Belfast Telegraph

Newry and Mourne and Down councils needed a new name. After spending £30,000, they agreed on Newry, Mourne and Down Council...

Local authorities castigated for wasting thousands on rebranding exercises ahead of new super council formation

By Rebecca Black

Northern Ireland's new super councils have been accused of wasting ratepayers' money by spending thousands of pounds on rebranding.

One former leading councillor said it was a slap in the public's face at a time of austerity.

A number of the local authorities have spent huge amounts of public money just to come up with new name suggestions - which have then been rejected by members.

They include:

Newry, Mourne and Down Council is understood to have been billed £30,000 by consultants for its rebranding. The consultation asked for potential new names - but councillors voted to stick to the original one anyway.

North Down and Ards Council spent £23,400 on a rebranding exercise that also sought a new name. But there was a public outcry following the selection of the East Coast name, which now seems set to revert to North Down and Ards.

Fermanagh and Omagh Council set aside £50,000 to update its corporate identity. A spokeswoman said a list of new names provided by consultants cost £1,415 ­- but councillors decided to keep Fermanagh and Omagh.

Derry City and Strabane Council has allocated £30,000 to a brand specialist - but denied the consultants were involved with the new name.

Today the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that at least six out of the 11 shadow councils about to take power in April are using consultants to update their public image.

Many of the councils refused to reveal how much they are paying consultants - but the figure is believed to be well over £150,000.

Several councils will also spend thousands for new chains of office for the presiding councillors, such as North Down and Ards Council which said it will spend £16,000 on its golden collar.

Newry, Mourne and Down confirmed it will be commissioning a new chain but would not comment on cost.

One former councillor and MLA has slammed the spending spree on image as insensitive.

"This is hundreds of thousands of pounds effectively being wasted on this so-called rebranding of council areas which is really superfluous to the service that these new councils will be charged with providing," said Seamus Close.

"Every day without fail we are reading about cutbacks to all services, nursing homes, long waits in hospitals, job cuts in schools, so what a time to squander so much money on image."

Four of the new council names have sparked major rows.

More than 120 businesses, community groups and residents from south Armagh have signed a letter to council chief Liam Hannaway expressing outrage at the new name for Newry and Mourne District Council.

They have claimed that calling it Newry, Mourne and Down Council is a "blatant example of exclusion".

The current Mayor of Newry and Mourne, Daire Hughes of Sinn Fein, said the cost to the council for consultants was £30,000, which he claimed was "completely wasted as the SDLP/unionist bloc chose to keep the interim name that was previously ruled out".

A spokeswoman for the council told the Belfast Telegraph that to this date no payment has been made concerning this work as the project has yet to be completed.

SDLP councillor Colin McGrath has defended the spending, claiming the name "can be identified by all residents across our district as it is essentially the amalgamation of the two legacy council names".

North Down and Ards Council was forced to abandon its new East Coast name following a negative reaction.

The disagreement over the name for Derry City and Strabane District Council was taken to the courts.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council has still not agreed a name just three months before the new councils are set to take over.

Background

Eleven super councils will take over the reins of local government from our existing 26-council model in April.

Councillors were elected to these bodies last May and have since been sitting in shadow form preparing to govern with additional powers. Despite being designed as a cost-saving exercise, the new councils have spent tens of thousands rebranding themselves.

So what have they all spent in search of a super identity?

1. Antrim and N'abbey District Council

The council voted at its meeting in October to remain as Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council.

A spokesman said that all the rebranding work for the new council is being done in-house. Some of the alternative options which were put forward for consideration were South Antrim, Six Mile Valley and Loughshore.

2. Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council

This council is the only so far that has not managed to agree on a new name.

A spokeswoman said there was no final list of names being considered, and it had not commissioned consultants to help find a new name.

3. Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council voted in September to continue on with its current name. A spokesman said no other names were considered, and the council did not commission consultants to seek alternative name options.

4. Causeway Coast and Glens District Council

This body includes the former Ballymoney, Coleraine, Moyle and Limavady councils. A spokesman for the council said that it had not considered any alternative names and did not commission any work by consultants on new name options.

5. Derry City and Strabane District Council

The council voted last October to stay as Derry City and Strabane District over other options including Derry and Strabane, Foyle and Londonderry City, and Strabane District.

A spokeswoman said they did not use consultants for new names but that they are paying consultants £30,000 for rebranding work.

6. Fermanagh and Omagh District Council

Councillors voted in July to continue as Fermanagh and Omagh. A spokesman said the council spent £1,415 on consultants to come up with potential names Lakes and Glens, and Fermanagh Omagh. The council has set aside £50,000 to rebrand council facilities, vehicles and staff uniforms.

7. Lisburn City and C’reagh District Council

Councillors voted in November to remain as Lisburn City and Castlereagh District Council. Consultants were not used to come up with names but have been engaged for rebranding at a cost of £24,715.

8. Mid and East Antrim District Council

Councillors unanimously agreed in December to retain its current name. A spokeswoman said that no consultants were used in the naming process, however she said that the council had engaged consultants to "shape the overall brand of the council, and this work is currently under way". The council has not revealed how much this will cost.

9. Mid Ulster District Council

This council, which incorporates the former Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt councils, voted to remain as Mid Ulster District Council.

A spokesman said that no formal name change was proposed and that no consultants were used.

10. Newry, Mourne and Down District Council

Last week councillors agreed to stick with the name Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

The council commissioned consultants to help with the rebranding process which included name options and is set to cost around £30,000.

11. North Down and Ards District Council

Technically this council had already been renamed East Coast following a vote earlier this month. However, following much opposition the decision will be retaken.

The council said it is spending £23,400 on rebranding which it said includes finding a new name for the new council. Consultants came up with 50 options.

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