26 / 11 = 438,000,000 – 150,000,000 / 25

On Tuesday in the assembly the Minister of Environment laid down the “ 2012 Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012”, why he calls it “2012” twice I don’t knows as the current proposals won’t take effect till 2015, were drawn up in 2009, based on information gathered in 2008, from a process began by Peter Hain in 2005, as part of the Review of Public Administration launched in 2002.  Tha’ts right for ten long years we have listened to the debate back and forwards concerning the “All New Super Councils” originally seven, then eleven, with rumours of fifteen, it has gone round in circles, and in the meantime the existing system has fallen apart…
Hold on that’s not true, in the meantime our existing twenty six councils have got on with the job pretty well, yes there are squabbles and white elephant schemes, but new councils won’t be any different in that respect, in fact probably much more prone to such excesses, but I guess 26 councils obviously cost much more to operate than 11, right? That is the main purpose of the exercise, to save money and Price Waterhouse Cooper have published the figures to back it up, so it is a done deal.
According to the PWC report of 2009 (yes it is already 3 years out of date and based on much older information ) they projected savings of £438 million pounds over twenty five years, TWENTY FIVE YEARS, I would love to have their crystal ball, twenty five years ago a gallon of petrol cost about the same as a litre does today, you got a fish supper for a pound and Isle of Mann was an exotic holiday, but taking it at face value that is less than 18 million a year, or 0.18% of the executive budget. However that is not the bottom line figure, the cost on implementation is estimated at between 120-150 million, to be paid up front, in the middle of a recession, by the councils themselves, with many thinking the cost is grossly underestimated, but even on face value there will be financial pain for the next decade at least with only hints of savings many years ahead. You heard me ITS GONNA COST MONEY for quite sometime when we can least afford it.
So where do the projected savings come from? Very little of it is from reduced administration, or less councillors, or even getting rid of Mayor’s limos, most of the options looked at were “cost neutral” at very best, in reality much of the reorganizational benefits will be far outweighed by costs. Going through the PWC figure the real savings (based on that generous 25 yr timescale) come from implementing two additional reforms not mentioned in the original proposals, firstly:-
“A regional Business Services Organisation delivering a range of collaborative services to the New 11 councils”; and secondly-
“A single Waste Disposal Authority providing a holistic view of waste disposal management across NI”.

The second proposal essentially means centralising waste disposal, in reality stripping it of the councils and bring it under Stormont’s control, there may be merit in this proposal, but it is irrelevant if you are taking the powers of 26, 15, 11 or 7 councils, so if that is the case is there any need to carry out the rest of the reforms? The other proposal is a little more complex, can anyone tell me what a “Regional Business Services Organisation” is?  wading through the jargon (PWC are exceptionally good at doing jargon!) it seems to include such things as centralising Finance & Personnel for the entire councils, that’s right stripping the 26, 15, 11, 7 of their finance and personnel departments, more centralisation by the back door. Bound to save money right? And of course be more efficient, just look at AccountsNI, a similar project carried out across the Stormont departments, supposed to cost less than a million, but actually costing ten times that!

So back to that figure again, the magic £438 million, nearly two third of it is solely based on centralising bins and finance, centralisation which it seems does not require a reduction in Council numbers, and was not part of the original proposals, meanwhile the other third is going to end up wasted on the transition costs. These are best case figures, in reality the costs are ALWAYS greater and the saving less, and for what, 11 councils which most people will hate, pitting town against town, destroying identities developed over decades. Remember these were to be “Super Councils” it wasn’t just the size that was to be super, they were to gain many more powers, but one by one these powers have reverted to the centre, and for the proposals to work even more will be stripped from them. From what I can see these are disastrous proposals from whatever viewpoint you take, and are simply being forced through for the simple reason no-one is will to back down at so late a stage.

From these figures it is obvious that any cost savings from reducing the councils to 11 is questionable to say the least, however if the benefits to society were significant enough the project could be worth proceeding with, I beleive however the proposals are an even bigger social disaster than an economic one, but I will save that argument for another day, surely on financial reasons alone the pug should be pulled now before it is too late?

  • Framer

    Wot about the redundancy costs? No public sector re-arrangement is worth pursuing without enormous redundancy pay-outs that are supposed to finance themselves eventually, but don’t, as they also involve a longer-term aspect of heightened pensions. And the people get rehired anyway, like teachers and police.

