Ex-Belfast Mayor Jim Rodgers defends council spend on 'loo of the year' award
A former Belfast Lord Mayor has defended Northern Ireland councils spending thousands of pounds entering awards competitions.
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers was speaking after it was revealed local authorities spent £136,000 on entering competitions since 2017.
Mr Rodgers, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, was also confronted by caller as to why the money was not instead spent on funding much-needed facilities such as on those that tackle addiction and suicide.
According to figures obtained by The Irish News, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council spent the most on entering awards at £34,508, with Belfast City Council coming in second at £31,931.
Belfast City Council spent £3,732 entering the "Loo of the Year Awards" in 2017 and 2018.
Mr Rodgers said this expenditure was money "very well spent" and such awards ceremonies are opportunities for councils to learn from other public bodies.
"We're in a competitive market when it comes to these awards and it's nice to see your council come out on top," he said.
"Belfast has come on leaps and bounds as a result of getting involved in these awards and seeing if we really measure up with how councils in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland do."
"You also learn from speaking to people, you can have all the videos, all the presentations you want, but it's from actually talking to those who are involved that you learn - that's the game we're in. Networking is key if you want to be a successful council."
Mr Rodgers also said the expenditure is only a very small fraction of a council's overall budget.
One caller, Mary from Londonderry, however, questioned why the money was not spent on facilities dealing with issues such as addiction and suicide.
"We are screaming out here in Derry for a centre for addiction and suicide - we have nothing and you people are putting good money down the plughole," she said.
Mr Rodgers replied: "The whole suicide issue deeply concerns me and worries me, it's just absolutely horrendous. We are doing our level best on Belfast City Council to play our part - what we can do to stop just one person from taking their own life.
"It's just horrendous, it's heartbreaking, it's not getting any better - it's getting worse and worse.
"All of us have got to work together and I don't want you to think about loos, because these awards are not just about loos, they're about parks and cemeteries and a whole host of things.
"So don't let us lose sight here - I would put every pound possible to tackle our health issues, especially mental health."
Belfast Telegraph Digital