The Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan T.D., (15 October 2013) said that the budget of €767 million being provided to his Department for 2014 is evidence of the Government’s commitment to the sector in very difficult financial times.
The Estimates provision is made up of €455m in current spending and €311m in capital investment; a further €50m is also being made available to the Department for investment in the new Infrastructure Stimulus Plan announced in Budget 2014, including funding for social housing construction.
In addition, there will be €240m in Exchequer equity investment in Irish Water to fund the water and wastewater capital programme, and DECLG programmes will benefit in 2014 from resources available from the Local Government and Environment Funds.
Speaking today, Minister Hogan said: “The key objective for Government in framing Budget 2014 has been to do what is required to support our exit from the EU-IMF programme and help restore Ireland’s economic sovereignty. Only in this way will we have the freedom to build the Ireland that we all want to see. So Budget 2014 has involved hard choices. But, within the constraints we face, we have worked to ensure that resources are allocated in the fairest way possible and make the maximum contribution to job creation and economic recovery.”
As far as DECLG is concerned, while resources in the Vote are down, key areas have been protected to the greatest extent possible: for example, in 2014 there will be: €79m for Housing Regeneration; €48m for the Local and Community Development Programme; €45m for homeless accommodation; and €2m for employment opportunities for the long-term unemployed. An additional €150,000 is being made available to Irish Water Safety to support a strategy to help counter increased numbers of drowning fatalities and €3m extra is available for capital investment in fire and emergency services.
“In overall terms, substantial resources will be directed in 2014 towards important public services in vital areas such as housing and the water sector; protecting the environment; local government services; and the development of strong and vibrant local communities.”, said the Minister.
The Minister pointed out that 2014 will see major reform in the local government sector. The Action Programme for Effective Local Government sets out a wide-ranging reform agenda across local government to address weaknesses, enhance effectiveness and accountability, and improve performance across the entire system. Key features of the programme, to come into effect following the local elections in 2014, include the restructuring of local government at regional, county and sub-county levels and the strengthening and widening of the scope and role of local government. It will implement the most far-reaching changes since the present system of local government began in the 1890s.
“As the priority has been to get the model of funding for Irish Water right, and in particular ensuring that the Service Level Agreements to be put in place with local authorities provide sufficient funding for the delivery of water services in 2014 and beyond, we haven’t as yet been in a position to finalise the corresponding model to replace the system of general purpose grants to the Local Government sector. So while we will continue to operate a system of general purpose grants for 2014, I will not be losing sight of the critical importance of ensuring that no local authority will be worse off next year relative to the current year as a result of the introduction of the LPT and the transition to Irish Water, taking account also of efficiencies to be achieved, including through the public service reform agenda.
Retention of a proportion of local property tax receipts at source will now commence from 2015 onwards. This will provide greater discretion in local decision making and increased accountability at local level as key elements of the local government reform programme”, said the Minister.
Almost 70% of the budget for the Department will go directly to support Housing in 2014. The total housing allocation for 2014 will result in an investment of over half a billion on a range of programmes.
Momentum will continue on the major regeneration programmes with significant commitment to Limerick Regeneration, and the Ballymun Regeneration Scheme to reach substantial completion in 2014. 185 new units will be delivered over the 2013/2014 period under the social housing investment programme. Up to 2,500 new transfers will take place under the Rental Accommodation Scheme and approximately 4,400 leased housing units are expected to be operational in 2014.
14,100 social houses will achieve improved energy efficiency through a retrofitting programme, of which 12,500 will be upgraded as part of the Government’s capital stimulus package. This will result in warmer homes and lower energy costs for thousands of families.
There will be a continuing focus on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in society. 175 new housing units for people with special needs will be developed and up to 150 new leased units will be delivered to cater specifically for people with disabilities leaving institutional care. Some 5,700 housing adaptation grants will assist older people and people with disabilities to remain at home for longer.
The Government also gave the go ahead today for Minister Hogan to immediately commence a pyrite remediation scheme. This will come as welcome news to homeowners living with the terrible affliction of pyritic heave, who have been abandoned by those that were responsible for the problem. The Minister confirmed that he will announce details of the scheme tomorrow.
The transfer of water services responsibilities, assets and liabilities from local authorities to Irish Water will take place on 1 January 2014.
“The establishment of Irish Water, which is a key commitment in the programme for Government, will ensure more cost effective and efficient water services delivery based on the user pays principle and fairness, in turn guaranteeing security of quality water supply in the future for the public and for our economy. This is a key structural reform which will aid competitiveness and economic recovery”, said the Minister.
€240m equity based funding will be invested in Irish Water in 2014 by the Exchequer. This will fund progress on projects set out in the Irish Water Capital Investment Plan, including over 80 projects currently in progress under the Water Services Investment Programme. The capital funding provided to Irish Water in 2014 will ensure that the new utility will be in a position to take on the water services investment programmes of the current 34 water services authorities.
2014 will see continuation of the Department’s Rural Water Programme which provides funding (€28m in 2014) for the Group Water Sector.
Community and Rural Development
Minister Hogan also said that, in allocating resources, he was particularly conscious of the need to support funding levels for the Local and Community Development Programme.
“Given the current economic crisis and the high level of unemployment, the Local and Community Development Programme is more relevant than ever as it creates employment and gives those most distant from the labour market the skills to access training and jobs. The Programme provides employment, training, personal development/capacity building and other supports for the harder to reach in the most disadvantaged areas in society. €48 million will be invested in 2014 to increase access to formal and informal educational activities and resources, and to increase people’s work readiness and employment prospects.” he said.
Some 14,000 people who are distanced from the labour market will receive direct one-to one labour market training and supports through the Programme in 2014. A revised Programme, due to be operational from July 2014, will take account of the new aligned structure between local development groups and local government.
The LEADER elements of the Rural Development Programme, which will receive substantial funding in 2014, assist projects that improve quality of life and promote growth and diversification of the rural economy. LEADER is addressing many of the challenges facing rural communities, including through increasing economic activity and generating employment.