Belfast Telegraph

This is a relatively small overall figure if you compare it to similar schemes

Derek McCallan argues that the bigger picture - a more productive government at all levels - is being missed here

The severance scheme was decided upon in 2013, following lengthy consultation and driven by the minister at the time, Alex Attwood MLA.

At the time, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association strongly welcomed the principle and availability of a one-off severance package to recognise the long and outstanding service of many elected members during all or part of the period since the last local government reform took place in 1973.

There are now 120 fewer councillors than in March 2015, down 20%, and we are sure that the 12% reduction in the number of MLAs, from 108 to 96, which will not take effect until the Assembly elections of May 2020, was also put forward as something that would improve democratic representation in a modern Northern Ireland.

The councillor severance scheme was designed to streamline and to recognise the contribution of long-serving councillors who did not stand for re-election, many of whom have served their communities during periods of instability for up to 40 years. These councillors made a significant contribution to the needs of people in their areas and were accountable to people in local communities 365 days a year.

When compared to public sector severance schemes made available in other sectors, and when put beside councillor severance schemes in Scotland and similar neighbouring jurisdictions, this is a proportionately small overall figure and average figure per recipient. Recipients were required to have served for a minimum of 12 years and there was a cap on individual payments of £35,000 - the average receipt is actually less than half that amount.

In public life and in business, succession management is crucial and the minister through his departmental budget has implemented this scheme at no additional cost to ratepayers, the 26 legacy or 11 new councils.

What's more worrying for councils are the costs of reform NOT being invested in by the NI Executive, despite transferring key powers and responsibility to local government.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association will work tirelessly to ensure that investment in reform, well beyond the first 100 days of the new councils, together with a transformative agenda, is part of the new Programme for Government.

The bigger picture is more productive government at all levels, driven by local people.

We hope that the move to nine government departments recognises the work of outgoing civil servants, and MLAs, ultimately as part of making things more affordable and more efficient for all of us.

  • Derek McCallan is chief executive of NILGA, the umbrella body for councillors in Northern Ireland

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