Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 November 2015

Local Government Bill: Let's make Northern Irish politics truly local

By John McCallister

Published 17/04/2014

'We should be devolving powers down to the tier of government closest to local communities.'
'We should be devolving powers down to the tier of government closest to local communities.'

Last week, the Assembly witnessed one of those occasions that doesn't make the headlines – it considered, worked through and amended the Local Government Bill.

This is the unglamorous work of being a legislature; unglamorous, but of much greater relevance than those Assembly debates which do make the headlines.

NI21 sought to amend the Bill in two ways. First, we wanted to encourage wider participation in local government, by ensuring the public sector facilitated any of its employees who want to stand for election to councils.

Second, we wanted to ensure that councillors who make up the executives in the new councils could not also sit on that council's scrutiny committees.

Other parties opposed and defeated the first amendment, but we succeeded in the second.

Widening the pool of those willing to stand for election to local government would both bring new talents and skills to council chambers and also begin to break down the influence of the "us-and-them" political culture.

Ensuring that councillors on a council executive do not also sit on scrutiny committees will allow for the dynamics of real, normal politics.

Why is this important? Because local government is precisely what it says – local.

It's the expression of government that is closest to local communities.

It's important, then, that local government is free of the baggage of sectarian, tribal politics; that its focus is on delivering local leadership for the entire community.

As we move forward into new structures of local government, those of us in Stormont need to take seriously the idea of subsidiarity: if local government can do it, local government should do it.

We should be devolving powers down to the tier of government closest to local communities.

The end result could be that our council chambers – faced with the opportunities and challenges of real politics – become an engine room for change.

John McCallister MLA is deputy leader of NI21

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