(This was a very long and detailed meeting. I did my best to record it as accurately as I could but consider it as being a flavour of the sentiment of the meeting rather than an accurate recording of figures!)
1. Confirmation of Minutes
(a) Minutes of Special Meeting of the Council held on the 25th of July 2014
(b) Minutes of Meeting of the Council held on 8th September, 2014.
Both minutes were proposed and seconded.
2. Votes of Sympathy (if any) to the relatives of:
(i) members or employees of the Council,
(ii) dignitaries of Church or State, or
(iii) members of old I.R.A. and Cumann na mBan.
Cllrs Derry Canty (FG), Mary Linehan-Foley, Mary Hegarty, Mallow (FF) all requested votes of sympathy.
3. Appointment of Members to the Avondhu Blackwater Partnership.
Proposals for appointment:
Cllr Kay Dawson– FG
Cllr June Murphy – SF
Cllr Kevin Conway – Ind
Cllr Dan Jo Fitzgerald – FF
There are 2 positions available.
Two votes were taken. Cllr Dan Joe Fitzgerald and Cllr Kevin Conway were elected.
4. On the recommendation of the Corporate Policy Group and in accordance with Section 51 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 the Chief Executive shall deliver Management Reports to the Council through the following structure and frequency:
Management Report to issue on the following services quarterly:
In accordance with section 51, the Council resolves that the aforementioned Management Reports shall issue not less than 3 days before the Divisional or Council meeting.
In addition to the above, the provision of access to the Executive Orders of the Chief Executive and Officers with delegated functions will continue to be made available to Members for their information. The executive functions of the Chief Executive are exercised through such Orders, thus providing for oversight of the discharge of executive functions.
Agreed that this was to be done.
5. Consideration of report on the financial impact of the LPT variation under section 20 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012, as amended by Section 5 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2013.
Liz Barry – Director of Finance introduced.
LPT declared for Cork County for 2015 = €41.8m
Agreed at national level that 80% retention = €33.4m
Of that, includes LGF (3m last year) so in effect, €30m this year.
20% discretionary can be retained = €8m
€418,000 is the effect of 1% reduction of rate of LPT on CCC
€6.2m is the effect of 15% reduction of rate of LPT on CCC
The relief to households of reducing LPT by 15% varies from 25c/week – €1.15/week depending on the band they are on.
58 submissions received to consultation. All asked for a reduction. Some specified the full 15% reduction or abolition of the tax.
CE: Report sent out with the agenda is extensive and recommends that LPT would not be varied for 2015. Discussed at length with CPG and discussed at Development Committee last Friday also. Another briefing circulated today.
Also wants to put the decision into the context of the budget. Has been worked on internally here for the last few months and the budget figures suppose a certain level of income and a certain level of expenditure. If the LPT is not varied, the draft budget commits to additional expenditure. So we would see 2014 service levels and increased delivery in some areas. CE therefore recommending that LPT is not varied.
If members decide to vary the LPT, then we must also decide what areas of service are to be impacted.
2015 service level can be sustained without dipping into reserves. Would be difficult to bring a budget to Council in November if a 15% reduction in LPT was agreed because we would then be proposing to dip into reserves again when the money was actually available and refused.
Reduction would potentially impact on:
– community group support
– roads own funding provision
– housing non-pay expenditure
– environmental cleanup and improvement provisions
– libraries and arts funding
– elimination of proposed Town Development Fund and/or Economic Development Fund
Cllr McGrath (FF): Very unfair position. CCC is receiving 20% of the LPT. We are €8.3m better off because of the LPT. The 80% line is not true. It is a lie by government to say that we receving 80%. Other grant funding from govertment is being cut. That is why we see no benefit from LPT.
We discussed this before at full Council level and FF supported a conceptual 15% in LPT. That was premature and not taken in the full knowledge of funds from government.
LPT was sold on the basis that it would be a new form of funding from government and t hat it would result in improved local services. People deserve better services – we are providing minimial services and there needs to be improvement. But should we be giving more money or drive improved efficiencies. Think CCC can deliver improved efficiencies.
FF is proposing that we reduce the LPT by 10%. We will not be in a deficit budget position, will not be reliant on reserves, will be giving €4.2m back to households and will be retaining services to the same level as 2014. Also want to signal an intention to go to the full 15% in next year’s budget.
Also mindful of the burden that businesses have with regard to payment of commercial rates and will be proposing a reduction in these in November. So will retain 5% of the LPT to allow this.
Cllr Murphy (FG): Historic moment for the CCC. Difficult decision for Council because our level of service has reduced over the last few years to what is an unacceptable service at this time. Must also be conscious of level of reserves remaining and how this will affect the CCC into the future. Cannot take this decision lightly. WE have to ensure the Council will survive over 12 months and thereon afterwards.
Thinks what FF is proposing is a cop-out. Have to be sure that the 80% that is collected will be passed back in full to the CCC. That is what was proposed by government and that is what will happen. By reducing the LPT by any percentage will have a detrimental effect on the services that can be provided by CCC.
Anyone who proposes a reduction needs to outline what services it is proposed to cut. Asks Cllr McGrath to do this. That is the acid test of where the LPT will benefit or have detrimental effect on our service level. MDs have got to be financed properly. The most deserving people of all will be the constituents we service. The services we pass back are expected by constituents and it would be wrong to restrict these by reducing LPT. This is where we as members of the CCC are answerable to our constituents for service delivery.
