Three fine houses in Charlestown, County Mayo, erected by Mayo County Council about ten years ago, sitting idle in the middle of a homelessness crisis! A great monument to incompetence!
Well, the incompetence is not necessarily that of the County Council. It could be the incompetence of a system that renders Councils quadriplegic.
The County Council apparently provided these homes to three families, but, by all accounts, the families thrashed the insides of the houses and left. At any rate, the houses lie idle for several years now.
There are many empty houses, all over the country, probably thousands, in the hands of County Councils, because they appear to be unable to re-equip and re-assign the houses, presumably because of multiple regulations and red tape - while around 10,000 people are homeless in the country.
I have not researched the regulations that tie the hands of council managers, but they come from a number of sources:
- politicians (Deputies and Councillors) who lay down rules that seek to achieve fair-play, but instead take away the discretion of managers;
- European Union regulations with a similar purpose, but even more remote from the place where action is needed;
- Health and Safety concerns, which restrict who may be assigned to tasks and in what circumstances, and
- "Risk Management," i.e., not to do anything that might result in legal action being taken.
Let me tell you a little anecdote about action without red tape. Nairobi City Council once approached a nun who had a reputation for rapid implementation of low-cost education projects, and asked her if she would take possession of a field of theirs for educational purposes. Sr Mary agreed, and immediately set about the project. The field urgently needed to be bull-dozed and to be securely fenced to protect it from squatters. She asked a local business-man if he would sponsor these two tasks, which he agreed to do. She happened to pass a building site, where she spotted a bulldozer lying idle. She approached the supervisor of the site and inquired if the bulldozer and a driver would be available for a small project. She made a deal on the spot and had her site leveled without delay. She took the bill for the work to the sponsor, and he said to her: "Where are your three invoices and your reasons for choosing this one?"
There are good reasons for wise traditions and practices around the giving of contracts, but very often nothing can beat the discretionary wisdom of a manager, who, by decisive action, using his own intelligence and vision, can get things done quickly and efficiently without all the hoo-haa. A county manager or Principal Officer should be able to assign a contractor, or a team of council workers, to repair a house, have it certified by an architect or engineer, and re-assign it to someone on the housing list, without any further fuss. Even the need for three invoices should be dispensed with, if the council already has had dealings with contractors who have proven their reliability, within a price range judged fair by the council's quantity surveyor.