Every year, the National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC) publishes figures on how well each local authority in Ireland is performing in several areas.
The idea is to help the government keep track of how the different local authorities are performing, to highlight problem areas and encourage solutions.
Some Dublin city councillors are critical of this system of indicators. Councillors should be the ones holding council management to account, not the national government, and using a list of out-of-context figures isn’t how councillors would do it, they say.
“I don’t believe NOAC should exist,” says Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey. “I think NOAC was one of the very many disgraceful elements of the Local Government Act of 2014. I think the minister of that day had some cheek claiming that they could analyse councils when most of the council’s problems stem from these very institutions.”
Lacey says the best way to analyse the work of the council is to leave it up to councillors to question, analyse and assess its activity. “I think that’s the way to go,” he says.
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan agrees. As he sees it, because the performance indicators offer no recommendations, they’re fairly unhelpful.
“Of course we need to compare and contrast performance. We need to be accountable and transparent,” he says. “But I do find that this is simply a box-ticking exercise with no context, with no explanation. It very much suits someone who’s a pen-pusher in the Department of the Environment and wants to keep the industry of bureaucracy going.”
Doolan thinks that management must be held to account. A bird’s-eye view of all county councils is a positive thing, but NOAC isn’t the answer.
“I would like to know how we compare and contrast, share experience, share best practice and ensure the public get the best service possible,” he says. “But I think we need to part of it.”
Like Lacey, Doolan feels councillors should be closely involved in tracking the council’s progress.
Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello says they do, to an extent, but that the way local government is structured is problematic, and NOAC is an indication of that problem.
“There’s reserve functions and executive functions. While we’ve oversight of executive functions, that’s really only in an advisory role,” says Costello. “More and more you have the officials pushing back and ignoring the councillors.”
Local government is in need of reform, he says, to ensure that the relationship between councillors and council officials is equal.
Furthermore, while data and performance tracking are needed, raw figures aren’t the best solution, Costello says.
“Total social housing dwellings provided? That’s garbage,” he says. “That doesn’t tell you how many applications there were. That’s a raw figure. It doesn’t give you any context in terms of performance.”
Measuring data is important, says Costello, but you have to measure the right things.
In the graphic below by Simon Auffret, you’ll find charts showing how Dublin City Council performs on 20 of the indicators, compared to other local authorities. Explore using the drop-down menu.