Indo investigation into councils

There’s some nice work by Treacy Hogan and Paul Melia in The Irish Independent today; an investigation into councils’ financial controls and management gets a two-page spread – 20 and 21.

The main story is headed ‘Broke councils fail to collect millions owed by developers’…

Council finances have collapsed to catastrophic levels and the situation has got so bad that some cannot afford to pay outstanding loans and there is no money to pay for projects already under way.

And it can be revealed:

  • Developers owe more than €420m in unpaid levies — but many are not being pursued or prosecuted for the money.
  • One developer was undercharged by €1.4m and there is no possibility of getting the money back.
  • Expensive public projects are running over budget.
  • Millions of euro is owed by businesses in water charges, refuse charges and unpaid rates.
  • Some councils have sold land at a profit — but not paid back the loans. Others are stuck with expensive unsold houses and landbanks in negative equity.

The country’s 34 city and county councils have been borrowing more than €10m a week to maintain services, despite being owed hundreds of millions by developers.

You can read the rest here.

The second story is your standard “Outrage as senior civil servants earn LOADZA MUNNAY” piece about the salaries of city and county managers (somewhere between €132,000 and €190,000). This story is overdone, in my opinion. The “everyone got a bonus” line is interesting but unsurprising considering what we’ve heard in months gone by. Anywho…The third story, which gets just one column of space, is a cracker. Weirdly underplayed. Melia and Hogan reveal how several councils flouted procurement procedures, tendering processes and paid out on expenses for private consultants without any receipts. The “civils servants all get bonuses and paid loads” story is about questionable but widespread practices but this one is about not following procurement procedures. That’s plain illegal.

Our friends at Donegal County Council were some of the worst offenders. They coughed up €2.5m to consultants via an untendered contract, and paid another €10,000 for expenses without any documentation. The space given to the story is was sparse that none of the contractors are named (at least that’s my guess as to why there are no further details included). Surely there’s more to come on that? Any Indo hacks reading who can tell us if we should hold our breath for the next installment?

Treacy Hogan had supplementary analysis piece on the opinion pages too.

It seems the councils really are a mess. Now, apologies in advance for a brief personal but related anecdote.

I was back in Blanchardstown for the weekend and was informed that Fingal County Council have decided to stop cutting the grass on the big green space near the family home. They’re instead going to slice a big cross through it every once in while so people can walk from one side to the other. Bizarre.

I played football on that space when I was younger. The kids from the road were just sitting on the wall yesterday. The grass is knee-high. Such financial decisions by the councils – forced upon them by underfunding or otherwise – will cause social problems down the line. You can bet on it.

Do check out page 20 and 21 of The Indo.

6 thoughts on “Indo investigation into councils”

  1. I played football on the greens in the estates I grew up in Galway and Meath. All of those greens were cut by the local residents – the council just didn’t do that. The residents of Fingal should bite the bullet and show some civic pride and do it themselves.

  2. >Developers owe more than €420m in unpaid levies — but many are not being pursued or prosecuted for the money.
    It may be that there’s no chance of recovery, and so no point hiring lawyers to pursue the money (i.e. they’re actually saving money by not chasing it).

    >Such financial decisions by the councils – forced upon them by underfunding or otherwise – will cause social problems down the line. You can bet on it.

    Absolutely. Part of the problem is that the Councils will only have to deal with part of that cost (Depts of Justice & Social Welfare will really be the ones who hurt), and anyway, it’s so far into the future that they can’t concern themselves with it because they’re required to exist from year-to-year.

  3. I agree entirely with JC. The good old ‘meitheal’ philosphy. Make a fete out of it, everyone bring their tools. I grew up in a village, and the ‘Tidy Towns’, was not only a chance to contribute to the civic and social capital of the village, but also get to know the neighbours. LESS TALK AND MORE ACTION – isn’t that what everyone is talking about.

    I watched RTE’s ‘Ghost Estate’ doc, and thought to myself – if i was sitting amidst all that rubble and free area; i’d pick up a load of top soil (which is probably the cost of a months cable subscription or getting rid of the widescreen in the bathroom), dump in and start growing vegetables –
    a) place looks nicer
    b) free food
    c) keeping the mind busy.

    You’ll be a long time waiting for the Council.

  4. …and there’s no way human beings could ever use their imagination and creativity to get over that…sure there were always tractors and industrial mowers…always,…. wasn’t there?

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