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Sinn Fein: Edwin Poots blew chance to save £400m

The impact of the Westminster Government's Budget cuts will be made worse by the DUP's failure to introduce local government reform, Sinn Fein has claimed.

The long-running efforts to cut Northern Ireland's local councils from 26 to 11, saving £400m in the process, collapsed at an Executive meeting last week after claims of DUP divisions on the issue.

DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots was previously accused of holding up the reforms because they would see part of his own Lisburn Council area pass to Belfast, creating a nationalist majority.

Mr Poots was also at loggerheads with local government representatives after he demanded they help foot the bill for the changes, but Sinn Fein stepped up its criticisms of its Government partners on the issue yesterday.

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said the DUP had blocked the reforms and wasted the opportunity to make savings. He claimed the move had made it harder to protect frontline services from the cuts announced this week by Chancellor George Osborne.

“In recent days there have been a series of media reports about the waste of public resources within local government in the six counties. This has ranged from allegations of fraud to unnecessary spending and duplication,” Mr Maskey said.

“None of this is acceptable, particularly in view of the savage cuts in public spending being proposed by the British Government.

“The DUP who argue to maintain the status quo are ignoring the reality of local government as it currently stands. There are too many councils. There are too many councillors. There is far too much waste and unnecessary spending.”

He added: “Yet last week when faced with a choice to tackle this issue to potentially save over £400m the DUP put internal party politics and a desire to protect large numbers of unnecessary councillors before the need to streamline and to divert money into frontline public services.

“Edwin Poots needs to explain why protecting DUP councillors and their expenses came before protecting vital health and education services.”

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