Belfast Telegraph

Exercise in cost-cutting that lasted 13 years and cost millions

By Rebecca Black

It was the cost-saving exercise which has ended up costing millions.

The Review of Public Administration was first launched in 2002 to streamline Northern Ireland's education system, health service and the number of local councils.

It took an extraordinary 13 years for the local government section to come to fruition and even after more than a decade of negotiations spanning direct rule and Stormont, the final number of councils could only be reduced to 11 - and not the seven originally mooted.

The transition from 26 to 11 bigger councils with extended powers, including over planning, has proven expensive with a series of media stories revealing just how much it has cost to reduce local government infrastructure.

At Derry City Council, outgoing chief executive Sharon O'Connor received a £275,000 golden handshake on departing her post.

Then there came the process by which councils decided on what they should be called.

Some, such as Belfast City Council, had no need for costly consultations and stuck to the same name.

But others spent tens of thousands. Newry and Mourne and Down councils spent £30,000 researching their new identity, only to agree on Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

North Down and Ards councils spent £23,400 on a rebranding exercise that also sought a new name, and after briefly deciding on East Coast, then changed to Ards and North Down.

Then there were further deliberations over mayoral chains, logos and corporate branding.

Mid and East Antrim Council inherited more than £180,000 worth of gold and silver treasures, yet has voted to commission a new chain of office for the first citizen.

Then there were the leaving dos. Down District Council set aside £30,000 on a series of farewell events before being subsumed.

And as for the new arrivals to politics, Belfast City Council felt it needed to invest in a bus tour to show councillors the areas they would be representing.

Councils have also spent thousands of pounds on 'fact-finding' trips to Britain.

The total cost of the trips, which involved attending planning committee meetings, was almost £20,000 of public money. Mid and East Antrim, Mid Ulster, and Antrim and Newtownabbey councils all insisted the visits would be of real benefit.

Now we can reveal that as of May 12, it has cost almost £2m just to wave goodbye to some of the old hands from the 26 councils.

Five councillors in Northern Ireland received £35,000 each as a golden handshake to leave.

Belfast Telegraph


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