposed restructuring of the local authorities in Waterford, combining the City and County Councils is welcome.” One might assume from this that the IDA saw the merger as a positive selling point for their efforts to attract FDI to Waterford and you might assume consequently that Waterford has enjoyed an increase in IDA job creation and investment? You would be wrong. Visits to Waterford by IDA have plummeted in recent years from a high of over 30 visits in 2015 (a uniquely high year and something of an outlier in terms of the usual number of visits) back to just 17 in 2016 and just 3 in Q1 of 2017.

Incidentally, none of the ‘other initiatives’ detailed by the Waterford committee in their report or in the accompanying Economic vision document which were required ‘for the merger to be successful’ have happened either.

So Waterford City has no Council focusing on the City as a driver for the development of the region – as is recommended for Cork City and furthermore Waterford County has no Council that is focussed on the needs of County Towns and rural parts of the County.
But that it seems, while not good enough for Cork, is indeed, good enough for Waterford.
But is seems we may huff and puff all we like at the injustice of it all. No one is listening. Oh you want proof? The one report which found in Waterfords' favour - to extend the boundary into South Kilkenny - was rejected by Minister Simon Coveney. For political reasons nothing to do with proper planning and development. But that's a whole other story.
And of course Minister Coveney is from Cork and cares what the electorate there think and not from Waterford.
All politics is local.