  • Quincey Dougan

    Can we view the wards yet? Specifically can we see where we are losing councillors??

  • cynic2

    Wot about the redundancy costs?

    I hear that all those Councillors want a redundancy scheme – three years pay plus perks

  • cynic2

    Lets be revolutionary. Why do we need them at all?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Quincey, the wards have been out for 3 years now, not sure if they are online though. The DEA’s havn’t been set yet so it hard to work out seats, however you can prob make a good stab at it. From your perspective it turns Armagh Unionist in the new council area.

    Framer, thats exactly why the 120-150 million is regarded by most as an under estimate, I don’t think there is a Cllr reduncy scheme atm. although some are pushing for one!

    Cynic, I think its good having a lower tier, but it dosn’t have to be that expensive or powerful, my idea is reduce by about 50%, centralise bins & building control, but devolve parking, forest parks, planning and historic buildings, but thats just of the top of my head.

  • RyanAdams

    Boundaries here:


    Belfast won’t really be any different than what it is today – Nationalist plurality but no control. Still think its a big fat gerrymander – Dundonald, Carryduff and Four Winds look to Lisburn? News to me!

  • I’m inclined to agree that this reform won’t help much – $438 million savings over 25 years is peanuts really.

    I would add that it’s really unfortunate that this could not have happened even two months earlier to allow for the wards to be the basis of the new Westminster boundaries. As far as I am aware the Boundary Commission actually cannot take into account any new information submitted to them at this point; their own first report said nothing at all about the new boundaries and I think literally one of the published submissions responding to that report cited them. So the new Westminster boundaries will be based on wards drawn up in 1993, which will have been superseded before those new boundaries are implemented; and there will therefore be even less overlap than usual between the Westminster/Assembly and local government boundaries.

    The Westminster elections are doomed to perpetual revision thanks to the coalition government’s legislation, but there is no good reason why this should affect the Assembly as well. The current revisions break the link between Assembly and Westminster constituencies in Wales, already broken in Scotland some time ago. Once the new local government boundaries have been introduced, each of the new local government districts should elect Assembly members proportional to their size; let the Westminster seats continue their crazy dance of perpetual revision, and allow a system with a more genuine local basis to take root for the Assembly.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Does anyone have any eye bleach for me seeing the bad maths above?

    I know it’s like meant to have some subtext … but I think that’s not helping me.

  • The Raven

    This is, frankly, one of the greatest wastes this Assembly has come up with yet.

    Your councils cost around 4-5% of the overall public sector pot. With the transfer of functions, that will actually go up to around 7.5%. But the functions being proposed are tiny. Worthless even. Worthless of the effort.

    As always, central government has protected itself just nicely, thank you very much. It would have been worth transferring in one or two larger functions as a test run to see if it worked.

    Cynic. With all respect, when you say about doing without, it’s just another uninformed harrumph. Framer – I don’t think the redundancy costs will be quite as sizeable as may be thought.

  • Drumlins Rock

    FuturePhysicist, thats the point, the whole exercise is bad maths.

    Raven, I think the 4-5% is a fair enough amount, and in effect deals with Cynics gripe, in effect Stormont is a glorified county council, so let it get on with that role, and the local councils are glorified parish councils, on shoe string budgets and little powers but good for local representation, yes some tweaking is needed but the complete redraw was meant for another era, is obselete now and should be shelved. Councils don’t need to run the bins or building control, there are no real local variations need in either service. However the Forestry Service should not be running parks or DSD designing the town centres, these should be transfered down to councils, I would also add parking to that!

  • Quincey Dougan

    DR or anyone, is it documented anywhere how the electoral process will be carried (how wards will be joined) and how many councillors elected per area??

    ABC Council has currently 65 Councillors which i would imagine will end up closer to 40??? Am i right in assuming that? With now 41 wards within it there obviously wont be individual elections for 1 councillor in each ward.

    Cant seem to find any clarification of this.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Quincey, strangely that decision rests with the NIO, contacted them on Friday and as yet the process of establishing DEAs (via another commissioner probably) has not re-started. I believe there will be between 5 & 7 wards/cllrs per DEA, and settlement should where possible not be split. Did a guestimate at the mid Ulster one, but various versions are possible.