Cllr O’Grady (SF): Formally propose a 15% reduction in LPT. Believe there is a responsibility to provide relief to low income earners. Electorate said there was a need for change. LPT is an unfair regressive tax which takes no regard for income and impacts particularly on low and middle income earners. Seek maximum reduction because it can help families throughout Cork. Will also provide stimulus of 6.2m to local economy. Most submissions made during the public consultation proposed a reduction of 15%. We have a duty to listen to and support the people who elected us. It was a positive move that councillors supported the SF motion in principle last June. Disappointed to see tat both FF and FG have done a U-turn today.
Cllr K Murphy (FG) objects strongly to this.
Don’t know who said this: Now that they realise what the books look like is the same argument used by the FG/Lab government. CCC can afford to reduce the LPT by 15% and will also have €2m left over to spend as it wishes. This is a huge test of the Council’s credibility. Give people on low and middle incomes a break.
Cllr O’Shea (Ind): Thanks Liz Barry for the reports. Very big decision for CCC in terms of how we fund our services for the coming year. Unfair tax that has been put on people in this county. All we can do is change the 15%, we can’t get rid of the tax. Independent group are very concerned with easing the burden on the people of Cork. Feel appropriate that some reduction is considered. Also important that whatever decision is taken today in terms of property tax, it is vital that we continue to retain the same level of service.
Cllr Murphy (FF): CCC householders pay €42m for local services and local initiatives. €8.4m gone before we even get to see it. Water charges are coming down the road next year. People are under real hardship. Need to give them some solace to help them make ends meet. Yet have to be mindful that we have to provide services, maintain roads. Balancing all those things it is hugely important that we retain at least the level of service that we had in 2014. Also want to be mindful of the ratepayer in the forthcoming budget and would like to be able to relieve the ratepayer.
Cllr McCarthy (Lab): Know this is a difficult decision. Personally totally against the property tax since it was introduced. Think we do need a reduction in the LPT. We are realistic and need to have the balance right. The two Labour representatives haven’t yet put a figure on it, but will support a reduction. Send out a message that this is a wrong tax. It was meant to be spent locally but it has been spent anywhere but locally.
Cllr Lombard (FG): Good day for local government because we are finally in charge of our own finances. What we do here today impacts on how we will be able to work into the future. Will ask Cllr McGrath which roads, which houses will lose funding. Because that is what it will boil down to. €30m is going to be wiped away based on our decision today because whatever we decide will be there for 5 years. SF’s and FF’s proposal makes sure that the person who has the greatest value house gets the biggest reduction off their LPT bill. That makes no sense. That doesn’t support middle and low income earners. If we are to cut services here today, we are cutting the services to those who need it most. This is a political game looking towards the election. We are playing games with people’s lives here.
Cllr O’Flynn (FF): Should take today seriously. This is a decision on behalf of the people. Our party didn’t bring it in. LPT went to Irish Water last year. We all know that families have suffered. It is time for payback. We did say we would cut it when we would. Think the 10% reduction will allow us to retain a certain level of service whilst reducing burden on households. When budget is introduced in November, we will be looking for a rates reduction.
Cllr A Moynihan (FF): Pleased to support the proposal to reduce this unfair and regressive tax. Waited until figures were available. Thanks to Liz and the CE for the reports. Would prefer to see it being reduced by 15% this year but have to go as far as we can. 10% Is a reasonable compromise. Householders right around Cork are after paying this tax for the benefit of the local services. But that’s not what is happening and we’re losing out on it. Last year, householders paid and every cent went to Irish Water. This year, a substantial amount is also being retained by government. €18.5 m being held back by government. Over 5 years, that’s €42m being retained by government that is being denied to services in Cork. We should be looking for that money back. We should be putting it to the minister that this was money raised in Cork and should be coming back to Cork. Then we could reduce the burden on households and improve services. Isn’t that what we would all want?
Cllr Murphy O’Mahony (FF): Takes issue with Cllr Lombard. We are not playing politics. You are because you are holding the FG party line, not standing up for the people who elected you. It is only a small ease of the burden but it is a help. Works with Vincent de Paul. People are genuinely struggling. Canvassed on the promise that if given the chance, would vote for 15% cut. Now she will.
Cllr O’Laoghaire (SF): Our position is very clear for some time. We’re not deciding anything for 5 years. We’re deciding for 1 year. FG and Labour designed this tax. We were very critical of it from the get-go. Takes no account of income. 15% of reduction was an afterthought by the government to try to address the underfunding of local government. Will not address the underfunding of local government. Services can be maintained at the level we’ve got. Hopefully CCC will improve but it is open to us to reduce it by 15% and; maintain relatively ok finances in terms of tackling our deficit and maintaining services. Government grant aids last year were at their lowest level last year for many many years. Would be an act of vindictiveness on the part of national government if they were to reduce them any further. If 55 people were brought in here at random to see what decision they would make, what would they do. That’s how to answer the question.
Cllr O’Sullivan (FF): Stands for the ordinary people of East Cork. Have seen the pressures they are under. This is an opportunity for the members to support them. Made a commitment that he would reduce LPT by 15%. He will stick to that.
