Local Government Reform

Environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 7th December 2009.

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Photo of David McNarry David McNarry UUP 3:15 pm, 7th December 2009

5. asked the Minister of the Environment what discussions he has had with his Executive colleagues about the cost of local government reform.     (AQO 511/10)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

In my statement to the Assembly on 20 October 2009, I announced my intention to seek stakeholders’ views on the economic appraisal of options for local government service delivery. That consultation recently ended, and I will discuss the outcome with the Department’s strategic leadership board on 9 December. I have had some preliminary discussions with the Executive subcommittee on local government reform, and when I have considered the consultation responses and the strategic leadership board’s views, I intend to have full and frank discussions with my colleague the Minister of Finance and Personnel to explore the implementation and longer-term funding options that may be available, with a view to putting detailed proposals to the Executive in the new year.

Photo of David McNarry David McNarry UUP

I thank the Minister for his response. Is a case being made to justify spending millions of pounds on proposed reform of local government, only to end up in a situation in which the whole process may be disregarded because of the Minister’s intervention over a little local difficulty?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I am not holding the process up; rather, I am driving it forward. If others wish to hold up the process by holding back Bills or local government orders, that is up to them. However, I wish to push the process forward, and I am surprised that the Member does not know that and has not acknowledged it.

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

What effect will the Westminster proposals to cut public spending have on the reform of local government in Northern Ireland? Is the Minister still as optimistic about the timescale’s being achieved for the review of public administration?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The difficulties that the Member mentions about finances remind me of the song ‘Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)’, and I will be speaking to the Minister of Finance and Personnel this week on that very issue. Obviously, when money is tight, it is difficult to obtain additional resources for that type of activity. Nonetheless, I am of the view that it is a central government initiative, which, as such, requires some central government contribution. I have to persuade the Department of Finance and Personnel on that issue. Ultimately, we are looking at investing £118 million to save £438 million. That makes economic sense. I think that we can do it for considerably less than £118 million, and councils need to be proactive in identifying where savings can be made.

I have been asked a number of questions about there being a single waste disposal authority and a business services centre, and I wish to make it clear that the identified savings in those two areas amount to more than £300 million. Therefore, Members who are being parochial by saying that they do not want a single waste disposal authority and that they are not sure about a business services centre can tell the ratepayers that even though £300 million would have been saved over 25 years, that will now be imposed on them as a tax or else services will not be delivered. Those Members should come back to me after they have told the public that.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister says that he is not holding anything up, and I accept his word on that. However, if he is not holding the process up, perhaps he can tell us who on the Executive is holding it up?

Is the Minister aware of the great uncertainty that exists in local government circles, not only among councillors but among local government employees, who are uncertain about their future and wish to see a firm timetable established as soon as possible?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

It is fairly evident who is holding up the Bill, which has been sitting ready to go out to public consultation since June — the deputy First Minister’s office. A lot of toys are being thrown out of prams because certain people are not getting their way on a whole range of issues, and they are even threatening to pull down the institutions. However, they may find that threats and bullying do not work well with other folk in the Chamber.