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Shadow bodies created as reorganisation process starts

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Transition committees of councillors have been set up to shadow each of the 11 proposed new councils as Northern Ireland’s acrimonious local government reorganisation begins.

Environment minister Alex Attwood said he set up the bodies despite his personal opinion that the present 26 councils should be reduced to 15, not the 11 decreed by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The new councils would gain powers roughly similar to those of an English district; they are now largely concerned only with environmental and consumer matters.

But the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (Nilga) has objected to Mr Attwood’s proposal that councils should bear the transition costs through efficiency savings.

At a meeting with the minister last week, Nilga officers demanded that the province’s executive should fund the process.

Nilga chief executive Derek McCallan complained that councils had been told of a reform programme that “will not have any investment provided by the executive to achieve it”

He added: “Local ratepayers should not bear the full cost of legislative policy.” 

Nilga has also urged the province’s assembly to give the new councils a power of general competence, and to lift the cap on their borrowing.

The organisation is also frustrated by the degree of involvement councils have been offered in planning the transition.

Nilga president Evelyne Robinson (DUP) said it “cannot foresee reform happening successfully without a clear, timetabled, local government designed delivery plan”.

But when Mr Attwood addressed Antrim and Newtownabbey BCs last week he made no reference to these issues, but said: “People know my belief that a 15 council model is better than the 11 option. That difference of view will not derail the need for reform and my belief in reform.”

 

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