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Inept Northern Ireland councils ripe for reform

Your article, 'Council looking for more investment for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon' (Business, October 9), reported: "Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said that 2017 had brought significant spending by inward investors and homegrown companies alike in sectors from retail to pharmaceuticals."

From the examples given, I would suggest that the council had little to do with these corporate decisions, but, like so many in the local government bubble, is always standing close by for photo opportunities.

A glance at the Local Government Auditor's report (July 2017) shows that, in 2015/16, local government in Northern Ireland raised £864m in rates, charges and grants to support this second tier of government.

Around £349m went on staff costs, with average salaries up 4.6% at £35,029. The majority of spending went on leisure and sport and waste management and disposal. Only 2% went on local economic development.

Overall, local government delivers less than 5% of all public service spending here.

Virtually no headway has been made in delivering efficiency savings through shared services or collaboration following the move to 11 councils in 2015.

While our attention is held by the Stormont fiasco, local government slips under the radar. But it is fair to ask why we need the vast bureaucracy of local government, with over five times the number of councillors as MLAs, to deliver so little.

Hardly a week goes by without some example of council largesse or ineptitude hitting the headlines. Some of the most divisive issues, such as flags and bonfires, have their genesis in council in-fighting.

Nothing that local council delivers could not be done by the Assembly or outsourced to the private sector at substantially less cost.

If we are blessed with a period of direct rule to get our house in order, let's not confine reform of our machinery of government to the Assembly alone.


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