Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Claims bill ‘shows need for reform of councils’

The impasse over revamping local government in Northern Ireland must be broken to ensure ratepayers get value for money, it has been warned.

This week the Belfast Telegraph has been running a major investigation into how millions of pounds have been shelled out on allowances for local councillors.

Our series, which continues today, has been backed by the UUP and SDLP, who said it demonstrates the need for urgent action to make councils more efficient.

The Review of Public Administration (RPA) shake-up proposed slashing the number of councils from 26 to 11 – a move which would have saved £438m over a 25-year period.

But the opportunity to start saving cash by next year collapsed because of a stalemate between the DUP and Sinn Fein over council boundaries.

East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs said his party welcomed our probe into council earnings, and warned the reform of local government was “stumbling from one crisis to another”.

“The UUP recognises the need to cut the number of councils and to improve its efficiency and level of responsibility,” he said.

“Precious resources continue to be put at risk with local government investment in the 11-council model, yet the DUP and Sinn Fein have still to agree the new boundaries.”

However, DUP MLA Alastair Ross warned proceeding with RPA risked burdening taxpayers with an additional £118m cost.

“The DUP is committed to reducing the cost of government and will not be lectured by the likes of Roy Beggs, a man who supported 11 Government departments, 108 Assembly Members, the Civic Forum and a plethora of north-south bodies,” he said.

Fermanagh/South Tyrone SDLP MLA Tommy Gallagher said his party was pushing for movement on RPA.

“One of our strongest reasons is that, with fewer councils, ratepayers will get better value for money,” he said.

“Unfortunately, another disagreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein over carving up power, this time at local government level, has led to the collapse of the whole thing.

“That impasse is coming at further huge cost to the public purse.”

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