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Consumer Council spared: Body gets reprieve, but minister says changes on way

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland's Consumer Council has been spared from the axe, Stormont minister Arlene Foster has announced.

Instead, a slimmed-down board to run the organisation will be set up and a chief executive appointed, it was decided after an examination of the body and its functions.

The Enterprise Minister also told the Assembly it was hoped the council will now dovetail with other organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau, Advice NI and Trading Standards.

"I am keen for them to work in partnership with those bodies so that they are not doing the same things, because that would not be a good use of public money," she said yesterday.

"I certainly believe that, here in Northern Ireland, we should move ahead with a partnership approach. Some good work has been carried out by the Consumer Council in the past."

The Belfast Telegraph launched a campaign to save the council from the axe last year after Mrs Foster claimed it was costing too much and no longer represented consumers.

But MLAs heard the review had concluded that the council was responsive to consumer interests and was effective as an organisation.

Mrs Foster admitted: "We have been a little tardy in looking at the Consumer Council. Fifteen years is too long a period of time; perhaps every five to seven years would be a good time, and then it would not be such a big deal."

She also hit out at MLAs who had argued she had a "predetermined view" of what should happen to the council.

"The conspiracy theorists were having a great time with what was going to happen, so much so that one of our papers had a campaign to save the Consumer Council. In fact, what we were doing was to make sure that the correct use of public money was taking place. If we move forward in a focused way, we will ensure that that is the case."

Questioned over the uncertainty the review created for council staff by the SDLP's Patsy McGlone, chair of the committee which criticised the review, the minister said: "We very much appreciate that this has been an uncertain period for them. We look forward to moving ahead with the appointment of a substantive chief executive."

Background

Enterprise and Industry Minister Arlene Foster was accused of "flying in the face" of her department's watchdog committee which warned a £20,000 independent review of the Consumer Council was unnecessary. Chairman Patsy McGlone insisted "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", but Mrs Foster argued a review of the council and its annual running costs of £2.5m was long overdue

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