Christmas is coming and councils need to mind the pennies

We don’t think too highly of some of our local councils.
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At least that’s the impression I get from the many comments I hear from various conversations I pick up living with a husband – a former journalist - the kind with little or no respect for local authorities – and his mates who think elected representatives are not deserving of our votes. I’m putting that mildly so as not to offend the few who are up to the job.

This doesn’t mean I think the same even though I spent some years covering Council meetings, having to write stories from those meetings which encouraged me to think at times that local counsellors were indeed not worth voting for.

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I had great respect for a few of them but back in my time when a Commission was set up to run Ballymena – largely I suspect because the town, in particular, needed progressing into the next century and there wasn’t quite the expertise at the Town Hall to begin the task – there was little resistance from the locals.

Sandra ChapmanSandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

The job did get completed, the locals were content and normal politics resumed. It was back to councillors and monthly meetings. However some new difficulties have arisen at Ballymena leaving the locals plenty to talk about.

Half a century on, running a Council is still no simple matter but respect for Councils and those who get elected to them is proving hard to achieve. Who doesn’t complain these days about the `poor service’ they get from the Town Hall. When they see stories in the newspapers such as this week’s where a council’s `mayoral car bill is fifth highest in UK’ (Belfast Telegraph): it’s enough to start an uprising.

This particular council - Antrim and Newtownabbey - (I live in its jurisdiction) has cost its ratepayers almost £50,000 on a leasing arrangement since 2019. That’s much more that Belfast City Council’s expenditure of £41,263 on three mayoral vehicles.

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Ratepayers can be very touchy about how their taxes are spent and expensive modes of transport for their hierarchy get their backs up. A Mayoral car is a necessity I would have thought. We can hardly expect a Mayor to attend events in his own outmoded ageing Jaguar or clapped out Mini. The problem is we’ve all been hit with severe cost of living bills and none of us thinks our Councils should be spending like there is no tomorrow.

Christmas lights at Belfast City HallChristmas lights at Belfast City Hall
Christmas lights at Belfast City Hall

We see Councils and those who work for them as being `public sector’ and who hasn’t been angered by the fact that this sector appears to be doing very well for itself in these hard times when it comes to pay rises and working from home.

Admittedly not all their demands are met but they are miles ahead of those in the private sector who have no chance of obtaining pay rises in double figures, if any at all.

The Christmas month has started and we often look to Councils for a bit of cheer as they decorate our towns and villages. It should be money wisely spent.