Robinson: “This will test the enthusiasm of the Executive for making savings in local government.”

As Brian has already noted, Northern Ireland First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, has set out his views on the desirability of a “single educational system” hereAs, previously, did the NI Secretary of State.  We’ll wait to see if the deputy First Minister is still “all for it”.

But in his speech Peter Robinson also tackled some of Sinn Féin’s recent economic proposals.

From the DUP leader’s speech

Another red herring thrown across the debate to deflect attention from the issue is that savings could instead be made through setting up the Education and Skills Authority or by Reforming local government but that my party had rejected these alternatives.

But whatever we do, or do not do, on these issues, it is not an argument for doing nothing in relation to the size of government. However, rather than deploying the tactics of my political opponents, let me address these issues head on.

I remain committed to local government reform but the financial reality is that to have proceeded on the basis proposed would have cost £118 million pounds over the next three years to achieve savings over 25 years of £130 million.

When Edwin Poots brought forward his reform proposals he identified the potential of over £400 million of savings.  However, this was predicated on the introduction of a Single Waste Authority – a concept which Sinn Fein in particular opposed.  Without that element the savings would only be £130 million over a period of one quarter of a century.  To access these savings it would be necessary to spend £118 million – up front – in the first three years while the Tory cuts would be biting most deeply in Northern Ireland.   In the present fiscal environment that is simply money that is not available to the Executive and the profile of the cost and savings would never justify taking such a step now.   Yet, that does not mean that the existing councils cannot collaborate to achieve significant efficiencies and create savings in advance of the structural reorganisation of local government.  In the meantime we can also press ahead with many of the governance arrangements which command widespread support. 

I have asked Edwin to bring a paper back to the Executive on this issue in the coming weeks.  This will test the enthusiasm of the Executive for making savings in local government.