Welcome clearing of the council decks?

Brian Feeney’s column this week is in direct contrast with much of the public reaction to Peter Hain’s announcement on – the RPA proposals announced on Tuesday. He thinks Hain has done Northern Ireland a huge favour in cutting the number of councillors on the public books.In particular he notes:

Councillors make up 40% of education and library board membership and a hefty percentage of all the other quango membership that wastes hundreds of millions of pounds. How do they get there? Answer: they elect themselves or the party nominates them.

Some of them sit on so many boards, committees and advisory bodies that they can’t attend them all so they make a bee-line for the ones with attendance allowances and travelling expenses.

There are dozens of councillors who have made a reasonable living for years out of arriving late for meetings and leaving early so they can rush off to the next paying meeting and pick up another attendance allowance.

And its worse where there is little competition with other parties:

Unionists are the worst at this scam especially in councils which they control and exclude nationalists from all outside bodies, though there are a fair number of nationalists at it too where they are cock of the walk.

He’s not sanguine about the savings that headlined the PR effort of the NIO on Tuesday:

The £200 million plus saving that the NIO predicts will only happen if there’s massive redundancies at the top of each board, trust and council. It’s a safe bet that won’t happen. Just watch the same number of senior people who built quintuplicated empires in five education boards and 26councils miraculously surviving to cluster together claiming they need monster salaries to administer one huge education board and seven large councils.

  • Scotsman

    The only thing I disagree with in this is in Slugger’s introduction. I’d venture the bulk of ordinary people are perfectly happy with 7 councils and a reduction in quango numbers.

    Feeney has it right.

  • Adrian

    Feeney is right in his descriptions of the self-serving nature of so many of NI’s politicians. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if one of the reasons that the republicans have dumped arms is that they have realised a councillor’sallowance is a better number than 10 years in the Kesh 🙂

    The really important thing about these changes – which nobody seems to be too interested in – is that the council’s will have authority and responsibility. Suddenly somebody is going to have to face up to the tough choices about local services.

    Of course they could do that in the 1922 – 1972 way of ‘all of for out lot, none for them uns’. But I doubt that even the DUP think they can get away with that any more.

    And that will force the electorate to choose too. Because, let’s face it, “the Brits will pay for our stupidity” is an attitude that stretches well beyond the ranks of the pols.

    Sorry folks – but just like water: if you want something better you’re going to have to payand if you don’t want to pay it won’t get better.

  • Ah, I see what you mean Scotsman. I meant public as in the press. But if the TalkBack of Tuesday was anything to go by, most of the public (and some councillors) won’t be unhappy in the least.

    Also, there are more than a few politicians who privately agree with Feeney too.

  • Crataegus

    Feeney has it wrong. This is an argument for reorganising and reducing all the Quangoes and Government Departments and getting rid of unnecessary boards etc. No one disagrees with that. The money to be saved is in the Government sectors and not in actual Council expenditure.

    Reorganising Local Councils is an entirely different issue and I am off the opinion that the cost of the re-organisation could exceed any possible savings in that sector. There are all sorts of issues that this proposal threatens; local democracy; how the Planning Service will work within these structures etc. It has not been thought through properly.

    Think for one moment of all the costs associated with Council reorganisation and ask will it make bin collection cheaper? If it doesn’t why incur the cost?

  • Pete Baker

    One thing to note, Mick. Lord Rooker was doing everything he could to disassociate himself from the figure of £200million that Brian Feeney is waving around.

    No figures exist.. I’d suggest it’s been plucked from the air.

    But Brain misses the point on quangos. The overwhelming number of quangos, and the overwhelming expenditure, were not included in the announcement this week.

  • Butterknife

    I find myself partly in agreement with Brian. Its not solely the quid pro quo of gerrypandering but the conflict of interests that arise out of MLA cum councillor cum MP, e.g. The Robinsons of Castlereagh:

    http://www.castlereagh.gov.uk/portal/alias__Rainbow/lang__en-US/tabID__3329/DesktopDefault.aspx

    The husband represents Central Castlereagh whereas his wife represents the East. He is MP of East Belfast whereas she is MP of Strangford.
    They are both MLAs, and, when he was minister in the Executive for transport (or what ever it was called) he still did not put his hands up and say there was a conflict of interest.

  • Richard

    Butterknife – you forgot to mention young Gareth Robinson… Elected in May 2005 as a councillor of Castelreagh East as well as his Mum.