Cllr G Murphy (FG): We have gone through some of the hardest economic few years that people have ever borne. FF now returning to pre-election rhetoric. No doubt that FF is prone to this type of activity and will return us again to economic turmoil. Greatest effect on low income families is cuts in services. Nobody in Council houses will be paying property tax anyway. The people I most represent will be saving €13/year. Yet they are drastically dependent on Amenity grants, community grants, etc. from the CCC. Grants like Christmas lighting, to keep community centres open, etc. These are people working to improve the welfare of everyone in the community. Is a disgrace that this CCC should at its first opportunity turn around with false promises and sacrificing of services.
Cllr T Collins (Ind): Was at two assignments over the weekend. People all asking for a reduction in property tax. CE says that if we ask for a cut, he’ll be taking it off somewhere else. I would suggest that the Minister who brought in this LPT in the first place should be made to compensate for what the Council is shortfalling. Had a mind to ask for 15% but thinks the FF proposal of 10% might be more prudent and attain the full 15% next year. The minister tells us the economy is in good shape so why shouldn’t we give a reduction to the people?
Cllr McCarthy (FG): Everyone has made valid points. Disingenuous to say that the LPT targets low to middle income earners. People in social housing will not be paying this tax. People in larger households will be paying the largest amounts so it’s natural that they would benefit the most. For most people, we’re talking less than a €1/week. If we are going to give this back, we’d want to be sure why we’re doing it. Anything else is posturing and populist. Cllr O’Laoghaire made some very good points, especially with people on low incomes living in large households. Property boom was responsible for some of this but you can’t get into specifics like this. Just wants to make the point that thinks FG is being more socialist than either SF or FF because we are trying to put the money back into services to the people of this county. We’ve done this before and this is where we stand with our health services today. It is not a good place to be.
Cllr O’Donovan (FG): Welcomes that we are here to make a decision on the finances of the county. Auction politics this morning. The message I got on the doors was that people wanted to see value for money. Asks the CE what is in our reserves at present.
Cllr K McCarthy (SF): Lots of bluffers here. Were they bluffing in June when they supported the SF motion for 15% reduction or are they bluffing today? They money is there to deliver a 15% reduction. Today we are told that we can’t fix lamp-posts. The money for the household charge didn’t come back as promised. Phil Hogan hung onto it. Calling anyone with principle to support 15%.
Cllr Harris (Ind): Thinks it is blackmail to say that services will be reduced if LPT is reduced. This is sending out a bad signal about the CCC. Lots of grandstanding about services being reduced. We know services have already been reduced. Are we better off accepting the reality of reduced services? The power we have here is very limited. The blame for reduced services falls to central government,not to us.
Cllr Buckley (SF): We said that we would look for 15% reduction. People that have been struggling deserve a break. No more new public lighting because we have to cut carbon emissions to 2020. Rates have to be harmonised. Let’s give the people a break and see what happens.
Cllr Conway (Ind): Thanks for the reports. Lots of rhetoric today. Agrees with Cllr Moynihan’s proposal that if we are collecting funds in this county, they need to be retained in this county. Stood on an election platform that this tax would be eliminated. Intends to comply with the wishes of the people who elected him and will vote for 15% reduction.
Cllr Doyle (FF): Once elected to this Chamber, I represent everyone. So assume everyone in the county is equal and am not comfortable with this talk about house size. People are hard pressed.
Cllr Hayes (SF): Thanks the CE for the report. Makes it sound like the reduction would be very tiny. But all charges have a cumulative effect. Discussed a 15% reduction back in June and many shop closures since. We are all hopeful that things will look up. Commends people across the floor going against the party line.
Cllr Fitzgerald (FF): We all want money brought back into our local authorities. Government didn’t give us what we should have got. We’ve got to hit a balance between giving back money to people and retaining the services. We have an opportunity to be fair to the general public. Down the road if we don’t put money into services, it will make the situation a great deal worse. Support Cllr McGrath’s proposal.
Cllr R McCarthy (SF): LPT was not necessary and not wanted. It was a huge issue during canvass. Public consultation was one ad on one newspaper. Not sufficient. Supports 15% reduction.
Cllr M Collins (Ind): Did not state that I would look for a reduction in the LPT. I spoke on the issues that were hurting people on the doorsteps. But they spoke to me. They asked me that I would support a cut if the opportunity would arise. I didn’t see any verges cut in the past 12 months in my area. So I think the money that is there has not been spent. On that basis, I would support a cut. A few months ago, we all supported a cut.
Cllr Mullane (SF): It’s because of the SF motion we’re discussing this here today. Would like to point out public submissions also. People we represent are looking for maximum cut of 15%.
Cllr Cullinane (Ind): Made no promises but was clear as to the mandate of this government – putting people first. This is our directive. Cllr Moynihan has made some very good points. The Irish people and particularly Cork have been taxed twice. Money went to Irish Water. Needs to come back. To Cllr Lombard – a little power is a very dangerous thing. Do not use that power in such a way that it will impact on the people negatively. People need a signal that politicians support them and that they have a role in their country’s future. To deliver that message is down to us. Agrees with Cllr McCarthy about public consultation. That is something this Council needs to address.
Cllr Rasmussen (Lab): Thinks we need to strike a balance. Very easy to be popular. But people have to take a decision on services. Recognises that giving back is hardly worthwhile.
