Ann McGauran 11 February 2019

NILGA: Give councils the power to change Northern Ireland

Councils with more resources and powers can bring a stronger economy and greater democracy to Northern Ireland, says NILGA.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has made a call for the role of councils to be formally reviewed and strengthened after the elections in May, giving greater decision making powers to local people and places.

It wants an independent panel set up to take forward how devolution is progressed and funded below Stormont, to councils and communities.

NILGA also wants a Brexit Support Fund, offered to all councils in England, Scotland and Wales, 'to the tune of over £60million to date, to be provided to all 11 councils in Northern Ireland'.

NILGA's cross party all council team has met with minister of state for Northern Ireland John Penrose to look at how councils' additional pressures to deliver are funded, as well as forward planning how Northern Ireland's £21bn public purse is given local democratic scrutiny until the Assembly returns.

President of NILGA Cllr Dermot Curran said: 'Councils in 2019 are faced with huge expectations on their time and expenditure, in part due to the suspension of the Assembly. These include Brexit, and transfer of responsibilities like event traffic management – costing around £900,000 this year alone to ratepayers – without being offered budgets to deliver.'

He added: 'Similarly, senior management teams in councils are meeting weekly to determine how they can respond to diverse performance management demands of many Government departments, despite calling for a Single Performance Framework where all public bodies work to national goals and standards. All 11 councils in Northern Ireland take performance management extremely seriously but seek to operate in a citizen driven performance regime, aligned to Scotland and Wales.

'During the continued political impasse, councils are delivering more with less, taking on major infrastructure work as well as substantial, community led, preventative health work. Coupled with the burden of meeting arbitrary targets, councils, the smallest part of the public sector, are being asked to take on more responsibility as the only functioning level of government in Northern Ireland, without the offer of additional resources required.'

A new four year electoral term begins for councils in ten weeks times. In this context, NILGA's elected members and chief executives are calling for an immediate review of their ability to deliver against 'often outmoded targets, sparse funding and unrealistic expectations'.

They also want a 'more effective and equitable rating system and clear guidance on standing orders of councils'.

Chief executive of NILGA Derek McCallan said: 'This is a reality check and a plea for normality. When our counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland are allocated over £60m in Brexit support and we are offered an empty purse and a wish list, it's time to wise up and give councils and communities the tools and the autonomy to get on with it.

'Local government is a resilient, democratic anchor in Northern Ireland, but cannot be expected to bear burdens which are sent to us without cash and in a manner which is neither efficient nor necessary. Let's use these elections to give choice, voice and control to communities, through councils.'

  

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