Belfast Telegraph

Councils demand extra powers after general election

Calls for action to shift decisions away from central government

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland councils have joined forces with their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales to demand extra powers from the next Government after the general election.

The councils' umbrella body in Northern Ireland also backed demands for representation in any future 'constitutional convention' which could follow the May 7 election.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) combined with the other regions to demand "urgent action" in the first Queen's Speech of the new Parliament.

They want greater fiscal autonomy for Town Halls and greater responsibility for funding at a local level to help ensure people and businesses can see how their money is being used.

NILGA's president Dermot Curran co-signed a statement which insisted: "It is time to move away from an expensive, centralised approach which means that governments in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh or London try to second-guess what is best for localities."

Their joint case is in part based on research by the Carnegie Trust in Northern Ireland on a government focus on "wellbeing" - gauging outcomes and enhancing delivery of services.

The four associations have already made representations to former Foreign Secretary William Hague's Cabinet Committee and the Smith Commission in Edinburgh, which followed last year's Scottish vote against independence.

Both the Smith Commission and the Hague Committee reports backed a major shift in power towards the regions "and a revival of local decision-making".

In their agreed statement, issued yesterday, the councils said: "We highlighted the opportunity to revive our local democratic systems and to move power to the local communities across our nation.

"Strong local democracy and empowered communities will be a force for good.

"Unfortunately, too many decisions that affect local communities are centralised in Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont.

"Indeed, debate about devolving powers to national parliaments skew the discussion and miss the core issue.

"It is time to refresh our model of devolution for a much more local approach."

Mr Curran, along with David Sparks, Chair of the Local Government Association (England), Aaron Shotton, Deputy Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association and David O'Neill, President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said: "As we approach the election of a new Parliament, the time for talking has ended.

"The new government will be given the responsibility of defining a new settlement for the communities of the United Kingdom.

"We have the opportunity to shape history and strengthen our nation."

Belfast Telegraph


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