Whitaker researchers Dr. Gerard Turley and Stephen McNena have launched the www.localauthorityfinances.com website for 2020. Aimed at improving transparency and accountability in the public sector, the interactive online platform can be used to readily access and more easily understand individual council spending and income budgets.
Council spending on local authority housing, roads, planning, environmental services including the fire service, recreation and amenities including public libraries, and other local services is reported, as is council income in the form of fees and charges (rents on council houses, fees for planning applications, car parking charges, etc.), commercial rates, the local property tax (LPT) and central government grants or transfers.
Dr. Gerard Turley tells us that an analysis of the data “reveals that local council budgeted spending in 2020 is 10 per cent higher than the 2019 figure, which, in turn, was 8 per cent higher than the 2018 amount. At €5.6bn in current prices, this is the largest euro amount for local authority day-to-day spending in Ireland, ever. It is over 40 per cent above the 2015 trough figure of €4bn, and exceeds the previous peak figure of €5.2bn in 2009. So despite local authorities having less functions now than before, the revenue budget of the local government sector in Ireland is now at an all-time high.”
Economics lecturer Stephen McNena says “most of this increase is funded by central government grants and subsidies, which have increased from €780m to €2bn in just five years, an increase of over 150 per cent. On the expenditure side of local authority budgets, one service division accounts for the majority of the increased spending, namely housing and building. Spending on housing in 2009 was €830m; by 2020 it will have increased by over 130 per cent to €1.9bn. Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and the administration of the homeless service account for €670m (up from €230m in 2017), €350m (up from €200m in 2015) and €275m (up from €90m in 2015), respectively, of the total housing budget.”
In the recent general election, all the political parties had commitments on local authority finances in their manifestos. Everything from directly elected mayors, a reintroduction of town councils and new functions for local authorities to abolition of the LPT, a reform of commercial rates and a Commission on Local Government was promised. We will have to wait and see which of these materialise in the programme for government. Whatever the detail, a decentralisation programme with greater powers for local authorities would be welcomed.
In the meantime, if you want to see how your local council plans to raise and spend your money in 2020, check out www.localauthorityfinances.com. The website also includes a new link to an analysis of the financial performance of local councils, using financial ratios and indicators.