Waterford City/County Amalgamation Implementation Committee
c/o Michael Walsh
Waterford City Council
25th January 2013
Dear Committee Members,
Although I will not be meeting you as part of the City Council Delegation on February 4th I feel I simply cannot allow the publication of the Working Document on Customer Service Locations and Workforce Planning to pass without comment.
Firstly, in the interest of honesty, I wish to advise that I continue to oppose and fight the amalgamation of the City & County Councils as a travesty and something that will greatly diminish the City’s ability to compete on a national and international stage. I intend to use each and every means at my disposal to continue to have this decision delayed or overturned.
However I must also realistically accept that it may well proceed in any case and on that basis, and with a heavy heart I have some thoughts on your Working Document and the proposals contained therein which I feel are so serious that I must communicate them.
The original Terms of Reference required the Amalgamation Committee to have particular regard to:
• The need to maximise the capacity of Waterford City, in particular, to act as a strong and dynamic focus and generator of growth for the wider hinterland under the National Spatial Strategy, and that of other urban and rural areas to contribute in that regard in the context of balanced development.
• The need to ensure that that the particular status, identity, character and heritage of Waterford City are maintained and where possible, enhanced, within a balanced overall system of local government for Waterford City and County.
The sad part is that every single person I speak to – many in, or retired from positions of great seniority in local government – acknowledges that the current amalgamation strategy is wrong and will be a disaster. Yet it continues apace, given cover by the unsubstantiated claims of efficiencies and savings contained in the Report of the Waterford Local Government Committee.
It is obvious that the vast majority of submissions to that committee were ignored or the serious consequences outlined therein were simply not understood. The core failure was the belief by the committee that in any amalgamation scenario, the status of the city and its capacity to act as a generator for growth would be unaffected or improved. It is oxymoronic to divide and weaken an organisation and then to propose that as strengthening it. The Working Document further exacerbates this division and weakening and surpasses even my very worst fears of what amalgamation would mean for Waterford!
As a sop to political pressures, despite the City being ‘designated’ in name as the HQ of the amalgamated authority – in practice the City is to be divested of up to 50% of its current Senior Management Team and up to 50% of the Directorates of Service. It is even, farcically, proposed that the Gateway City should lose Planning, Roads, Finance and IS among other things, to Dungarvan. I would like to hear an explanation of how this strengthens the City.
Indeed the Committee even failed to recommend that the Council would meet continually in the so-called Corporate Head-quarters and should rotate between Dungarvan and the City. While the City is left with its name and Mayor mar-dhea, the obvious fact is that both the City/Metropolitan District and indeed the Mayor will be Junior to the Mayor/Chair of the overall joint authority and as such will have been relegated down a level from the other cities in Ireland who continue to be self-governing and with their own Senior Level City Council and Mayor. I appreciate the spirit of what the Amalgamation Committee was trying to achieve but sadly, the reality is that the City and Mayor will no longer be on a par with other cities.
I fail to see how any of the recommendations in the Working Document deliver on making the amalgamated authority anything other than weaker, less efficient and indeed, most probably more expensive – save for natural staff wastage and whatever efficiencies are in the process of being delivered via the National Shared Services Initiative currently underway.
For what it’s worth, the only correct course of action (other than reversal of the decision in its totality) is to do the job properly and completely and to make Waterford City the HQ in practice as opposed to in name only. Unfortunately this does not address the Mayoral issue unless the Mayor of the City was to be designated as the Mayor of the overall amalgamated authority, and I would certainly propose this. However I expect this too, for political reasons would be unacceptable.
Uniquely after this process, Waterford as a City will be disadvantaged geographically, economically and regionally in comparison to other Irish Cities. According to the Forfas Reports on the Performance of Gateways, there has been a lack of buy-in regionally of Waterford as the Regional Gateway.
What this Working Document proposes will exacerbate this lack of buy-in by demoting Waterford to the level of Wexford and Kilkenny and will give the perception of a shift in power in the region, despite Waterford being the largest population centre by a country mile! This will negatively affect the buy-in and indeed will feed in to that lack of ‘buy in’ regionally.
One must hope that, as a working document, this initial report is subject to change but my experience is that once something is committed to paper, change thereafter tends to be minimal. I hope I am wrong on this occasion and that the Committee has the will to correct these damaging recommendations.
If Waterford City is to be supported and strengthened through this process then at least have the courage to do the job properly and allow the amalgamated authority to be managed and led from the main population centre. With services provided 9-5 of course from Dungarvan and Tramore. No-one is suggesting that citizens in the rest of the County should experience any dis-improvement in service delivery! Otherwise the City will be the laughing stock.
I apologise for the extreme negativity in this submission but in my opinion, what we are at here, is damage limitation. Our historic city is under threat that will have century long consequences and whatever noble (if naive) aspirations the Amalgamation Committee may have had with regard to the protection of Waterford, they are now being sacrificed on the altar of political parish pumpery.
It is hard to see how any of this can be justified bearing in mind the Amalgamation Committees Terms of Reference.
It is hard to see how any member of the Implementation Committee can stand over this Working Document as delivering a strengthened City.
It is hard (indeed it is laughable if it wasn’t so serious) to see how any informed decisions could possibly be made without a detailed cost benefit analysis being prepared – in contravention of the Department of Finances’ own guidelines.
But here we are. This process certainly does not do what it said on the tin.
Yours sadly and sincerely,
Councillor Mary Roche
Former Mayor of Waterford City