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Review call as councils’ £5m PR bill is revealed

A major rethink on town hall spending is being demanded after multi-million pound council bills for public relations and consultants were revealed.

Newly published figures showed that Northern Ireland's 26 councils have been splashing out £5m a year on public relations between them.

Bills for outside consultants meanwhile have climbed to a combined total of £23.5m across a three-year period.

The politician who obtained the details, MLA Dolores Kelly, is now calling for such spending to be reviewed.

The SDLP Assembly Member is also battling for the release of further information covering council bosses' pay and local government legal bills.

Figures provided to her at the Assembly included annual council spending totals for public relations. These added up to £5,128,474 in 2008/09 — a rise on the previous year's tally of £4,924,945.

The biggest PR spender is Belfast City Council, which has the largest population. Its public relations outlay in 2008/09 was £1,462,512.

Next highest in the year was Coleraine with £465,849, followed by North Down with £305,092. Carrickfergus Council had the lowest PR total in the year on just £14,085, the Assembly was told.

There were also sharp differences in the consultancy bills of different councils.

These added up across the 26 councils to £9,139,000 in 2008/09, compared to £7,941,449 in 2007/08 and £6,500,014 in the previous year. Belfast Council again had the largest individual totals, adding up to almost £8m over the three years. Next highest was Newtownabbey with over £3m during the period, while Castlereagh was lowest with only £47,915.

The Upper Bann MLA had also asked at the Assembly for a breakdown of senior management costs and legal services bills at each of the 26 councils.

But, replying to her written questions, Environment Minister Edwin Poots said this information could only be obtained at a disproportionate cost.

Ms Kelly said a rethink was needed on how ratepayers' money was used and whether value for money was being secured. She said her concern was to ensure that money remained available for key council services.

Commenting on the consultancy spend figures, the Assembly Member said: “It's arguably not making a difference to people on the ground. Sometimes it's unavoidable — I understand that.

“You need to make sure you have the right people in the right places so you don't incur these costs.”

Belfast Telegraph

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