Cllr J Murphy (SF): In favour of 15%. This was the main topic of conversation at every door we went to during the election. We’re already being told we’ve no money – so how can a 15% reduction impact on services.
Cllr Dawson (FG): We did vote in favour of 15% but we’re looking at what the cost will be to the communities.
Cllr M Hegarty (FG): Services will be at the level of 2014. Were we happy with that? Because I wasn’t.
Cllr Linehan-Foley (Ind): Clarify 80 – 20% split. Have to support a reduction. People are crucified. What will it be like when water charges come in?
Cllr D’Alton (Ind): Thanks the executive for the reports. Feels very strongly that the LPT last year that was promised to Council went to the set up of Irish Water – an entity nobody wanted. Feels equally strongly that, contrary to what Cllr Lombard says about having the power to take a decision on the country’s finances, we are being made fools of today. We are debating this issue because a former Minister who wanted to devolve as much power from local government as possible and who got rid of Town Councils has placed us in this ridiculous situation where we have to choose between services and a reduction in LPT. People need the reduction in LPT. I committed to seeking a reduction when I was seeking election, but I did not specify a percent. On the doorsteps people told me they did not mind paying for services as long as they were services delivered by the CCC, delivered well and effectively. But they did mind paying property tax because that was a charge on their home that they worked every day to pay for and often paid back twice what it was worth because it was mortgaged from a bank. But we need to provide services too. Thinks crazy that have to take a decision on this without knowing what funding the government is going to deliver for 2015. No-one can budget that way. Services are essential and LPT reduction is essential. So going to support the proposal for 10% reduction.
Cllr Ryan (FF): What specific services are going to be affected? I support 15% reduction. I am asking the Executive to be specific about what services will be affected. Difficulty in all this situation rests with central government.
Cllr Moynihan (FF): What is the total figure that comes back to the CCC from the Household Tax? Was in a house recently where they were deciding where to send their kids to drama, whether to pull their kids from swimming. They are doing that in an effort to pay their mortgages, pay their car loans, etc. The bank says to them – do they need TV, Sky, etc? Very concerned about services. Having considered the matter, will be supporting 10%.
Cllr Creed (FG): Supports the query from Cllr Ryan.
Cllr G Murphy (FG): We have no mandate to deal with the national budget. What the Dept of Environment gives to this council is a matter for a budgetary situation. FF agreed with the national budget. If they want more to be given to local government, they should point out what additional taxes should be raised.
CE: Reserves – €11m at end 2013 which had reduced from a high of €19 – €20m. By the end of this year, it is likely to be €6.5 – 7m.
NPPR comes directly to CCC. Is budgeted for in existing budget. Any surplus has been accounted for in our projecting into 2014.
€6.3m cut proposed or €4.2m proposed. That removes the possibility for increased funding into any service into 2015. Looks on this coldly – what service we can offer based on what funding. Doesn’t debate equitability, or pros or cons. Simply looks at what the LPT offers. If that offer isn’t there, then it won’t be spent.
€2.1m extra does not allow for a 2014 level of service without recourse to further deficit budgeting. If that’s the decision of Council, he will bring it to CPG. If the LPT were not varied, €700,000 extra would go into housing. Effectively the 15% reduction will reduce service levels for 2014. The 10% reduction is €4.2m. Will work the impact of this out with CPG. Without any direction from Council, CE will indicate to CPG where the money should be taken out of.
Members are well aware of the pressures that you come under for roads, housing repair, cleanups, etc. That falls onto our staff. Comment about staff fobbing people off … They have to take decisions on a daily basis without adequate resources. We have a number of items on our agenda today based solely on 2014 service levels. No variation in LPT wouldn’t solve everything. But it would help. When we cannot meet demands, I will need members to respect the fact that members have made this decision in the chamber.
There is a misperception that we are not delivering value for money. That is not the case. We have nearly everything out to tender. That is where value for money is delivered. There are more local authority cuts required in the next couple of years at national level.
There is no guarantee that there will be community funding retained into in particular areas with former town councils, even with a 10% reduction. A decision to retain LPT would have allowed improved funding to this.
Cllr Michael Hegarty (FG): Very important decision. Will the people who have elected us thank us for a savage reduction Proposes an adjournment.
Adjourned for 20 minutes.
Members are to vote on three proposals:
Cllr McGrath proposal (FF): Vary by 10% this year.
Cllr O’Grady proposal (SF): Amend the FF proposal to read full 15% reduction.
Cllr Murphy proposal (FG): Propose no change – 0% variation.
Vote on SF proposal: For – 18; Against – 36
Vote on FG proposal: For – 16; Against – 38
Vote on FF proposal: For – 38; Against – 16
Members have by majority decided to vary the LPT by 10% reduction. Will communicate this to Revenue and to Department.
Mayor said that this decision will allow maintenance of 2014 service to continue.
CE: If 10% is agreed as a reduction, it will allow 2014 levels of service to continue. But it will bring difficulties at MD level because discretionary spending at MD level will be much reduced. In particular, it will raise difficulties with regard to Commmunity Funding, etc.
6. Department of Health:
Letter dated 29th August, 2014, in response to Council’s letter of 31st July, 2014, regarding fluoridation of water.
