Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Stormont 'must fund councils shake-up'

Stormont Parliament Buildings

Stormont ministers are being urged to make a U-turn and throw a multi-million pound lifeline to assist the massive local government shake-up.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood is asking them to find “tens of millions” to help finance the conversion of the current 26 councils into 11 new authorities.

The Executive has decided against providing any cash back-up, but Mr Attwood has tabled a paper demanding the injection which would still leave councils having to come up with a further £90m to meet the total costs.

Mr Attwood and his department declined to confirm that he is seeking up to £30m, but admitted that they are demanding “tens of millions”.

The cash is needed to meet ‘convergence costs’ including training for staff of the new super councils — as well as a severance scheme for outgoing councillors.

The issue appears likely to be on the agenda for the next Executive session, which is pencilled in for Thursday, September 20.

Earlier this year Mr Attwood urged a £2.3m share-out from the quarterly monitoring round on overall spending, but was refused.

Mr Attwood said: “I don’t think it is a matter of U-turns; I think it’s a matter of recognising the argument ... that there will be savings from RPA (Review of Public Administration) in the long run.

“I have prepared an Executive bid for tens of millions for funding capacity building in councils and other upfront transition and convergence costs,” he added.

The councils’ umbrella body, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), has also urged the Executive to find funding, warning that the current position “places a huge financial burden on councils” who have “real concerns about the capacity to take on more debt”.

Background

The tens of millions being demanded to fund Northern Ireland’s new ‘super councils’ is needed in part to train hundreds of councillors and staff. Other upfront ‘convergence costs’ include the funding of transition committees, a severance scheme for councillors and converging ICT systems.

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