Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland councils should be given more public funding, report suggests

By Allan Preston

Councils in Northern Ireland should be put in charge of a far greater share of public money, a new report has suggested.

Local authorities here are currently given more than six times less to spend than their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.

With around £21bn in public spending in Northern Ireland each year, councils administer just 4% (£738m), compared to 27% of public money in Scotland and Wales.

A report commissioned by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (Nilga) has called for Stormont to "unlock the potential of local government" and give councils more say over local services like roads and transport, culture, environment, planning and regulation as well as business and skills development.

Nilga chief executive Derek McCallan said it would be an antidote to the current paralysis at Stormont as well as strengthening democratic input by local people.

"It's not a drive for independence or a power grab by local government, that's a shallow view," he said.

"Rather, it is based on evidence and recognition that councils can carry more resources and responsibilities (given the success of the new local government system) away from the Executive and the central government to keep local services being delivered with an appropriate level of democratic scrutiny, which serves communities better."

He said the independent report by the New Policy Institute was "not an alien concept" and was tried and tested in Scotland and Wales - where a quarter of their £50bn annual budgets are delivered in a far more cost-effective and localised way.

"We have taken action in the absence of political (ministerial) decision taking, re-convened an elected member forum, drawn from central and local government members, so that we can map out how this can happen," he said.

"We're very keen to develop further our work with parties, councils and Nilga's many partners in business, the voluntary and community sector, education, health and more."

The report, Devolution within Northern Ireland, said that the detailed local knowledge councils had put them in the best position for decision making. It's also suggested councils could exercise scrutiny over areas of spending, for example in aspects of social care and public health.

Although Nilga and local councils are expected to take the lead on such a change, the report said it would also need the help of the Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, MLAs, the NI Executive and even the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.

Belfast Telegraph

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