Cllr N Collins (Ind): Despite the scientific research and its findings into the use of fertiliser-related contaminants in our water supply, Minister Varadkar is not for turning. I have requested that we would use alternative compounds. Minister gives us repeat prescription. Minister is asking for people to raise an alternative compound to fluoride and for them to meet the expense. If you take poison out of water, why is there need to replace it with anything. Why if you take poison out of the water do you need to replace it with anything. The fluoridation of our water supply is crazy. The 1964 Act provides that health authorities arrange for the fluoridation of public water supplies and that local authorities arrange for this to be done. As long as the HSE continues to request this, we must continue to do it. The duty may pass to Irish Water and the local authorities as their agents will still be required to do it locally. I now propose that we refer our original motion to the 4 Munster MEPs for deliberation at European level.
Cllr K Murphy (FG): Responsibility has now passed from the Council to someone else. Supports the proposal.
Cllr D’Alton (Ind): Supports Cllr Collins’s proposal but proposes that we also write back one more time to the Minister. In all the responses from him, he has never yet addressed the issue of choice and this is what the original motion was all about. Suggest we write and remind him of that.
Cllr N Collins (Ind): Agrees.
7. Councillor Noel Collins:
“That this Council in the interest of social justice, reinstate the recruitment of Social Workers to its Housing Department.”
Contacted CCC for a vulnerable family to meet with social workers to help them. Was told social workers no longer available. The reason was not explained. It is clear that the recession has left an indelible mark on our country. Social workers are desperately needed, now more than ever. Is called to deal with domestic violence and family disputes. Thanks the guards and the liaison officer in County Hall for their help and efforts. Social workers are a vital importance in helping CCC in these situations. Sometimes highly sensitive issues are involved. These need the input of trained professionals. When I was elected in 1967, this Council had 4 social workers. They did a splendid job and helped public representatives greatly. In latter years, social workers were reduced to cater for travelling families only This was a major mistake. Whoever was responsible for that in the housing section of the CCC, please reconsider this decision. The longer we neglect our communities, the greater the damage to all.
Cllr O’Grady (SF): Seconds proposal. CCC is now reduced to handing out the number of shelters to the homeless. The homeless shelters are full and there is now a waiting list. In the meantime we have taken no house from NAMA, we’re not constructing any social housing despite having a bank of land to build such houses. We’re leaving social housing associations to do our job. Right across the state there are 31 local authorities. 24 of those have social workers in their housing departments. CCC is one of those that does not. We are one of the biggest authorities in the state but we have no social workers.
Cllr R McCarthy (SF): Supports the emotion. Has a qualified social work degree. While she was doing her training, there was a social worker in the housing department. At the time, families were very grateful for what the social worker could offer to them. Small things, like filling out forms, a point of contact. Now we have a system with the HSE where social workers that are employed cannot cope with their work loads. A referral can take weeks or months.
Cllr J Murphy (SF): Supports the motion. This is something that is very close to her heart. Works with a lot of women in domestic violence situations. One of the biggest issues they face is housing. To have a social worker in the housing department would give them the courage to leave a domestic violence situation. For them to try to get support around being rehoused – the Council would acknowledge their commitment to helping people in these situations to getting a house. If you are forced to leave your home, you are homeless. If you own your house with your partner and you have to leave because of your partner, you are in the same situation. You have to find a new place, you won’t get rent allowance because you have given up your home. A social worker could help in these situations, would know the challenges women in this situation face.
CE: We’ve had three social workers employed in the past. Two were under a scheme. We cannot employ anyone else.
Cllr K Murphy (FG): Could we employ a social worker on contract
CE: We wouldn’t because it would be deemed to be a replacement of that post we got did away with.
Mayor: What about skilling up some of our own staff?
CE: Can you leave the training of the staff to the CE!
Cllr N Collins (Ind): Not a bit happy and very disappointed with the Council. Wants a report on it. Where is personnel? They should be here to answer this. Can the CE give us an assurance that he will get a report from the personnel office. CE does the hiring and firing. Can he not make a commitment to this?
Cllr S McCarthy (FG): Every single councillor has experienced this. Especially with the RAS scheme. Works for family resource centres at local, regional and national level. Finds that she is doing the work of a social worker rather than a councillor. Spending all day every day almost on housing. Could someone within housing be assigned to a situation where RAS is not accepted and people are coming up against a brick wall. Even if it wasn’t a qualified social worker, just someone who can follow up on.
Cllr Rasmussen (Lab): We got it wrong to let employees take early retirement. Because now we cannot take anyone one. Can we make an exception?
CE: Redundancy scheme came in in 2013. Many staff saw voluntary redundancy. Cannot revise that decision. Under the scheme, they could be released if there wasn’t a business need for them. We can revisit this issue with the Department but we will be told that we made our decision. We are also under an embargo. Support for housing department’s staff – hopes that we recognise that they are doing their best to offer advice to everyone in their different situation. They are expert in housing issues generally, but they are not social workers.
Cllr N Collins (Ind): Not happy. Very essential service. Wants social workers to be available to talk to people in poverty, misery and hardship. CE has taken the advice of Dublin. Should be taking needs on board here.
Cllr Murphy (FG): This is the government’s fault, not the CE’s.
CE: We did have 3 social workers in the past. Acknowledges that. If we are to look for them back, or even one of them back, we will have to justify the request to the Department. Difficult, seeing as we said that we didn’t need them by letting them go.
