There will be more democratic accountability in Northern Ireland with reform of local government
The SDLP fought long and hard for reform of local government to ensure enhanced and effective service for local people.
We have achieved once in a generation reform of how our councils work. These reforms sat on a shelf gathering dust for over 10 years, stymied by indecision and logjam before SDLP minister Alex Attwood instigated the Bill which has now been delivered by my colleague Mark H Durkan.
It is by no means a perfect bill. The SDLP for example argued for 15 councils instead of 11 recognising some inherent challenges, but it is important to progress with the necessary reforms.
We resisted the DUP attempts to make flags the main focus of the Local Government Bill instead ensuring that the main emphasis was on increased democratic accountability and how local government could best serve local people.
This was why we prioritised things like urban regeneration, local tourism and economic development – to allow local people make decisions on how best to create jobs and grow the local economy.
A strengthened and fit for purpose planning policy is also an essential part of reform to ensure that the best decisions are made by those with the most local knowledge.
We now have a great opportunity to involve business and community organisations in development and delivery of community plans.
I am confident that this Local Government Bill enshrines good relations and equality at its core – the very values of the SDLP.