Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Sweeping reforms urge merger of Cork city and county councils by 2019

In the biggest shakeup in Cork's local government structures in a generation, The future shape of local government will change dramatically in Cork City and County.

 Let us know what you think.

 These are the key recommendations of the Cork Local Government review group.
1. A unitary authority of Cork City and County Council should be established as the statutory local authority for Cork as a whole..
2. An appropriate Cork metropolitan area should be designated encompassing the city and suburbs but incorporating also a further surrounding area that would be consistent with the sustainable physical, economic and social development of the city in the medium to long-term. This would be the existing Metropolitan Cork area as set out in the Cork Area Strategic Plan (CASP) and used by both the city and county council already for planning purposes. Metropolitan Cork had a population of 289,739 in 2011 and it covers an area of 834 square kilometres. The city within the metropolitan area should be redefined to reflect the current reality on the ground, a task to be undertaken by the implementation group.

3. The representational body for the new Cork metropolitan area should constitute one of three divisions which would form a central element of the new Cork City and County Council. In recognition of the existing divisional structures these could be titled as follows:
a. Cork Metropolitan Division
b. Cork North and East Municipal Division
c. Cork West and South Municipal Division
4. Municipal districts, with a metropolitan district for Cork City, should be established in conjunction with electoral area re-definition. The local electoral areas should be reconfigured to produce a greater number of more territorially compact areas which would be more closely identified with local communities and traditional local loyalties and would be more manageable for councillors.
5. Meetings of the city and county council should focus on a limited number of key strategic issues for the authority. The structure of the unitary council should be addressed by the implementation group. A possible alternative to full unitary council meetings of 86 members would be for a smaller number of members to be appointed to meet at full unitary council level from the three divisions.

6. In tandem with the location of more strategic functions at the level of the unitary council, the role and status of the metropolitan/municipal divisions and metropolitan and municipal districts should be enhanced beyond that of current municipal districts by assigning appropriate functions that are currently confined to city/county councils to divisional and district level in Cork. These functions should be provided directly by statute. Particular attention should be given to ensuring members can perform an adequate budgetary role at metropolitan/municipal division level. In addition the potential to assign roles to the metropolitan/municipal division members in relation to functions devolved from central government should be fully exploited.
7. Special provisions should be enacted to preserve the historic civic status of Cork city, including retaining the role of Lord Mayor for the chair of the metropolitan division and associated status and customs. The option of a directly elected Lord Mayor should be considered.
8. The unified City and County Council should have responsibility for the main strategic functions of local government such as adoption of the annual budget, the corporate plan, the development plan and the local economic and community plan. An economic development unit should be established to promote and coordinate an integrated approach to development.
9. In addition to these strategic functions, significant powers and functions should be identified for devolution from central government and state agencies to the unitary authority. This would represent a radical new departure for local government in Cork, bringing it into closer alignment with its counterparts in most European states. It would also provide a model for other parts of the country.
10. All the executive and corporate functions and resources of local government in Cork should be consolidated in the unitary authority as the statutory local authority under the management of a chief executive for Cork city and county council. This will reduce duplication and maximise efficiency.

11. The appointment of a chief executive for the new authority is a priority issue and should be progressed as soon as possible. The appointment should be advanced through an open competition process.
12. A deputy chief executive position should be created, with designated responsibility for Metropolitan Cork, and for economic development for the entire council.
13. The next local elections are due to be held in mid-2019. Given the importance of the changes in governance arrangements being recommended, the Committee considers that measures should be taken to develop and implement substantial elements of the new system on a transitional basis ahead of those elections.
14. An implementation group be established immediately following the government decision to oversee the reforms and ensure the new arrangements are in place by the local elections in 2019.
15. Cork city and county councils appoint a dedicated project team from existing staff to assist in the preparation of the implementation plan.

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