Cllr McCarthy (FG): Social workers have a very specific job. Could there not be one person with a holistic view in the housing section? Not even a social work basis, just a housing basis.
CE: Detailed level of discussion on housing staff going on here. This is not appropriate. Staff in housing have a holistic view. They will talk to any member.
(2 FF, 7 FG, 5 Ind, 8 SF in the Chamber now.)
Cllr N Collins (Ind): Agrees that we have good staff in housing. We need the professional social worker to advise tenants and travelling families. We always had them. We had 4 and now we’ve none.
CE: Will take it up again with the Department.
8. Councillor Des O’Grady
“That Cork County Council Housing Department will treat all Irish citizens born in the 32 counties of Ireland equally as is required under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and that Cork County Council will write to Minister Alan Kelly requesting a policy statement on this issue.”
Cllr O’Grady (SF): Man from County Antrim, Irish citizen with Irish passport, spent first four years of his life in Antrim. To qualify for social housing, he has to write to Land Registry in Belfast and get legal proof that he doesn’t own property in Northern Ireland. CCC has a document for applicants’ assessment for social housing support. It says that one has to confirm that one doesn’t own any property in one’s home country. How does this sit against the Good Friday Agreement? The Good Friday Agreement states that we have the right to freely choose place of residence, right to same economic opportunity. There is a problem here with CCC interpretation. CCC has no written policy on this.
If you are born in Australia or France, all you have to do is swear an affidavit to say that you don’t own property in your own country. But because this man is born in Northern Ireland and lived for 4 years in County Antrim, he has to go through a lot of legal proof.
Wants the CCC to look at it and to get Minister Kelly’s opinion.
CE: We have a duty to protect our own assets. Have a duty to ensure housing goes to those in need. Reference to home country is a country other than the Republic of Ireland. In those circumstances, it is only right that the housing department would seek clarification as to whether the person is a property owner in that country. This is normal practice of trying to establish the ownership rights of people who live outside the Irish Republic.
Cllr O’Grady (SF): According to the document I got from the Housing Dept, if you are born in France, you just have to swear an affidavit. But in the case of this young man, because he was born in Antrim, he has to swear an affidavit and get legal proof. So he has two hoops to jump through.
CE: Housing department has confirmed that anyone from any country outside of Ireland has to prove that they have no property outside of the country.
Maybe it is not possible in France to get the legal documentation but perhaps it is possible to get it in the North? Maybe, not sure.
Cllr Murphy (FG): Same situation with someone who had been living in Germany for a few years. She had to go through endless hoops to prove that she didn’t own property in Germany even though she was an Irish citizen.
CE: Person could be bequeathed a house. Just because they were a child in another country, doesn’t mean they don’t have property there. Will look into it.
9. Councillor Marcia D’Alton:
“That in existing residential estates in which speed ramps have not been provided during the course of construction, should a majority of residents desire speed ramps and fund-raise a percentage of the cost of their installation, this County Council would provide support:
(i) financially, by contributing matching funding towards the cost of installing the speed ramps and
(ii) organisationally, by assisting residents in overcoming the planning requirements to permit installation of the speed ramps.”
Cllr D’Alton (Ind): Spoke on the motion – posted separately.
Cllr Forde (FG): Supports the motion in principle. This is an issue which has largely been ignored by Council. About 15 years ago, she got permission for traffic calming in Shamrock Lawn. Still hasn’t been delivered. There are many other issues and the director of Planning will be aware that she has been in contact with him in relation to several estates in Douglas and Rochestown where there is a real risk to life and limb. Also an issue that some of these estates are with receivers and with NAMA. Need to get our act together in relation to this very important issue. Residents may not always have the resources to contribute to traffic calming. Think we should be doing more. Are there bonds left at Council level? If so, we should be fast-tracking traffic calming using this. Are ramps a good thing or a bad thing? Would like this issue to be treated with urgency. Did have a survey to introduce ramps in her estate but because the survey results were 49:51, a majority didn’t want them.
Also there is no traffic planning outside school in Grange. No provision for proper traffic management. Need to look at this too – a situation where a school is at the back of an estate.
Cllr McGrath (FF): Supports strongly. One of the most common requests we get is for traffic calming in estates. There are many estates such as this in our MD. Very difficult to retrospectively address the issue. The Area Engineer generally tries to facilitate residents where they can contribute maybe 50%. Would like to formalise this.
Cllr K McCarthy (SF): Doesn’t like residents to come up with financial support. Thinks creating 2-tier society. Not always organisation within social housing estates. Doesn’t help the people that really need it. If roads and streets are dangerous, the Council has a responsibility to come up with funds. Supports spirit of motion.
Cllr Rasmussen (Lab): Supports motion. No price on life. Suggests we should refer it back to the SPC. Doesn’t want a 2-tier system. There are rules and regulations. Maybe we need to have a relook at policy on how we provide ramps. Thinks SPC should come up with new policy.
Cllr Lombard (FG): Supports the motion going forward. Residents are desperate for traffic calming. People who live there – that’s what they really request. Real issue is to get it streamlined so that it actually can happen.
Cllr K Murphy (FG): This should be with the MD, and should then be passed on to SPC. Although he supports it.
