Bid to save Northern Ireland local government reform
The Northern Ireland Executive has launched a last ditch bid to save a major overhaul of local government.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots had been expected to shelve a plan to save millions by cutting the number of local authorities from 26 to 11 in time for elections to be held next May.
But in a surprise move the DUP minister confirmed the Executive is to ask councils to help fund the reform, with a final decision to be made by ministers in two weeks time.
Mr Poots said: "I have been tasked to go to local government and identify if they are prepared to pay the £118 million that it will cost for the reorganisation, given that the Executive faces around £1 billion in cuts in the next five years."
He will report to fellow ministers at their next round-table meeting at Stormont in two weeks' time, he said.
Mr Poots added: "There was £118 million identified in terms of costs, plus another £20 million for convergence in rates.
"The Executive does not have that money, so I have to see if local government are prepared to pay that amount of money to proceed with the reorganisation."
The minister said the money would be borrowed from Treasury on condition that local authorities repay the cash when they begin to enjoy the savings from the downsizing of the councils. He said it would result in little or no final cost to local authorities, with the savings outweighing the debt, thereby avoiding the need to raise rates to cover the sum.
The Review of Public Administration (RPA), promising historic reform of the health and education sectors, aimed to save the Executive more than £400m over 25 years by cutting bureaucracy.
The overhaul of education has been delayed by party divisions at the Executive. And while Sinn Fein and the DUP agreed in 2008 to establish an 11-council model for local government, it was feared implementation of the reforms expected by next year could be delayed until 2015.