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Local Government Reform Programme

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:00 pm on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 5:00 pm, 20th October 2009

It was a very good speech. I have demonstrated how much I think of County Fermanagh: I was instrumental in delivering the Waterways Ireland headquarters to Enniskillen, so I would not necessarily oppose those three organisations being based in County Fermanagh.

I suspect that, when the Member says that the £118 million of costs will be a burden on the ratepayers, he would not want central government taking any of the £438 million of savings from local government. We need to facilitate the period between the costs kicking in and the savings kicking in so that no burden falls on the ratepayers in the intervening period and so that costs can be met through the savings made. That can be achieved, and there will be considerable long-term benefits as councils may not have to increase rates by so much because identifiable savings have been made as a result of what we are doing today.

The Member refers to an issue with which I suspect the Finance Minister will have to deal: in some council areas rates will have to increase considerably, while in others they will decrease considerably. My thought on that — I am not the Finance Minister — is that it would be impossible to deliver that in one year and that there must be a period of convergence that would be acceptable to ratepayers. That is something that my ministerial colleague Sammy Wilson will have to consider, but my immediate thought is that a new council could not be established successfully if ratepayers were being hit with a 20% rate rise in the first year of that council. That would be hugely detrimental to the entire process.