The creation of so-called ‘super councils’ in a shake up of local government is a reality - despite opposition in some quarters, the finance minister has said.
Addressing the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) yesterday, Simon Hamilton rounded on critics of the restructuring proposals saying they should appreciate the “wonderful opportunity” on offer.
“The Review of Public Administration (RPA) will bestow upon local government unprecedented powers. Powers like planning, regeneration, local economic and tourism and community planning, all exercised by bigger councils with larger rates bases and enhanced borrowing powers,” he said.
Mr Hamilton criticised former UUP leader Tom Elliott for dismissing the plans as “flawed”.
He said: “It seems that there are still some at Stormont who seek to disrupt the reform of local government.
“They would deny councils and the communities they represent the power to more effectively shape their futures.”
Mr Hamilton said it was the former UUP environment minister Sam Foster who “kick-started” the RPA process back in 2000 and added: “Tom criticises the cost of RPA and the disruption it will cause. Isn’t it the UUP’s position that we should reduce the number of councils in Northern Ireland to 15?
“Wouldn’t that equally cost money and cause disruption? Not for the first time, the UUP attempt to score political points on a subject in which their own fingerprints are clearly visible.”
However, Mr Elliott rejected the claims saying the RPA proposals would “fail to deliver the promised benefits” to Northern Ireland ratepayers.
“I have already identified the costs involved in the super-council proposals far outweigh the savings for the foreseeable future, the data which they are using is out of date, the proposals take little account of community identity and it could be argued that the boundaries have been gerrymandered, especially for our capital city of Belfast.
“Now even the environment minister admits there are multiple examples of serious mismanagement in the transition arrangements.
“SDLP minister Mark H Durkan is calling for councils to sort out the nomination process for the Statutory Transition Committees, who have the key function of smoothing the path from 26 to 11.”
Mr Elliott added: “The Ulster Unionist Party invites the DUP to join us in campaigning for a better solution to local government reform.”