Tipperary Economic Development Plan to be Part of Merger

An economic development plan for the entire county is to be undertaken as part of the amalgamation of North and South Tipperary County Councils, The Tipperary Star has learned this week - a document which will help chart and frame the future of the united Tipperary.

An economic development plan for the entire county is to be undertaken as part of the amalgamation of North and South Tipperary County Councils, The Tipperary Star has learned this week - a document which will help chart and frame the future of the united Tipperary.

The work will be conducted by a joint team from the two County Councils and is seen as being central to the success of the merger which aims to make substantial savings in Tipperary over time. The plan will be prepared to reflect the new single local authority status of the county and to take advantage of new opportunities this will afford, particularly once placed in a single regional grouping. The plan will be prepared in collaboration with national, regional and local agencies.

North Tipperary County Manager, Mr Joe MacGrath, reported to members of the County Council at the monthly meeting on Monday last on the whole process which has been underway for some months now following a decision from Environment Minister Phil Hogan. And, the Manager stated that the timeframe associated with the process is very tight indeed. “It will be extremely challenging, to put it mildly,” he said.

In July, 2011 Minister Hogan announced the Government decision to merge North and South Tipperary County Councils with effect from the 2014 local elections. The Minister established an Implementation Group to prepare an Implementation Plan in accordance with their Terms of Reference. The Implementation Group commenced its deliberations in September 2011 and completed its work in June, 2012. That Group consulted with elected members and staff in both Councils through the Joint Committee of Elected Members and Joint Union Committee respectively. The work of the Implementation Group was supported by a Project Support Team and Management Teams of both Councils.

A Progress Report was submitted by the Implementation Group to the Minister in November, 2011. The Group subsequently submitted an Implementation Plan to the Minister in June, 2012 which sets out an implementation schedule for the merger with specific milestones. Conscious that the merger of two county local authorities has never taken place previously in this country, the Implementation Plan was prepared having regard to the need to :

*Deliver the merger effectively and on time.

*Maintain delivery of services across the county.

*Maximise resource deployment and savings.

*Maximise economic development opportunities for the county.

The Minister indicated his agreement to the Implementation Plan in July 2012.

The main recommendations of the Implementation Plan include:

Retention of two principal centres at Clonmel and Nenagh, reflecting their pivotal location as well as economic and social prominence. This is proposed having regard to the need to maintain local access to services currently enjoyed by the people of North and South Tipperary; the strong economic and social focus of each centre at either end of the county, and their reach into different wider regional areas; major public investment of over €33 million in council office infrastructure and location of staff at these centres.

A new service delivery model, with appropriate investment in customer services which will see a streamlining of functions to address back office duplication but maintain local service delivery. To address duplication, the group proposes that council functions be divided across the two centres so that some are located at one, with others at the second centre. However there will be capacity to provide frontline services at both centres through customer services desks at each location. In addition, an Area Office will be located in each of the electoral areas.

A new senior management structure for the integrated council, which will see a significant reduction in senior grades. This will involve a decrease of 40% at the top management level. The new structure will comprise a manager, five directors of services and a head of finance.

A target of 10% reduction in payroll costs (salaries and wages excluding pensions) over the longer-term. Based on benchmarking with good practice in other county councils, and subject to the requirements of The Public Service (Croke Park) Agreement, savings of 10% of payroll or E4.8 million per annum are considered appropriate over the longer term.

Further annual savings of E1.35 million on non-pay administrative costs are also considered to be attainable over the long term.

Costs will be incurred in respect of the merger. Once-off costs, predominantly related to information technology, will be E1.79 million. Exchequer support towards meeting these once-off, up-front costs would be desirable.

Harmonising commercial rates and service charges across North and South Tipperary County Councils. The costing model provides for harmonisation of commercial rates and service charges across both Councils. These costs are estimated to amount annually to E0.56 million.

Implementation schedule. The merger will be achieved over a number of phases detailed in the Plan, commencing immediately. The schedule foresees that the administrative merger will be complete in advance of formal unification such that the new council can be serviced without delay following the June 2014 local elections. Transitional arrangements are proposed to enable this approach.

There was a lengthy discussion at the monthly meeting of the council in relation to the merger with councillors expressing varying views on the matter. Councillor Michael Smith had proposed that the council ask Minister Hogan to suspend the merger until they receive guarantees that funding will be forthcoming. He also believed that the timeframe was too tight and unachievable. His motion received support from across the chamber.

Cllr Jim Casey could not see how savings could be achieved and added that public representation would be impossible given the number of councillors and the size of areas to be covered. Cllr Seamus Morris said that the councillors were being asked to make a “leap of faith in the dark”. Cllr John Carroll accused the Minister of “dragging his feet.”

Cllrs Billy Clancy, Virginia O’Dowd, Ger Darcy, Phyll Bugler, John Hogan and John Kennedy also contributed to the debate, which ended with Mr MacGrath explaining that the Minister will have to establish an electoral area boundary committee for the county to sort out the different areas within the new county.