Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Futile review of boundaries to go on at cost of £800k

Officials are being forced to press on with Northern Ireland’s doomed boundary review — and it will cost taxpayers more than £800,000.

MPs hit out at the “crazy” situation as a fresh consultation is about to be launched, even though the Liberal Democrats have already promised to scupper any changes.

The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland said it had no choice but to carry on ahead of an October 2013 deadline for the final proposals.

This is because the Act of Parliament setting it up still stands.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said his party will not support the boundary review as payback for the demise of his reforms to the House of Lords.

One of the MPs whose seat was threatened by the proposed review, the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, said: “This process has become a farce.

“The idea that more public money would be spent on reviewing boundaries that were never going to see the light of day is just a nonsense.

“The Lib Dems should come clear and put an end to this process now, because the money that could be spent on boundary changes that are not going to see the light of day in this Parliament is a gross misuse of public money that could be better used.”

In Northern Ireland, consultations, public hearings and staff costs have brought the bill to date to £528,000, a Freedom of Information Act request by the Belfast Telegraph has revealed.

The three public hearings cost £27,437.

Last night the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland confirmed that the projected spend until September 2013 is a further £315,000.

Liz Benson, the secretary of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, said: “We have no option. The Boundary Commission are under a legal obligation to carry on.”

The commission’s final recommendations have to be produced for Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers by October 2013.

A new consultation is launched on October 16 into boundaries that have been amended since the initial set of proposals were consulted on earlier this year.

Ms Benson added: “Our hope is that the speculation in the media will not stop people from engaging in that process.”

However, last week, the Conservatives joined Labour in announcing they would be selecting their candidates on the basis of the existing, not proposed, boundaries.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, who faced the loss of his South Belfast seat under the changes, said: “I think it’s crazy. Money is scarce and it’s already very clear to us that this is very unlikely to happen. I can’t see any point in spending more money.”

Mr McDonnell said the original review had been “clumsily done” in the first place. He added: “There was neither rhyme nor reason to the way it was done here.”

The Cabinet Office confirmed that all of the UK’s boundary commissions would have to report back by October 2013 and it would then be up to Parliament to consider their recommendations.

A spokeswoman added: “Parliament has always retained the final say on the outcome of independent boundary reviews.

“Recommendations have been accepted, and they have been rejected in the past.”

Background

Proposed Westminster electoral boundary changes would have a dramatic effect on Northern Ireland’s electoral map, cutting the number of MPs from 18 to 16. The Executive was expected to cut the number of MLAs from 108 to 96. However, with Labour and the Lib Dems set to vote against the changes, they are unlikely to even go before Parliament.

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