8 September 2015
By David O’Sulivan
Here at TheCork.ie we like the fact that Cork has two separate Councils.
- Cork City Council, based in City Hall, Anglesea Street
and, quite seperately
- Cork County Council, based in County Hall (Cork’s first skyscaper), Carrigrohane Road
Each Council has a different atmosphere, and different set of staff, values, and even openness. In practical terms the offices of the County Council are much more open. At this very moment a member of the public could have their lunch in the County Hall canteen (whereas in the City Hall canteen is beyond a coded door), a member of the public could walk to various Departments in County Hall (whereas in the City Hall most are behind a coded door or glass). Even the meetings of the County Council are open to the public who can arrive on-spec, where as the meetings of the City Council are more difficult to gain entry to.
These are trivial differences, perhaps? but they illustrate how each local authority differs. So if they merged then whose corporate culture would win out? and symbolically who would be the key elected figure head? The Lord Mayor or the County Mayor? indeed would those labels disappear?
The proposed merger is a gift for the media, and for politicians desperate for publicity in the run up to the General election. A key problem all will face is convincing the public to care one way or another.
Today, various Cllrs are deciding on their positions, while some have been pro merger, or anti merger for some time.
Today we spoke with Anti Austerity Alliance Cork city councillor Mick Barry. He is firmly against a merger.
Comments from Mick Barry (a City Cllr who is against the merger)
“Proposals to merge Cork City Council with Cork County Council could, if adopted, result in increased privatisation, outsourcing and cuts in Council services”.
Cllr Barry warned that the experience of the establishment of “super-councils” in the UK in recent years has been one of the facilitation of cuts and of privatisation/outsourcing of local authority services.
Cllr Barry said: “Local authority managers in the UK have used the sheer size of merged councils to argue that local authorities should not be directly providing local services but instead should be merely acting as managers outsourcing service provision to the private sector. I can easily see that happening in the case of a merged Cork super-council and I think this would mean a real deterioration in services for the people of both Cork city and county.”
The “super-council” trend began in earnest in the UK about eight years ago. This summer the UK public service minister made proposals to reduce the number of Councils in Wales from 22 to 8 or 9.
At the same time a wave of privatisation and outsourcing – greatly facilitated by council mergers – has affected UK local government. A KPMG survey of 50 UK local government directors this summer found 94% of Councils selling off assets and services, 72% launching joint ventures with private or voluntary organisations and 54% accepting extensive private investment by private sector service providers and financial organisations.
Here in Ireland the recent merger of Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council has also facilitated the bringing forward of proposals that would be detrimental for ordinary people living in the merged local authority area. Council management in the new merged Limerick Council have brought forward proposals for “harmonisation” which generally have involved “harmonising up” costs for service users and “harmonising down” the level of council services. For example, proposals in Limerick to “harmonise” bin waiver levels and housing maintenance expenditure are both indicative of this trend.
Cllr Barry added: “There are major problems with merging the councils from the viewpoint of widening the democratic deficit in local government. How can urban working class communities like Gurranabraher and Mayfield have their voices properly heard on a super-council dominated by representatives from all corners of Cork county including areas stretching from the Kerry border to the border of Waterford? But there are issues here which go beyond the issues of a democratic deficit including the potential for a merger to facilitate privatisation, outsourcing, cutbacks and the further marginalisation of hard-pressed communities. All who are concerned about issues of this kind should raise their voice in opposition to any attempt to merge the councils.”
The Anti Austerity Alliance will campaign to prevent this proposal from being implemented and will argue instead for a significant extension to the Cork city boundary.
The Anti Austerity Alliance has 3 seats on the 31 seat Cork City Council.