Local government reforms are running up against it again, in The House of Lords this time of all places, Ulster Unionist Peer and former leader Lord Empey has described the proposed local government arrangements as “ one of Stormont’s worst reforms” and warned that local government elections planned for 2014 are on a knife edge in terms of the amount of time available to prepare for them. He was speaking following a debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday evening, on a proposal to give the Secretary of State powers to appoint a District Electoral Areas Commissioner, charged with drawing up proposals to set new DEA boundaries for the Super Councils, these DEAs are the areas individual Councillors cover and can determine to an extent the make up of the council. In his press release based on the speech Lord Empey stated,
“It is clear it will be next summer, at the earliest, before this work can be completed. Indeed it is likely that it could take even longer meaning that the time to prepare for these elections will be very short – perhaps only a few months. Given that this process started in 2001, and it will be 2015 before the new Councils take power, it will have taken 14 years to reorganise local government for a mere 1.8 million people! This is hardly Stormont’s finest hour.”
Lord Empey then went on to described some of the proposals for the new Councils as ‘barking mad’ pointing out that Northern Ireland was being treated different from the rest of the UK, because the Local Government Boundaries Commissioner was legally prohibited from taking ‘local identity’ into account in drawing up the new areas,
“In what other country would ‘local identity’ be not considered as a material factor in determining the most appropriate arrangements for local government? As a result of these proposals which were developed and led by the DUP and Sinn Fein we have an unwanted merger of Fermanagh and Omagh Councils, a bizarre proposal to link Strabane Council area which includes Castlederg with Londonderry City, when it should be joined with adjacent Omagh, and the outrageous proposals for Belfast where Ballybeen and the Dundonald area will be part of Lisburn!”
“The proposals for Belfast are nothing short of a gerrymander and will leave the City constrained by boundaries fixed over 100 years ago, rather than boundaries which reflect the City of the 21st Century.”
Lords Kilclooney, Browne and Morrow disagreed and give their full backing to the 11 council proposals, although they also expressing strong concerns that the timescale was difficult. In reply on behalf of the government Baroness Randerson indicated that once appointed the Commissioner could take up to a year to decide the new boundaries.
If the position of Commissioner has to be advertised it is unlikely any appointment will take place before the new year, presuming that appointment goes smoothly, it could then take a year deciding the DEA boundaries as each area needs to host an inquiry, that takes us up to early 2014, with the Euro elections set for 6th Junes, and nominations opening 6 weeks or so before hand. That gives parties weeks, not months, to reconstitute associations select candidates, agents etc. for entirely new councils.
Once again RPA is proving to be the most farcical show in town, but of course it dosn’t make as entertaining viewing as finger pointing and name calling, a little something like the shape of local government for the rest of our liftime dosn’t really compete so long as the big two are in agreement.