Cllr Hayes (SF): No problem with the motion. Emergency services and engineers have input on ramps. Need to take that into account as well.
Cllr R McCarthy (SF): Thinks national policy coming on this which might feed into the SPC policy deliberations.
Cllr D’Alton (Ind): Thanks the members for their support. Is happy for the proposal to go to SPC for policy but we cannot wait too long for it to come. Recognises Cllr McCarthy’s concerns about 2 tier society. Thought about this when drafting motion but the motion is directed at those estates who are simply desperate for traffic calming. Experience is that when people are that desperate, they will do anything to raise the money for ramps.
10. Councillor Rachel McCarthy:
“That the Council notes the concerns raised collectively by the membership of the 3 no. Cork County Local Community Development Committees with respect to delays in the community development programme implementation process, and that the Council supports these concerns. That this Council call on the Government and the Minister for the Environment, Community & Local Government, to expedite the allocation of this essential community development funding under the Rural Development Programme (LEADER) and the proposed new Social Inclusion & Community Activation Programme (SICAP) at the earliest available opportunity. To highlight the fact that Cork County Council, Statutory Agencies, Local Development Companies, the Community & Voluntary Sector, and the National Social Partners have been working hard at developing excellent community and enterprise development relationships over the years and that all wish to further develop these relationships over time. To highlight the fact that the funding delays which are being experienced by communities throughout the county have the potential to present a serious negative impact on the delivery of frontline community and economic development initiatives. That the Council requests the Minister to provide information with regard to funding timescales, proposed delivery arrangements and support processes, and to provide clarification as to when the necessary funding is expected to be in place and available to local community and enterprise initiatives.”
This is noted by Council.
Cllr Rasmussen (Lab): On the South Cork LCDC. Very difficult to get the information. New statutory body. Very hard to understand what’s going on. Emphasise to government that we need as much information as we can get.
Cllr G Murphy (FG): The more information we have, the better. LCDC is progressing reasonably well in North Cork but the more information the better.
CE: There is a lack of clarity from the Department in relation to the LEADER funding. Recognises this. SICAP is progressing a bit better now. But there are communities who have no certainty with regard to LEADER. Shares the concern that better clarity is needed.
11. Councillor Melissa Mullane:
“That this Council provide a written report on Housing Maintenance Budgets of former Town Councils & Cork County Budget indicating as to how Cork County Council are currently in financial difficulty as early as August of 2014. This report should include how maintenance budgets are prepared and costed in proportion to the numbers of housing units under ownership of Cork County Council and include a Bill of quantities, Contingency sum and timeframe each job is given – Members were recently given written notification by Director of services that only emergency works will now be carried out to Council Housing stock. This council should now write to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government seeking emergency funding.”
Cllr Mullane: We have fewer than 5,300 social housing units in the county. It is crazy to have little or no housing maintenance budget left at this time of year when we have only that number of houses. In Mallow TC last year, we passed a budget which allowed for no housing maintenance at all. Tenants now don’t even get an answer from a phone call. CCC has an obligation to maintain all its properties. Standards are required for properties under the RAS scheme but same standards are not required for our own. Acknowledges that report was circulated today but there are still more questions. Is there an event log? A standard charge for particular jobs? Are overqualified people sent out? Do we have preventative maintenance programme? Do we have regular inspections? To be handed assets of 5,300 housing units and to collect rent and yet not maintain them seems mesmerising.
CE says he has issued a written report. Thinks level of detail additionally raised by Cllr Mullane should be raised at divisional level. The fact is that housing maintenance budget is under pressure. We have agreed today to reduce LPT by 10%. We are short because of lack of funding and staff over the years. Cannot get additional funds and cannot replace staff because of the embargo.
Cllr Mullane: Do we really know how much it costs to fix a house? Thinks we just come up with a budget figure and then cut it every year. Looking forward to going on the Housing SPC.
CE: In South Cork, most of the work is contracted out. In North Cork, our own staff do it. We do what we can with what we’ve got.
Cllr R McCarthy (SF): If tenants are paying their rent, doesn’t see that we can say that we can’t do essential repairs.
Cllr Hayes (SF): Goes back to joined up thinking. Was dealing with a case where housing insulation was put in but they never followed up with windows and doors. Tenant offered to fix the window that was hanging off the hinge. CCC said no. Rang his insurance company and they told him he wasn’t covered for theft because he couldn’t secure his own home.
Cllr Mullane (SF): Have had people say they have things promised to them for years that were never delivered. Doesn’t want to hear that 10% of a LPT reduction agreed. This is what people on the ground wanted. Anyway, she is talking about this year’s budget. There was no housing maintenance budget in Mallow last year. FG reps agreed but used the money to go on conferences.
Cllr N O’Donovan (FG): Last three motions refer to looking for more money; yet we agreed a reduction in LPT. Ironic. Agrees that perhaps structures and efficiency might achieve better value but the bottom line is that €2 m was taken off Council budget today.
12. Councillor Michael Collins:
“That the Clonakilty Mayoral chain and robe be returned to the new Clonakilty Community Mayoral Council. The Chain and robe is part of Clonakilty’s history and Cork County Council should be supportive of the new Community Mayoral Council in their efforts to have the Chain and Robe used for public occasions in the town.”
