Minister responsible for Council reform told by Castle time is over for debate…

None of us should take for granted the benefits of having our politicians work together after years of bloody violence on Belfast streets. But here’s a good example of what happens when someone wants to get something done.

If it is a Sinn Fein Education Minister who wants to abolish selection in schools, s/he cannot do so without agreement between both parties in Stormont Castle (aka OFMDFM). Now we are seeing the opposite dynamic in train. Both Sinn Fein and the DUP have taken a decision in the Castle they are now trying to force feed the non Castle Minister charged with delivery of the long overdue council reforms.

The Minister, Alex Attwood cites a couple of reasons for reconsidering the Castle’s 11 council deal:

…the reduction of the 18 Westminster constituencies to 16 and the councils’ own initiative aimed at achieving savings through greater sharing — the Improvement, Collaboration and Efficiency (ICE) programme. He denied his suggestion ahead of tomorrow’s Executive meeting will stir up new confusion [emphasis added].

You can see the problem from both angles. Decision making at the top level has been treacle like. Despite the new administration being formed in March, there’s no sign yet of a completed Programme for Governement. New confusion where the big two can actually agree is clearly unwelcome.

On the other hand, the Minister wants to maximise the relevance and quality of the decisions emanating from the department of which he is titular (and executive) head. I don’t think they can actually make him to enforce their solution, but they will try to use the only viable weapon open to politicians at Stormont, the blame game.

The delay has very much emanated from the Castle, but now united, they will certainly play what cards they hold to transfer the blame for that longer term delay onto the Minister…

So goes the trench warfare that is Stormont politics…

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  • 241934 john brennan

    Fair play to Alex Attwood. Not only as the minister responsible for implementing local government reform was he kept in the dark about OFMDFM (DUP/SF joint decisions), he was also the only minister in the Stormont Executive to vote against the imposition of a pensions levy on the pay packets of all public servants –when the matter was rubber stamped the Executive a month ago.

    Then OFMDFM didn’t have the guts to discuss the matter in the Assembly, nor did they inform the public service unions –probably in the hope that they could put all the blame on Westminster (Tory Cuts).

    It should be noted that the Edinburgh parliament remains opposed to passing on this levy to public servants in Scotland.

    Therefore the Northern Ireland public service unions are right, when they accuse the Stormont Executive of being both secretive and cowardly. Alex Attwood may also agree with that but, as a minister in the executive, is not in a position to publically say so.

  • Barnshee

    More whining NI is already outrageously subsidised by the English tax payer If you want moe money raise it yourself

  • huntsman

    It is not often I agree with wee Alex but on this occasion he is right. In fact, there is nothing wrong with 26 Councils if they can keep the bills down. The Councils are now in existence so lomg that we have gotten used to them. Most upheavals in local Government end up being bad for the citzenry. In the US and Canada there are many small councils. It is called local democracy and is good for mantaining a community identity. The Sinners and the DUP have enough pickings already, without dividing out local Government between themselves.

  • lamhdearg

    sorry to go off topic, but as no one has posted a thread (two days), “Nottinghamshire MP Vernon Coaker is the new shadow Northern Ireland secretary,” from BBC web news, anyone get any interesting titbits on the man?.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The part I don’t get is that about six months ago the DUP rejected the need to press ahead with the council reforms.

    At the time, they did the sums and worked out that it would be between one and two decades before the cost of implementing the reforms would be paid back, and that this couldn’t be justified at the time of the recession. My recollection was that the logic – and the maths – seemed sound.

    So is anyone going to ask the Executive why these proposals, deemed too expensive less than a year ago, are now being dusted off ?

  • Local Government Officer

    Hopefully from memory, I can get these correct…

    £450m savings over a TWENTY FIVE year period
    £120m in costs to reform
    for a part of the public sector pot which costs between 3-5% of the total.

    As I say, these are from memory, I stand to be corrected. Nonetheless, they came from PriceWaterhouse, if I recall correctly. So that means they’ll be wildly wrong. And not in the favour of the public purse either. Here’s a snippet where some of the MLAs can’t even agree on figures:

    Even with those desultory parts of central (Belfast) government activities that were to be passed to local councils, the total cost of councils would not have gone beyond 6% of the total cost of the public sector.

    There are bigger, more substantial savings to be made elsewhere. The wrangle over councils is smoke and mirrors, and for some reason, everyone seems willing to follow this story over others…