Belfast Telegraph

Ratepayers foot bill for Northern Ireland councils shake-up

By Noel McAdam

Stormont has passed the cost of funding the groups set up to oversee the reduction of Northern Ireland’s councils on to ratepayers.

The Executive had originally set aside more than £1.6m for the the transition committees.

But now councils will have to cover the costs of overseeing the amalgamation of 26 councils into 11.

The committees were set up three years ago to help implement the radical shake-up — but then axed because of stalemate between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Now the groups are being revived by Environment Minister Alex Attwood, although he will not be funding them.

Mr Attwood also intends to appoint a further quango, the Regional Transition Committee “for the purposes of leading the transition process” and providing “political leadership”, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal. In a letter to town halls Mr Attwood said: “I confirm that central funding will not be provided to support the work of transition committees moving forward.”

Instead he suggests councils use “special responsibility allowances” to pay committee members. These costs would then be added on to local rates bills.

The move has angered councillors, who were ordered to halt the committees by Mr Attwood’s predecessor Edwin Poots, who is now Health Minister.

“Ratepayers should not bear the cost of legislative policy,” said Derek McCallan, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), which has been seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Attwood.

But Mr Attwood insisted: “This is a matter for the amalgamating councils to provide the resources necessary to undertake this work.”

And he has also asked councils to re-establish the committees by the end of this month.

Background

2008 / 2009: Voluntary transition committees begin work

December 2009: Statutory transition committees set up

October 2010: Committees are axed

March 2012: Committees are now to be re-established

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