Belfast Telegraph

Call for Northern Ireland councils to be given more powers in absence of Stormont

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has called for extra powers to be given to councils in the absence of a functioning executive.

NILGA, which represents the 11 councils in Northern Ireland, urged the UK government to undertake a review of the role of councils here and give greater decision taking powers to local authorities to address the democratic deficit caused by the collapse of Stormont more than two years ago. 

The association also called for an independent panel to be set up to take forward how devolution is progressed and funded below Stormont, to councils and communities. NILGA also called for a Brexit Support Found, which has been offered to local authorities in the rest of the UK to the tune of more than £60m, to be provided to councils in Northern Ireland.

Councillor Dermot Curran, NILGA president, said: “Councils in 2019 are faced with huge expectations on their time and expenditure, in part due to the suspension of the Assembly, Brexit, transfer of responsibilities like event traffic management – costing around £900,000 this year alone to ratepayers – without being offered budgets to deliver."

Councillor Dermot Curran, President of NILGA

He added: “During the continued political impasse, councils are delivering more with less, taking on major infrastructure work as well as substantial, community led, preventative health work.

"Coupled with the burden of meeting arbitrary targets, councils, the smallest part of the public sector, are being asked to take on more responsibility as the only functioning level of government in Northern Ireland, without the offer of additional resources required.”

The Stormont Executive collapsed more than two years ago following the resignation of then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, with councils in Northern Ireland operating as the only fully function democratically elected government in the province.

NILGA’s council team met with John Penrose MP, Minister of State in for Northern Ireland, in order to look at how councils’ additional pressures to deliver are funded, as well as forward planning how Northern Ireland’s £21 billion public purse is given local, democratic scrutiny until the Assembly returns.

Derk McCallan, NILGA chief executive, said: "Due to the current situation, members and chief executives across the 11 councils are becoming increasingly concerned about their ability to deliver on targets, with the threat of tick box bureaucracy in the background. Enough is enough.

“This is why NILGA is calling for devolved political scrutiny of how we as councils are funded, what the deficits are, and enabling a piece of legislation to get us on a proper democratic and value for money footing. These aren’t political or ideological matters, so we can get them sorted.

"Local government elections take place in a matter of weeks and councils should not have to enter a new mandate over-burdened and under-resourced, trying diligently to deliver on many more expectations from a deserving public.

Derek McCallan, Chief Executive of NILGA.

“This is a reality check and a plea for normality. When our counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland are allocated over £60 million in Brexit support, and we are offered an empty purse and a wish list, it’s time to wise up and give councils and communities the tools and the autonomy to get on with it.

“Local government is a resilient, democratic anchor in Northern Ireland, but cannot be expected to bare burdens which are sent to us without cash and in a manner which is neither efficient nor necessary. Let’s use these elections to give choice, voice and control to communities, through councils.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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