NIO Minister of State to NI Environment Minister: Decision Time On Local Government Reform

The new team at the Northern Ireland Office [NIO] have made their first foray into local politics here.  

A statement from the new NIO Minister of State, Hugo Swire MP, reveals that he has sent a letter to the NI Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, telling Mr Poots that “it was still possible to hold the elections to 11 new Councils in May 2011 but a decision to bring the Order [ to give effect to the new local government boundaries] before the Assembly needed to be made before the end of the month otherwise planning for elections in May 2011 would have to be on the basis of the existing 26 councils.”

From the NIO statement

In a letter to the Environment Minister, Mr Swire said that the fact that an Order to give effect to the new local government boundaries had not yet been brought before the Assembly was “…a matter of some concern and urgent action is now required”.

The district council elections were due to be held in May 2009 but the Executive asked the then Government to delay them until May 2011 so that they could take place on the basis of the new 11 council model.

The programme to take this forward, agreed between the NIO and the Department of the Environment, required the early appointment of a District Electoral Areas Commissioner by the Secretary of State and an Order passed by the Assembly confirming the new boundaries in autumn 2009.

The Commissioner was appointed on 1 July 2009 but has been unable to commence substantive work on the grouping of wards because the Assembly has still not passed the Order.

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  • UlsterScotty

    Fully expect this whole thing to be funked spectacularly. I look forward to the explanation furnished by the relevant minister, particularly since party colleague Shammy has registered his view that it should be proceeded with to contribute savings at this time of economic austerity.
    Btw, why the patchy response to the ending of local double jobbing. If MLAs weren’t also sitting councillors, surely the debate would be more robust.
    Alternatively, if sitting councillors declared an interest and withdrew, might that not make the debate more robust.

  • alan56

    Totally ridiculous that at a difficult economic time we still have all these councils. Is this symptomatic of our dysfunctional Executive?

  • Mrazik

    Or a “not fit for purpose” Environment Minister?

  • alan56

    People need to start asking questions about this.

  • HarryJ

    People need to start asking questions about this…………

    alan why not ask Reg Empey your beloved ex-leader, hes in the executive after all

  • alan56

    Hi Harry,
    Good to hear from you. Wrong on two counts, but not surprised.
    1) Empey is not my leader
    2) I think he is still leader of UUP
    Do you think we need all these councils and if so why?

  • Local Government Officer

    There are no real savings. A guesstimated £138m savings against £400m-odd savings.

    Over 25 years.

    There are no real savings.

  • Local Government Officer

    I’ll give you a non-Empey related response, Alan.

    We probably don’t need all these councils. I am no defender of them. However, until they start transferring proper functions, not just the ones they don’t want, from Central to Local Government, the whole thing is not worth bothering with.

    Councils “take up” around 3.5-4.5% of the NI pot. Just to re-emphasise that, because people like to ignore it when it suits: 3.5-4.5% of the NI pot.

    They will make their efficiencies just like everyone else – we’ll take the pay freeze, the recruitment stoppage, the cuts in functions and so on. But at that figure, it’s piecemeal. Not to deflect anything, but if the public want lower rates and taxation from local government, as I have written before, the public have a part to play too.

  • UlsterScotty

    Is the symbolism not the point, like the Maze Stadium, rather than the reality? And LGO, your percentage point is what, exactly? We shouldn’t worry about 3.5 -4.5%? Perhaps fewer heart ops would be a more palatable efficiency?

  • I seem to recall that Poots was using up time trying to move Dunmurry back to Lisburn from Belfast, but of course not to ensure that there wouldn’t a nationalist majority on Belfast City Council, oh no… (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8359953.stm)

    Ask anyone in Dunmurry where they belong out of Lisburn and Belfast, and they will go with their postcode and phone number – Belfast.

    It is an absolute disgrace that years after the work began, with all the work that has been done to date, even allowing for the change of plan from 7 councils to 11, that millions have been wasted just talking about how to do it with no actual result. What a waste of our regional rates and tax.

  • Local Government Officer

    Ok, perhaps this is easier – the size and scale of the savings needed can’t be found in local government. £138m SPENT now to save £400m over TWENTY FIVE YEARS (PWC figures, might I add) isn’t going to work. It would have worked better if you’d had 26 councils doing the same work that our counterparts across the water do. In addition, moving the very few powers over that Central Government has deigned to give us – the very scraps from the table – only takes the cost of local government up to around 7% of the NI pot.

    Find some of what I had written earlier this month. No one IN local government really has any great beef with the RPA process. They’re already working jointly more now than ever to develop shared services, as they should have been 10 years ago or more. They’ve already taken hits in their block grants this year. They’re already working to make 5% efficiency savings during this financial year on top of that. As I wrote up the page, and which you also ignored: “we’ll take the pay freeze, the recruitment stoppage, the cuts in functions and so on. But at that figure, it’s piecemeal” especially in the timescale being imposed.

    By the way, the biggest cost to your rates bills each year, from the Council element? Leisure. Get rid of your pools/squash courts/tennis courts/playing fields/pavilions/sports facilities and your rates bill (from the Council element) will drop about 15%. More in smaller councils. I’m all for selling them off. But apparently, not every one can afford David Lloyd.

  • braniel unionist

    the 11 council model makes perfect sense to me but a candidate would require a minimum of 1000 first preference votes which rules out all independent-minded councillors.

  • Cynic

    Errr…we have a [population of 1.6 million – less than Manchester or Birmingham. Why do we need 9 or 11 or 26 councils at all. Why not have single tier Government?

    In effect Stormont is a county council with bells on. \There are tiers of officials whose jobs are to liaise with the Councils and the same applies below. So wipe the lot out and privatise t the core services like refuse collection, leisure services, dog licensing etc.

    That would give a real boost to local private sector businesses and minimise waste.

  • Cynic

    Local Government Officer

    Anyone who has has much contact with our councils and councillors knows just how much dynamic leadership there is and how efficient they are

  • Driftwood

    When is Sammy stepping down as finance minister to become a full time MP?

  • Local Government Officer

    Well if you expect MORE from your local government, do something about it.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Are we actually debating whether it is wise to spend a minimum of £138 million NOW in the HOPE we might save three times that over TWENTY FIVE years?
    Surely we cant afford to go ahead with RPA now? never mind the other problems with it, even though local councils have very little power and even less budgets they are essential, and probably can shave most of those saving of their budgets without the costs of starting from scratch.

  • joeCanuck

    Didn’t you hear Robinson just before the election? He asserted that it was essential that the leader of the DUP sat at both Westminster and Stormont. He’s just keeping the leader’s seat warm for a few months. Step forward Right Honourable Sammy.

  • Bungditin

    Exactly why should Reg Empey be answering questions on Poots’s incompetence and abuse of position?

    It is widely recognised that Poots is not the sharpest tool in the box. What is not widely publicised is his blatent abuse of power. As the minister responsible for taking forward RPA, Poots is delaying the process because the independent Boundary Commissioner has not accepted his objections, which he made as a local councillor, to proposed boundary changes affecting Castlereagh / Lisburn.

    A strong reason, if ever there was one, for ending double jobbing.

  • Local Government Officer

    Yip.