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SF and DUP in clash over reforms

Sinn Fein and the DUP are at loggerheads over local government reform only hours before talks to try to resolve the issue.

Minister Edwin Poots and Sinn Fein MLAs accused each other of blocking reform, with Mr Poots claiming the opportunity to save £400 million had so far been missed.

Mammoth negotiations on how to reduce 26 local authorities to 11 are a last chance to break the deadlock ahead of next year's elections and are to reconvene at Stormont.

Mr Poots told the Assembly: "The caveman mentality of not moving things forward is why we are where we are with the RPA (Review of Public Administration) and other parties are blocking and blocking and blocking again.

"Whenever facts are put to them that there are savings that can be made, there are benefits that can be derived and that can be delivered to the public all we get is 'well we don't want to change, we are afraid of change,' I am not afraid of change and I am fed up with other people attempting to block change."

How councils pay for services, how they are funded and the centralisation of processes like dealing with waste have been in dispute between central and local government for months.

Resolving whether Dunmurry, with its mainly nationalist population, is inside or outside a Belfast supercouncil has been another sticking point, as it could leave the city with a nationalist majority.

Mr Poots said the current proposals rejected methods of collaboration which could have saved £400 million but claimed measures to improve cooperation could be taken with or without a reduction in the number of councils.

Among the issues to be decided by the Executive today is whether a reduction in councils happens next year, in 2015 or not at all.

Almost £10 million has already been spent preparing for the changes.

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