Belfast Telegraph

We're set to elect fewer councillors with more responsibilities

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland's long-delayed new councils will finally become a reality by the end of this week – although they will not replace the present 26 authorities for a further year.

It has already been more than 12 years since a shake-up of the current councils – established in the early 1970s – was first suggested.

The number of councillors on the 11 new authorities will go down to 462 from the current 582 – a cut of 120 elected representatives.

And they will have enhanced powers when they finally go 'live' on April 1 next year.

Voters will have a choice of more than 900 candidates to choose from when they go into the ballot boxes on Thursday. A total of 906 would-be and incumbent councillors are chasing the 462 seats on the 11 new authorities.

It will take two days – Friday and Saturday – for the verdict of the electorate to emerge with election staff counting the votes on both days.

The count for the European election, which also takes place on Thursday, will then take place on Monday – but could potentially run into Tuesday.

In the council races, the two biggest Stormont parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – are running almost 200 candidates apiece.

Among the other Stormont parties, the SDLP is running 119 candidates, Ulster Unionists just behind on 117 and Alliance have 82, with 50 standing under the umbrella of Jim Allister's TUV and new-kids-on-the-block NI21 with 47. The main aim of the shake-up is to make multi-million pound savings to the public purse over the next 25 years. But the UUP in particular has called the calculations into question.

An economic appraisal published by PwC in October 2009 indicated that implementation of the local government reform programme could involve expenditure of up to £118m over the next five years but achieve savings of £438m over a 25-year period.

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