NI will suffer financially over council reform delay

The delay over council reform is a thundering disgrace, particularly at a time of big financial cuts .  For a newly appointed NIO minister to intervene in his second week in office to rebuke the Executive  for in effect, maladministration is utter humilation. These matters are supposed to be in local hands for goodness sake and here we have a – I was going to say – a direct rule minister forced to act like a colonial governor in the 1950s. It can only weaken Northern  Ireland’s hand in crucial discussions with Whitehall over the details of the block grant.

The postponement for another electoral cycle if it happens, also puts on hold the reform of the administration of education and to some extent health, the two biggest spenders. Edwin Poots promises “a new service delivery model within three months” What held him back up to now? Or is he being disingenuous, his fear being that the boundary review may result in Belfast finally going nationalist? If so, he should at least be honest about it.

  • cynic47

    It is a total disgrace that RPA is where it is at. Everyone involved in the discussions at local government level must feel that they have been made to look like right fools.Transition committee’s have been beavering away and in many cases transition managers have been employed. Democracy has been stood on its head with an additional unelected two year term having been handed to councillors who were elected on a four year mandate basis. Why have the ratepayers been denied an opportunity to speak on how they regard their representatives? Older councillors hung on without complaint for these additional two years on the back of the incentive of a redundancy package that is not now going to appear. They must feel a sense of having been conned when they could have been sitting with their feet up for the past two years if they had simply been allowed to retire from politics after their normal four year term. Perhaps as an interim gesture to saving some money the Assembly could drastically reduce the actual numbers of councillors on the existing council set up and save some money that way. We are way over governed at local level under the present numbers and while they are at it maybe they would consider reducing the number of MLA’s as well. I never see more than a handful of them in the chamber at Stormont at any one time. There must be quite a number of champion computor solitaire player at Stormont by now with all the practice they get!!

  • Cynic

    Honest about it? Oh do come on.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    I’m not quite following your train of thought on this one.

    In the comments zone of my earlier post on the intervention by the NIO Minister of State over the delay in local government reform the point is made about the cost of that reform

    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?

    As I mentioned at the time those figures were revealed

    According to the Economic Appraisal by PriceWaterhouseCoopers the preferred option, which would incur one-off costs of £126.6million, has “a projected saving of £438million over a 25-year period.” Which may seem slightly dubious given the lengthy time-scale involved…

  • dwatch

    ‘his fear being that the boundary review may result in Belfast finally going nationalist?’

    Has no one informed Edwin Poots Belfast has already gone Rep/Nat. Of the four Belfast MP’s two are Rep/Nat one is Unionist and one is Alliance.

  • If RPA were happen, and councils have more powers, and there are 11 of them and yet 12 Executive Departments, the question must be why 108 Assembly members, all those Ministers and all the rest? Only asking.

  • Brian Walker

    Pete, I think your’e telling me I missed your last post, which I did. However I think the point holds good and the reasoning is fair. NIO civil servants in the mouth of the new minister seem to think so. The length of time taken to reapportion costs between new “local” and former “regional” levels, the shift in the number of councils and the phasing of board appointments for an area the size of a metro English council is surely gross incompetence. coupled with an agenda about wards according to the Bel Tel. Granted the fiasco extends far beyond Edwin Poots to include the entire administration at political and civil service level. Such a costs hike to slim down administration would be laughable if it weren’t tragic.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    Sorry, I should have been clearer in asking for an explanation.

    I get the “gross incompetence” point.

    Although Poots, at several points, has stated that the boundaries have been passed by the First Minister’s office, but not the deputy First.

    What I don’t get is the “also puts on hold the reform of the administration of education and to some extent health”.

    Health administration has, as far as I’m aware, largely been reformed already – what’s still to be done?

    Education has been held up for some time. There may be a quid pro quo involved now with the RPA, but it seems unfair to place all the blame for that on Poots.

    As for potentially weakening the hand of the NI Executive in future talks on the block grant, that’s a bit too much ‘futuring’ for my liking.

    And I’m still not seeing the reasoning on this line – “Such a costs hike to slim down administration would be laughable if it weren’t tragic.”

    The costs I’ve mentioned come from the PwC report if the councils are slimmed down.

  • Mrazik

    Pete,

    For me the RPA is fundamentally about creating a healthier democracy and having proper accountability, particularly over issues such as planning – the present Planning Service being largely unaccountable and desperately unresponsive.

    You’re on record many times talking about the dysfunctionality of the Stormont administration (and I largely agree) but why would you not therefore support devolution of further powers to the local level where things can actually get done regardless of the central carve-up?

    The RPA is of course not without significant dangers, including over issues such as planning, but we must surely think of the long-term health of our democracy and if the local councillors play silly buggers, vote them out (they will after all be more directly accountable for the decisions).

  • Local Government Officer

    “Health administration has, as far as I’m aware, largely been reformed already – what’s still to be done?”

    Not an expert on that end of things, but I think there is some discussion of having to rejig it AGAIN to be co-terminous with the new areas? I stand to be corrected.

    Also I agree with Pete’s point about the impact on the block grant. While everyone looks at the Councils because they have direct involvement from elected members, rejigs in health and education are much more important, if only because of the trifling amount that Councils cost. It’s a nice bit of sleight of hand.