    Do you think the three of them form a quorum around the dinner table, chez chateau Robinson??

  • Butterknife

    I seriously didn’t think he was a relation – whats the chances he will try for MP next time?

  • Zorro

    Brian has it wrong. He appears to be wilfully disingenuous. Reducing the much replicated and unnecessary bureaucratic Government expenditure is clearly the right way to go and I doubt you will find anyone to disagree with this. I agree with Crataegus who states that The money to be saved is in the Government sectors and not in actual Council expenditure. Brian glosses over this point and I would like to see him address this point.

  • Animus

    I will be delighted if councillors’ automatic places on boards are abolished. If public bodies are to be more representative, getting rid of councillors is a great first step. A member of the public must apply through public appointments, whereas councillors take up seats as the parties see fit. There are councillors who have been sitting on boards for years, not attending meetings, not putting forward any ideas, just collecting the allowance. Good riddance.

    From what I’ve heard from people in the know, many of the senior management in councils are setting themselves up for consultancy and spending the transition period skilling up so they can get out of the councils altogether. It’s the next level down who are ready to cut each other’s throats for whatever positions will be available.

  • Scotsman

    What I find disturbing is that many politicos see the council reorganisation as some deliberate ploy by Hain to annoy various local parties, maybe even to chivvy them back to Stormont.

    I prefer to see it as pretty bog standard government policy. Reduce the number of councils and councillors and pile on more responsibilities. These new responsibilities are more accountable than under Stormont or the Quangocracy. The reason for increasing the size of councils in NI is partly about giving them enough scale to tackle their new responsibilities.

    With 15 councils, you have another 8 chief executives, another 8 planning comittees, another 8 etc etc.

    Presumably folk are suspicious because Sinn Fein agree with the plan. But sometimes you can be right for the wrong reasons.

  • idunnomeself

    one point i think a lot of people might have missed is that these are RPA DECISIONS, not proposals. From now on in people will be starting to work to make this happen- and every month that passes makes reversals more and more complicated and expensive.

    Incidentally siing as a swath of government spends their time talking to each other to ‘join up’ services the less bodies tehre are to join up should mean savings- in service provision and in staff time.

    Like if you wanted an obesity strategy in an area now you’d need half a dozen health providers and a bunch of councils and 4 education groups at least. In a few years time you’ll need one from each, so much easier to get things going, therefore more cash effective services.

    The small number of councils is sensible becasue of the smaller number of other organisations

  • Animus

    The staff re-organisation has not be finalised as yet. There is still quite a bit of ‘change management’ to be organised.

  • Crataegus

    Scotsman

    As a matter of interest what is the average population in a council area in Scotland?

    One of the problems is that the council areas proposed just do not make sense from a Town Planning point of view. These new structures will cause problems.

    I would remind you that the existing councils do cooperate to provide services. The Building Control Department is a good example of this and it works exceedingly well. There can be a unitary structure without actually needing to unify the councils and in fact such a system would be a lot more flexible.

    Please let us avoid all the nugatory costs of merging. If someone could please tell me where the savings in COUNCIL expenditure is going to come from? Less bin men, Building Control and Public Health Officers? From my experience most council services are fairly well run. I REPEAT the problem is the Quangoes and the daft multiplicity of government departments to run a place this size. But who set most of these bodies up; local politicians or the blow ins who are proposing this nonsense? By all means stop or reduce the opportunities for expenses and pile on some real work for councillors to address, but there does need to be an effective, approachable LOCAL political structure.

    We are in danger of taking apart something that works to solve the problems of other bodies that are of questionable value. I personally believe the boundaries proposed illustrate a complete lack of understanding of this place, a disregard for participatory politics, and a lack of any clarity of vision. It really has not been thought through in any detail. NEW Labour strikes again.

  • idunnomeself

    Crataegus
    Ultimately the suggestions in the RPA were put forward by NI civil servants after extensive consultation with NI inhabitants.

    Do you think that Peter Hain was presented with a map and a pencil on Tuesday morning?

    The abundance of complex Quangos exist becasue there is weak local government (who can’t take on the tasks) but who all have to be represented-thus their size and unweildyness.

    In order to save money elsewhere the reduction in Council numbers is necessary.

    Besides I don’t think you understand how small some of them are. They have obligations that they are trying to meet with a handful of staff. They are too small, as they stand now, to actually do what is required of them- witness the length of time it took them to start recycling schemes. The bigger they are the more functions they can take on and the less unaccountable quangos are necessary