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Foster in bid to end row over share-out of powers

By Noel McAdam

Environment Minister Arlene Foster is to meet local government leaders next week in a bid to resolve the row over the share-out of powers between councils and the Stormont Executive.

And other Executive members, including Finance Minister Peter Robinson, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and Industry Minister Nigel Dodds are also seeking individual sessions with angry council representatives.

Behind the fight over functions lie vital decisions about the way Ulster will be governed in the future - with the best way of delivering services to the public at the heart of the dispute.

The series of meetings is being arranged as it emerged the UK-wide group of council chief executives in the province have accused the Stormont Executive of a "masterclass in back-pedalling".

David Clark, director general of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, said Mrs Foster's initial proposals, known as Emerging Findings, was a "shameful" paper.

In an email briefing sent across the UK, he said the now five-year-old Review of Public Administration had proposed a smaller number of more powerful Councils.

"The proposition was that a large number of central government and quango powers should be devolved to local government. Well now, N. Ireland has its own elected body, ministers there have reviewed these proposals and, surprise, surprise, can see no reason to relinquish any authority to councils, preferring to keep it to themselves!

"Those who have watched the behaviour of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament may be forgiven for saying they have seen this all before... a master class in back-pedalling."

The Environment Minister, whose brief includes local government and who intends to make final decisions on both the numbers and responsibilities of councils in early January, has agreed to meet representatives of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (Nilga) which has slammed initial proposals as a "travesty", and has described the 'Emerging' document as wholly inadequate.

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