Wexford County Council says in response to the publication of a report by Transparency International (TI), that a commitment to excellent customer service and public accountability is central to the delivery of all our services. We pride ourselves on being transparent and accountable and we communicate well with our citizens though a wide variety of channels, including in person, by telephone, by email, in writing, through our website and through social media.
In the main, the TI report suggests a number of shortcomings in Wexford County Council’s website as a means of communicating with the public. The report suggests that while much of this information is available in hard copy format, it should also be available on-line, or where it is on line, it should be published there in a more timely manner. Wexford County Council readily acknowledges these deficiencies and welcomes the Report as a means of improving this aspect of our public engagement and communication. However, to link these shortcomings with the integrity, transparency and accountability of Wexford County Council is highly unfair and unwarranted. It is particularly misleading to do so given that much of the report is based on information which is factually incorrect. In addition, the report contains no acknowledgement of the fact that many of of the identified deficiencies have already been remedied by Wexford County Council since the TI research was undertaken.
All local authorities operate in a highly regulated environment governed by legislation. In addition, our Elected Members have a statutory role in overseeing policy and delivery of services. Council meetings are held in public where key reports, including Budgets, end of year financial reports and capital accounts are presented for consideration. These Reports are also published on-line.
All local authorities have their own internal audit function and are independently audited by the Local Government Audit Service (Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government), with such audit reports also published on-line by each local authority.
Among other examples of public engagement and oversight are independently-chaired Audit Committees which are in place in all authorities overseeing financial activities, and also public consultation processes which take place for a wide range of both operational and policy matters.
It is worth pointing out that all local authority work is delivered in line with the regulatory requirements and visibility frameworks of the Freedom of Information Acts, the Regulation of Lobbying Act and the Local Government Act 2001 as amended (maintaining an Ethics Register).
The National Oversight & Audit Commission (NOAC) is a statutory body that oversees the local government sector including scrutinising performance against indicators, for customer service and financial performance. NOAC also monitors local authority adherence to Service Level Agreements and policy implementation. NOAC provides an independent mechanism to monitor and evaluate the local authorities’ performance. All such reports are published and publicised.
The latest NOAC Report on Performance Indicators (2016) published in January (2018) found that together Ireland’s 31 local authorities have over 1.16 million social media followers (Twitter and Facebook) and 59 million website page views. As an example of Wexford County Council’s engagement in Twitter, we received more than 500,000 impressions on our Twitter account during the recent Storm Emma severe weather event.
It is important to state that Wexford Council welcomes the report of TI as a means of raising awareness of our services and suggesting ways to improve our communications with our customers, particularly in relation to the timeliness of publishing information to our website. With this in mind, and in cooperation with the County & City Managers’ Association (CCMA), Wexford County Council plans to review the TI report and to explore any constructive suggestions to help improve our services, our levels of public engagement and our communication channels.
“Customer service and information provision are key to our remit in providing essential public services,” says Tony Larkin, Deputy Chief Executive of Wexford County Council. “We are committed to good communications and providing accurate up-to-date information to the public and we now communicate with the public largely on Twitter and Facebook as well as by telephone, in person, written correspondence and through our websites.
Funding for local authorities is primarily concentrated on delivering essential activities like managing severe weather events, roads maintenance and housing, as well as generating jobs and tourism and enhancing our communities through libraries, playing pitches, parks and leisure facilities. Like many other organisations, we would welcome more people, more expertise and more funding for Communications but we have to be responsible in how we manage public funds, and that means prioritising delivery of essential services,” concluded Mr. Larkin.