Belfast Telegraph

Consultation 'must become cheaper'

Public consultation in Northern Ireland should be streamlined to save money, First Minister Peter Robinson has declared.

The Civic Forum of businessmen and voluntary groups was intended to influence government policy-making but cost £500,000 a year to run when sitting regularly and has not met since 2002.

Mr Robinson insisted community involvement was important but should not carry such a heavy price tag.

He said: "I do believe that they should look at the whole issue of consultation and not just in relation to the Civic Forum but we need to streamline and have a more effective way of operating and some of the delays that are occurring because of the lengthy consultation and sometimes unnecessary levels of consultation I think we must look at in the new mandate."

Part of the Good Friday Agreement provided for the establishment of a Civic Forum, comprising representatives of the business, trade union and voluntary sectors, to act as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural issues. The forum first met in 2000.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) later announced a review of the body, which is being finalised.

Responding to a question from DUP MLA Jonathan Bell, Mr Robinson added: "I want there to be consultation, I think it is important that we do have a connection with the community and particularly with those who have an expertise in the issues we are dealing with.

"We can manage to have that consultation and the value of the advice without the expensive machinery that the Civic Forum was suggesting beforehand."

The 60-member forum included former Ulster Democratic Party leader Gary McMichael and spokesman for the nationalist Bogside Residents' Association, Donncha MacNiallais. Solicitor Richard Monteith was also among members.

Mr Bell said: "The excessively bureaucratic Civic Forum with its half million price tag per annum did not represent value to the public purse previously and certainly does not represent value as we sit as the only region of the UK still in recession. I welcome that there are no plans in the new term to place again the unacceptable financial burden of the Civic Forum onto hard pressed families."

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