Cllr M Collins (Ind): This is hugely important to the people of Clonakilty. Knows what great work the community are doing and they need this support. Could maybe put the chain and robe into a museum. People put huge time and effort into the refurbishment of the chain. Each former mayor paid for the rehabilitation of a single chain. People also put money into the rehabilitation of the robe. Thinks Clonakilty Mayor should have the chain and robe to use. Is a small gesture to recognise the voluntary sector’s efforts.
Cllr Lombard (FG): Issue that may arise – should districts have chains. Unique situation. Thinks elected members should come up with a policy on this. Have other MDs with former Town Councils in their areas. Maybe those will want the chair of the MD to wear a chain. Maybe other towns with former Town Councils will want their chains back. Need policy.
Cllr D’Alton (Ind): Acknowledges that Cllr Lombard has a point but he speaks of a wider issue. I seconded the motion considering the single issue of the request from Clonakilty only. Clonakilty had put arrangements for the direct election of mayor in place months ago. Would be simple way of acknowledging the work the voluntary sector in Clonakilty is doing.
Cllr G Murphy (FG): Doesn’t think we have the right to allocate chains or positions of privilege to one town over another. Is every town or village entitled to this? Thinks Cllr Lombard’s suggestion is valid.
Cllr Hayes (SF): There are talks of maybe Bantry or Skibbereen following suit. Clonakilty has their own Mayoral Council election. Ceremonial role. Not an overlap or outdoing CCC. We have a good working relationship with them. They are a very active group. Supports what Cllr D’Alton said and supports the motion. Shame to have the chain and robe gathering dust in a museum or in County Hall.
Cllr Forde (FG): Thinks while we’re deciding a policy on this, Clonakilty should be given the chain. But we do need to consider deputy chains for each municipal district maybe?
Cllr O’Donovan (FG): Lives in the area and was hoping for a compromise. Had suggested at MD level that it would be given out maybe a few times a year. Thinks the issue should go to SPC.
CE: Decision is for the elected members. All the chains, etc. are under the care of CCC. Thinks Council needs to be careful that it doesn’t undermine the position of County Mayor or the MDs. MDs must be highly recognised as being the leader of local government in the community. Not happy with the word “returned” in the motion. Chains and roles were representative of the statutory role of the towns. That statute is no longer there. Maybe by having them on display is the appropriate way to go. Need to think through carefully how we deal with this issue. This is not a simple issue.
Cllr K Murphy: Thinks that the fear it may reduce the role of the MD is very valid. Occasions in the past where Members were bypassed in being invited to occasions organised by the voluntary groups who would be looking for chains like this.
(4 FF and 11 FG in chamber now)
Cllr Cullinane (Ind): On the day of the election of the chair of the MD, I was told that there would be no mayoral functions involved. I made my decision based on that information. If we are now to get additional information on the role of the chair of the MD, then we should be given the right to revote on who should be the chair of the MD. Different skills required for someone to take the committee through the transitional period and for someone to have a representative-type role.
Cllr Forde (FG): Thinks manager should give us a report on what the role of the MD is and we could then decide better on the chain and robe question.
Cllr M Collins (Ind): Knows this would be an issue with a lot of areas but in reality Clon has set up a Mayoral Council. We should commend them for that and consider returning the chain and the robe even if there is further discussion to be had.
13. Councillor Mary Linehan-Foley:
“That Cork County Council put measures in place to allow plumbers /electricians etc, engaged by the former Town Councils to carry out repairs /maintenance to council houses in those local areas bearing in mind we will be keeping local knowledge and employment in our local areas.”
In Youghal, if there is a house in need of repairs (leak or electrical faults) they are prioritised. These are regarded as emergency works. There are other issues coming into housing repairs that wouldn’t be prioritised. But there are plumbers and electricians travelling from Cork to Youghal to do the works. In many cases these plumbers and electricians do not have local knowledge. One plumber coming down had to ring the old Town Council’s plumber. Have spoken to the MD on this. Knew we were going to get teething problems and we have them. They will work out but there are electricians and plumber from the Youghal area who are top of the range but there are people travelling from Cork City down to Youghal, costing more and taking work from local people. Is there a policy in place and is there a particular reason for the way it is being run?
CE: Some of the Town Councils were using local labour because the level of spend would not have exceeded public rules of procurement thresholds. Now those houses that used to belong to Town Councils are transferred to CCC and the expenditure on mends is accumulative. So we have to use the contractors that have come from the tenders. Thinks people who used to do work for TCs are not on the list for tender. There is a national policy being drawn up to assist local authorities on a national tendering process. This will make it even more difficult for small local based contractors to do work like this.
Tendering requirement was set up before Town Councils were abolished – maybe 2013.
Cllr G Murphy (FG): How do you frame a tender? Can you put a condition on it that the contractor would be an hour from where the work is to be done?
CE: WE have discretion, but we have to accumulate your entire expenditure insofar as you can under one particular heading. Would put in that you expect a service-response time for a service of a particular nature.
Cllr Linehan-Foley: So Town Council contractors wouldn’t be on tender list. Can they join the tender list?
CE: Framework will be in place for 2 and a half to 3 years. Maybe will go back to tender in late 2015/early 2016.
Cllr Linehan-Foley (Ind): Local contractors will never be able to compete with the big boys anyway. So local knowledge and local skills will go to waste.
The remainder of the meeting was adjourned.