A Nasty List of Surprises from Minister Gormley; Elderly Drivers among Targets of an Bord Snip Eile Cutbacks

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Byline: Niamh Lyons Political Correspondent

A SLEW of stealth taxes and price increases are on the way under a scheme touted by Environment Minister John Gormley.

New tolls on national roads, a rise in planning fees and penalties for those who don't pay their motor tax online are part of a set of extensive proposals to save the exchequer [euro]511million.

It comes as the Green Party leader yesterday announced a report from the Local Government Efficiency Review Group which examined the cost base and expenditure of a range of programmes and services.

The group nicknamed An Bord Snip Eile is chaired by Pat McLoughlin, former HSE deputy chief executive and now chief executive of the Irish Payment Services Organisation.

His group recommends a range of 'efficiencies' which will add significant costs to the yearly household bill of taxpayers.

Under the plan, the cost of a ten-year driving licence would go up from [euro]25 to [euro]40, and the cost of a replacement from [euro]15 to [euro]30.

The group also suggests that social housing rents be deducted directly from social welfare payments.

Under the scheme, those who do not pay motor tax online would be charged extra while the 'off-the-road' facility allowing car owners to self-declare vehicles as not in use would be removed.

Meanwhile the group recommends a cut in the number of county managers from 34 to 24. Ten new administrative areas would serve 20 city and county council areas, and it is proposed that senior and middle management levels be cut by up to 20 per cent.

The group says responsibility for planning, roads and housing should be transferred from town to county councils and that they should be allowed to delegate some local aspects of housing service provision to towns where this is economically efficient.

Joint drainage boards, joint burial boards, and other bodies would be dissolved, and their functions transferred to local authorities. The number of senior and middle managers, administrative and professional would be reduced by 15 per cent, while the staffing complements and number of senior managers in Dublin and Cork cities should be independently reviewed, and reduced by at least 15 per cent.

Mr McLoughlin yesterday defended the group's controversial proposals for raising some [euro]10million by tolling users of national routes.

He said: 'When you look at it from the point of equity, and to promote a more efficient and environmentally responsible use of roads, then there are potential savings and those can be used to carry out the infrastructure developments that are needed on regional and local roads.'

But the proposal came under severe criticism last night. Conor Faughnan of the AA said the idea of placing tolls on regional roads was 'absurd' and that an extra cent tax on fuel would be far more efficient.

Meanwhile, elderly group Age Action Ireland claimed the proposal to penalise motorists who do not pay their vehicle tax online would unfairly hit older drivers.

Spokesman Eamon Timmins said some 80 per cent of over-65s in Ireland were not computer literate.

'It would be grossly unfair for the Government to cut computer training funding and then turn around and penalise those who do not have computer skills for not using its online facility to process their motor tax,' Mr Timmins said. However, Mr McLoughlin argued the range of proposals was necessary amid the difficult economic climate.

He said: 'By comparing and contrasting the various costs we have been able to identify a large volume of savings which I believe will be a lot easier to implement than making cuts in frontline services.'

Fine Gael gave a broad welcome to the proposals. Environment spokesman Phil Hogan said the report highlighted badly needed reforms of local government which had long been ignored by Fianna Fail and the Greens. …