Belfast Telegraph

Why councils are engines for investment


By Derek McCallan, Chief Executive, NILGA

Thursday sees NILGA's annual conference and awards to review, showcase and celebrate all that is positive about councils in Northern Ireland.

We'll also not shy away from debating the challenges that currently exist.

The event comes at a crucial time. Other regions in the UK are progressing ahead with plans to address forthcoming uncertainty.

It is unacceptable that we are running so far behind due to our own political barriers. Greater focus must be placed on one of the institutions that can provide the solution - namely, local government.

The 11 councils in Northern Ireland are dynamic hubs of public service delivery and economic development. Councils are now much more than administrators of bins, births and burials.

Collectively, they spend around £1bn annually in our economy with ambitions to do a great deal more.

Sustainable development has a truly transformative effect on people and places.

It is our councils who are best positioned to understand current need and future requirements in their specific areas. Working collectively, through NILGA, they significantly contribute to the prosperity of Northern Ireland.

All councils are driving forward - particularly with major social, business and government partners in the context of their community and investment plans.

It is clear to see, that within all 11 councils, there is fervent professional ambition to attract business from beyond Northern Ireland.

As the political impasse continues, the need for local councils to play a bigger role in investment and infrastructure is growing.

The situation in Stormont means that councils are cornerstones of the economy and good governance. There is determination amongst the councils to be part of a new, strengthened economy and government for Northern Ireland.

They can play an enhanced role in civic representation and public service delivery - whatever the local issue - just like councils elsewhere. Their long-term planning and new powers enable them to meet local needs but have global reach - the title of this year's conference.

Much more needs to be done to give councils the environment to do more, politically, legally, fiscally. It's ludicrous that we still do not have the power of regeneration as without it ambitious infrastructure plans are held up. Investors are going elsewhere.

Councils have a vital role in developing spaces and places that attract entrepreneurs with business ideas which create jobs and taxes.

We don't want to take power away; we want to have the same powers as neighbouring regions so we don't suffer from continued competitive disadvantage.

Councils are increasingly at the forefront of investment and enterprise in Northern Ireland.

With the increased services, functions and responsibilities of the 11 councils, significant global opportunities are now available to transform the local government sector and enable the private sector and social economy.

This conference is a key event in the business calendar with around 150 elected representatives, officials, delegates and business leaders attending to share knowledge, skills and ideas.

New local government strengthens democracy and creates sustainable communities.

It is time for this to be more emphatically recognised.

Derek McCallan is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association. Its annual conference and exhibition takes place on Thursday at La Mon Hotel, Castlereagh

Belfast Telegraph