Belfast Lord Mayor's new car to be rented, not bought
Belfast City Council has voted to hire a car for the Lord Mayor rather than buying a new vehicle.
Last September the council was told that £70,000 had been set aside for a top-of-the-range new BMW.
Now the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that £40,000 will be spent instead by the council over the next four years on leasing a car.
The previous vehicle, a BMW 7 series, cost tens of thousands to buy and thousands more in repairs since it was purchased in 2008.
Comparatively, all 13 Stormont ministers, including the First Minister, are transported in Skoda Supremes. That fleet was bought in 2011 for £252,000 - around £19,000 each.
The proposal to spend £70,000 on a new car for the Lord Mayor sparked a storm last September when highlighted by this newspaper. Council officers said the car "must obviously be of a type commensurate with the prestigious nature of the office of Lord Mayor".
But PUP and People Before Profit councillors vowed they would not support the spend.
The council considered other options, such as finding a private company to sponsor a car for the first citizen, but officials could not find an interested supplier.
Another option of a "nearly new" car could not be pursued due to public procurement processes.
Following a discussion last week, councillors on the committee dealing with the issue recommended leasing a car.
The decision, which must be approved by the full council when it meets next Tuesday, was to lease a BMW 7 Series for four years at the cost of approximately £40,000 - around half the price of buying a new car.
Alliance councillor Michael Long welcomed the compromise. Mr Long, whose wife Naomi held the post in 2009, said it was vitally important for the Lord Mayor to have a car and driver to get to events on time, and also pointed out that the sheer value of the first citizen's chain of office was a major consideration in the discussions.
The current chain dates to 1874, weighs a stone, and is estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
"It is important that it is kept safe," Mr Long said.
"The costs are much lower than it would have been to buy a new car.
"The Lord Mayor needs a car to get around and I think this is a reasonable compromise."