  • just sayin’

    LGO … no thoughts at present on health re-jigging for co-terminosity. That was a lost cause ages ago.

    The PWC costs are well inflated and savings under-played – they say this fairly clearly e.g. costs include a mammoth IT investment and extraordinary generous severance terms.

    Whilst councillors and councils have their moments (and they really do!) they are infinitely more productive, accountable and efficient than the NICS and quangos.

    Remember that UK local government is massive – more than double the size of the NHS (except in NI).

  • Brian Walker

    Pete , from the PWC report you quote – “the annual Local Government Costs are expected to rise from £623.2million to £763.4million while the annual Central Government Costs would fall from £138.5million to £5.1million” –
    the net costs seem to be about £7 million, with ” one -off” costs of £126m.. Whatever they are exactly, in an annual budget of £7 -8 billion this is comparative chicken feed but it makes little sense to add costs in order to slim down. It is in any case a poor excuse for endless delay.

    On the block grant after years of contact with Treasury and NIO civil servants, my instinct is that these costs will at last have to be absorbed.

    On health, I understood from memory that the new councils were to have an accountability function for local provision.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    “It is in any case a poor excuse for endless delay.”

    “Whatever they are exactly, in an annual budget of £7 -8 billion this is comparative chicken feed but it makes little sense to add costs in order to slim down.”

    Eh? It’s the slimming down which adds that cost.

    And your instinct isn’t evidenced on the block grant.

    No mention of the Health and Education “reform”?

    Education I’ve already referenced, Health seems to be,at most, a requirement to re-adjust to the proposed new council boundaries.

    But if they don’t exist…

  • Pete Baker

    Mrazik

    “You’re on record many times talking about the dysfunctionality of the Stormont administration (and I largely agree) but why would you not therefore support devolution of further powers to the local level where things can actually get done regardless of the central carve-up?”

    Eh? I haven’t said anything about my support, or otherwise, for the devolution of further powers to local level.

  • redhugh

    Poots is putting his own political interests ahead of RPA.

  • jon the raver

    RPA is an absolute disgrace – the turkeys won’t decide on catering for Christmas – what a surprise.

    RPA should be decided on and implemented at the first opportunity.
    Councils have played their own part on bringing about this impasse – councillors not wanting to give up decent expense accounts and talking shops.

    Every council in NI should be amalgamated to become Stormont Council – one authority to do it all.
    How many councils/authorities across the world are responsible for many millions more than the 1.5 million people in NI who are represented by thousands of politicians?

    It would also end the shame-ful dodging of responsibility by public authorities – I have witnessed first hand the likes of the Roads Service/ coucnils / NI Water / you name them – they have all blamed each other – when they are all at fault.

    TIME for a bigger Assembly – and no more coucnils – the only people to lose out would be highly paid directors and chief executive who push massive job losses among their ranks – absolute shame and disgrace!

  • Local Government Officer

    Jon, that’s one of the most absolutely uninformed, blinkered, and ridiculous posts I’ve read yet.

    Well done.

  • just sayin’

    Jon, largest UK council Birmingham 1.2m population. NI 1.7m.

    Whilst Yorkshire may be the size of NI it doesn’t have one council (just to burst another myth).

    Many countries have MANY more councils/ elected politicians than NI, UK, RoI. See France, Sweden.

    Unfortunately there ain’t a right answer for how many councils, politicians etc. Not sure in NI we have really debated the choices through in a meaningful way.

  • jon the raver

    Why is this uninformed?
    I want to know why a project that has spent 100 million plus
    Will most likely be dumped?
    What is there in this day and age that necessitates a small provicne having 26 – 26 ! councils ?
    Technology has moved on there is no need for it – it is excessive

    Why can’t Stormont coordinate and do the work of a council?
    Retain regional ‘hubs’ so that bins are collected, leisure centres and parks maintained, births marriages deaths registered etc…..

    This is a real joke – clearly the Assembly members do not want to be seen to do anything.
    Remember there is an election next year (again) and our politicians will be seen to make all thright noises – leving us in limbo.
    TOUGH- get it sorted now for all our sakes – how about starting at the top – 25 per cent cut in all MLA salary and budgets? ? ?

    And i’m guessing here but would I be right to think that ‘senior’ local government officer would be a better name?
    Not wanting to decide on catering for Christmas?

  • jon the raver

    While others may have more councils is NI not one of the most over represented countries in western society ?

    There is need for cuts – and public representation should be first on the list – before hospitals, schools, police !

  • just sayin’

    That is an excellent question … is it?

    I suspect in some areas YES and some NO. Similarly some ‘public representatives’ are fairly costly (MLA’s, MP’s etc) and others are not.

    A councillor costs roughly £9.5k. Not in the same league as the others (particularly when you add on office expenses which the others get and Councillors don’t).

    E.g. – 1 Chief Exec = c10 Cllrs (cost wise).

    There could well be room for some saving here, but the big stuff means fewer employees in the main – is the public up for that?

    Do we need and Equality Commission AND a Human Rights Commission (when GB only needs one)?

    Do we need all the quangos and do they add value? DFP produce a directory to NI public bodies – its on their web site and if you can’t find £50m of savings reading through it in 10 minutes I’ll buy you a pint!