The Local Government Acts provide that the primary function of the local authority is to provide a forum for democratic representation of the local community and
- to provide civil leadership for the community,
- carry out functions conferred on it by law and
- take such measures as are auxiliary to its functions and
- take such actions as it considers necessary or desirable to promote community interest.
The legislation sets out the functions and duties of the local authority and the relative powers of the department of local government and environment in relation to the authority.
The local authority must have regard to certain general matters in the exercise of its functions. This includes
- the resources available
- need to secure the most beneficial and effective and efficient use of resources
- maintaining services adequately having regard to all those factors
- cooperation with public authorities and consultation with other authorities
Local authorities must have regard to the policies of the government and government Minister. They are obliged to promote the heritage, environment and social inclusion.
Local authorities are to be independent in the performance of their function. This is bolstered by the recognition of local government in the constitution. However local authorities are subject to the terms and conditions of legislation so they are not autonomous bodies.
Local authorities are obliged to formulate policies for their function areas in accordance with their statutory functions. The manager is to perform his functions in accordance with this policy.
The elected members operate by way of resolution. Their functions are set out in the legislation as reserved functions. This is contrast to all other functions which are vested with the manager.
The reserved functions are specified under law and they can be changed from time to time. The elected members act by way of resolution of the majority or in some cases, a higher majority.
Reserved functions are designated in the legislation. They include powers to make the annual budgets and key financial decisions. They may make bye- laws under general or specific legislation within their power.
The manager and executive side of local authority is obliged to give effect to the lawful resolutions of the elected members in relation to reserved matters.
The elected members may require the management to provide information in relation to matters and business affecting the local authority. This need not necessarily be by resolution. The manager must comply.
The councillors may require the manager to prepare specifications and costs in relation to works which the local authority might lawfully undertake within its functions.
The manager is obliged to inform the elected members before works other than works of maintenance and repair are undertaken and before expenditure is undertaken in relation to the works.
The elected members may require the manager to inform them regarding the manner in which the works are to be undertaken. The provisions do not limit the manner in which the manager may deal with emergency works which are urgently required for the reasons set out above.
The elected member may direct that any such works may not proceed. This does not apply to works which the council is obliged by law to undertake.
The elected members may direct that the manager in relation to any particular thing or matter specified in the resolution which may lawfully be done under the local authority’s powers.
Formerly, this power was used extensively to direct planning permission. The scope for directions in this regard is very limited since 1991.
Where the matter concerned is one in respect of which the council must act in a quasi-judicial manner such as grant a planning permission, then the elected members must act in this manner in making their decisions. They must not exercise powers for an extraneous purpose. They must not have regard to irrelevant factor and should comply with principles of administrative law.
The functions that are not reserved for the elected members under the Local Government Act are vested in the manager. Each council has a manager. The appointment is reserved for the elected members. They may suspend or remove the manager from office.
The manager is responsible for the efficient and effective operation of the local authority. He or she is to ensure implementation of the decisions of the elected members. Functions which are not reserved functions of the elected members.
The manager is subject to the provision of law and the Local Government Act. He is to perform his duties in accordance with the policy of the local authority set by the elected members.
The manager has the powers to carry out his functions. He may enter contracts in accordance with Departmental guidelines. Above certain levels, EU legislation on procurement requires specific procedures.
The manager acts by written orders. A register of orders is kept. It is available for inspection by members of the authority on request. It must be available at meetings of the elected members.
The functions which are to be carried out by manager’s orders include
- Decisions on any application or planning permission certificate of approval, or other such authority.
- Statutory notices under any legislation requiring compliance
- Legal proceedings
- Sale or purchase of land
- Leasing of land
- Grant of tenders
- appointment of staff
- Grant of awards, loans, financial assessment
A certified copy of the order is proof of the matters in it in court proceedings.
The manager may attend and speak at meetings of the elected members. He may take part in discussions but has no vote. He may be required to attend by the elected members. He is obliged to give such advice and assistance as they reasonably require. The elected members are to have regard to his advice or assessment.
