As frustrated Longford Town councillors lamented the centralisation of local services, they were warned: ‘the speed of change is very quick’.
Cllr Michael Connellan suggested Longford was losing out to neighbouring Westmeath because the county hadn’t sufficient political clout.
“It is not what you have, it is who you have representing you. The political heavy weights in this constituency are in Westmeath and when will central government realise we exist in Longford and when will we get our piece of the cake?”
Town Manager Frankie Sheridan outlined that driving down costs was a policy of government and that Longford County Council did bid for a payroll contract to service the midlands counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford but were unsuccessful. “We didn’t ignore the bidding process and stand back and do nothing. Portlaoise was the centre for a pilot project and they got it.”
He added that the new driving licence and motor taxation regimes were impacting on jobs and people and that while Longford/Westmeath are joint authorities when it comes to libraries and fire services it is outside of ‘Executive influence’ as to who will ultimately be in charge. “No bids were sought in regard to either and if one is needed we’ll make it.”
Mr Sheridan concluded, “All I can tell you is the speed of change is very quick.”
Cllr Gerry Warnock remarked that while no one had a crystal ball, they needed to recognise that with the services that are being stripped away from local authorities, ‘that we are heading towards regional government in ten or fifteen years’ time’.
It was the revelation that Westmeath is the lead local authority when it comes to distributing homeless funding which ignited the debate. Funding is allocated on a regional basis and funding for each region (Longford/Westmeath) is down 12.5%.
Cllr Peggy Nolan said the issue of how Longford lost the administration of this funding was raised at County Council level as was the loss of the payroll contract.
Both Cllr Mae Sexton and Mayor Paul Connell expressed bemusement that Longford was the only town with two hostels yet this didn’t seem to be recognised.