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Local Government Reform Programme

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 4:45 pm, 20th October 2009

I thank the Member for her questions and for the commitment of the Environment Committee in helping to drive the programme through by dealing with the legislative process. I recognise that a heavy burden is being placed on the Committee, but it is the public’s desire that the Assembly work hard. The Committee will have to deal with six Bills related to one particular issue, and with other Bills, as will I; that is a demonstration that the Assembly is working hard. There might not be anyone outside listening to that, but nonetheless it is a fact.

Of the £90 million that was referred to, £75 million was associated with health reform and has nothing to do with this programme. This programme has to do with local government. The cost is £118 million. We believe that that estimate is at the upper end, and the cost is likely to come in lower than that. The savings are identified at £438 million. Again, that is at the lower end, and we believe that the savings could be considerably greater. The difference between £438 million and £118 million is £320 million, and that is the benefit to the taxpayers and ratepayers.

The fact is that this is being hit up front, so how do we work out a scheme to deal with it? I will be in negotiations with the Finance Minister. However, what happened previously in other parts of the United Kingdom was that government loans were given to local authorities and, once they started to generate savings, those loans were paid back over a period at a preferential interest rate. That has to be negotiated. I will have my negotiations with the Minister and local government, and I will consult the House on the best way forward in respect of finance. Nothing is set in stone at this point, but I have indicated the route that was taken in the rest of the UK.