The manager must arrange that other employees attend as are appropriate. The —
The manager makes decisions in relation to the institution of civil and criminal proceedings. He may do all things necessary to take and defend legal proceedings.
The manager may delegate any of his functions to officers and employees of the council. The responsibility remains with the manager. The delegation may be revoked or amended. The elected members are to be notified of the delegation.
The 2001 Act provides for a strategic policy committee and a corporate policy group. Each council must establish the groups. The Departmental guidelines make provision as to the composition of the groups from the elected members and members of the public. The chairman of each strategic policy committee is an elected member and presides over four meetings a year. Each strategic policy committee has at least nine members a third of whom represents sectoral interests.
The strategic policy committee considers matter relevant to the formulation, development, and the review of policy in relation to the areas within the competence of the local authority. It advices local authorities in relation to any matters concerned.
There are four principal areas. There is some flexibility in relation to number of committees that may be formed. The areas concerned are
- economic development and planning policy,
- transportation and infrastructural policy, environment policy,
- housing policy,
- social and cultural development.
Each strategic policy committee is advised and supported by the relevant director of service. The SPC members are involved in the formation of policy giving their expertise before decisions are submitted to the elected members for consideration. It gives an opportunity for local interest groups to get involved in local governance. It assists elected members in broadening their policy experience.
In each of the city and county councils, the strategic policy committees are supplemented by a corporate policy group. The chairman of the authority acts as chair of this group with the assistance of the chairpersons of the strategic policy committee. The corporate policy group is to act as a cabinet of sorts and link the various strategic policy groups.
The corporate policy group’s function is to assist and advise the elected members in the formulation, development, monitoring and the review of policy. For that purpose it proposes arrangements for the consideration of policy matters and the organisation of related business by the members. It takes a boarder view of the local authority’s roles and functions than the strategic policy group.
The Local Government legislation provides that there shall be a corporate policy group chaired by the chairman of the elected members. Its functions are to advise and assist elected members in the formulation, development, evolution and review of policy and for that purpose propose arrangements for the consideration of policy matters and the organisation of related business by the elected council
The county managers shall prepare a corporate plan in consultation with the policy group. The manager can be obliged to provide information on any matters within function of the local authority to the policy group as is required.
The policy group may request the county manage (now the chief executive ) to provide a report to the policy group on any matter or thing related to a function of the local authority and specified by the policy group.The elected members may direct the manager to do or refrain from doing matters set out in the report.
This may not interfere with functions which the local authority or manager is obliged to undertake by law or which are urgent and necessary having regard to personal health, public health or safety considerations and to provide a reasonable standard of accommodation for any person. The direction will lapse at the next council meeting unless extended. It may be extended for up to three months.
The corporate plan which the members must adopt is to set out its strategies. The manager assists in the preparation of the plans in consultation with the policy group. The local authority members may review the plan.
The plan is seen to be for a five year period in accordance with the local authority election cycle. The corporate plan is deemed approved by the elected members, if not disapproved within two months of submission. The elected members may amend it.
The corporate plan is to set out the objective and priorities of the council with respect to each of its activities, its strategy, its proposal to assess performance, human resources requirements. The plan must set out certain other matters which are provided for by Ministerial guidelines.
The plan must take account of policies and objectives in relation to programs and set out certain other plans strategies and documents. The Council may review the plan in accordance with the above procedure.
The manager must prepare a progress plan in relation to the corporate plan and present it to the elected members. The corporate plan is to be published.
The legislation provided for City and County Development Boards in each area. The members comprise members of the corporate policy group, representatives of public bodies which operate in the areas, representatives of social partners and other public development bodies. The City and County Development Boards played a role in developing the relationship between public service and planning at county and regional levels.
Local authorities must supply members of the Oireachtas with information regarding local authorities matters. This includes agendas and minutes of local authority meetings.
There have been proposals from time to time for directly elected chairpersons at of local authorities
The 2001 legislation provided for payment of a salary to a local authority member. Previously, allowance and expenses only were paid. Provision for a salary at an initial level €11,000 euro was commenced in 2001. Lower sums are payable to local representatives outside city and county areas.
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