Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland council pay-offs are staggering

Editor's Viewpoint

It is not just Northern Ireland's senior politicians at Stormont who seem to have a poor grasp of economic realities; the same applies to those who serve in local authorities. The £275,000 payout to the outgoing chief executive of Derry City Council is a portent of the millions which will go in redundancy payments as the new super councils begin operations early next year.

Sharon O'Connor's payment is just one of seven to senior officers of Derry's council, who are leaving ahead of the new Derry City and Strabane District Council coming on stream. Their combined pay-offs total more than £1m.

All this money has to be funded by local government - in other words the ratepayers. Given than 26 councils are being merged into 11 in the biggest shake-up of the sector in generations, it is easy to see how the bill will soar.

What many ratepayers will wonder is if these payments represent true value for money. If officers in any council decide to leave, having either not gone for a post in the new super councils or having failed to gain one, they certainly seem to get a generous handshake.

It has to be remembered that the outgoing councils had very limited powers. They did not deal with matters such as planning or social services or education, as in other regions of the UK, yet the recompense they receive is largely comparable.

In these times of austerity there are many people who have been made redundant but few come out with the sort of package that these local government officials have obtained. Once again the political system seems to care little for the impression it gives to those it is supposed to serve.

And the spending doesn't stop at redundancy payments. Around £40,000 has been spent rebranding one of the new councils. North Down and Ards District Council will in future be known as East Coast Council - probably only consultants could come up with such a terrible name - and it will have a new coat of arms costing £16,000. And then the councillors may decide on a new mayoral chain, although they have two existing ones to pick from.

This is entering the realm of a satirical sitcom. Indeed, it may even be beyond parody. Before the new super councils even become operational there is a feeling of dread that a reform of local government meant to save us all money will do the exact opposite.

Belfast Telegraph

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