Belfast Telegraph

Public don't give a fiddler's what they are called, says former MLA

By Rebecca Black

Cutting the number of councils in Northern Ireland was supposed to save ratepayers money - but the 11 new local authorities today stand accused of squandering a six-figure sum before they officially take over.

While many councils have embarked on expensive rebranding exercises, staff cuts due to mergers has also meant large redundancy payouts. Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed the former chief executive of Derry City Council Sharon O'Connor was leaving with a golden handshake of £275,000.

Earlier last year we revealed the 11 shadow councils were already spending thousands of pounds on 'fact-finding' trips across the UK.

In June we revealed that new Belfast councillors had even been offered a bus trip to get to know the city they had been elected to govern. The cost of the trips amounted to almost £20,000 of public money.

Now it has emerged that well over £150,000 is being spent on new images for the 11 'super councils'. That figure is conservative, as some councils have yet to say how much they are spending on rebranding.

Yet some attempts to rename local authorities have led to public outcries - and even the courts in the case of Derry City and Strabane. Commentator and former politician Seamus Close said the public cared more about services than what councils look like. "It is an ongoing saga about cutbacks everywhere you look - so what a time for councils to spend so much on image, particularly when the image of councils over the past has not been to the fore of people's minds," he said.

"People want their services to be improved and quite honestly I don't think they give a fiddler's about what type of brand that those who are meant to be providing that service go under."

He added: "I would say without fear of contradiction that if the general public in those respective areas were asked what they think about this expenditure, they would give a very big thumbs-down. One has got to bear in mind that it is the electorate that is paying for all of this."

Mr Close said he believed the reorganisation of local government will add to the financial burden.

"It seems insensitive at this particular point in time," he said.

"The whole purpose of the reorganisation of local government was to save money, the argument used is that the savings will take a long period of time to realise, but the bottom line is that the impact is going to hit ratepayers.

"My view is that the reorganisation of local government will not bring about the savings that were initially anticipated. It is going to end up costing more money and only time will tell whether the service will be any better. My view is that because the areas to be serviced are so large, that they won't be."

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