Alliance concerns with proposed Council reduction

Alliance Party Chief Whip, Kieran McCarthy, has criticised suggestions from RPA Minister Ian Pearson that the number of Councils in Northern Ireland should be cut to 5-8.

Mr McCarthy stated:

“Alliance believes that public administration in Northern Ireland is ripe for reform. Bureaucracy should be simplified while improving democratic accountability.

“While there is a need to drastically cut the number of District Councils, Alliance believes that the Minister is going to far in reducing them to 5-8.

“This suggestion seems to be based on a notion that councils and health and social services trusts must have the same boundaries. But trusts need a minimum population of 250,000 and this is far too large for a local council in most of the region.

“There also needs to be a balance found between the numbers of councils and their powers. The greater the powers, then the bigger the councils need to be in order to achieve economics of scale. But there is also value in councils and councillors being the first point of contact for people in terms of their democratic representation.

“I do not believe that the Government are going to grant Councils sufficient powers to justify going down this low. For example, no one is seriously contemplating giving them serious health or education powers.

“If the Government moves to create less than 10 councils, then communities will begin to claim that they are too big and remote, and the pressure will follow to create a series of ‘community councils’ or ‘neighbourhood councils’.

“The end result would be to recreate the inefficient system of local councils — counties, boroughs, urban and rural districts — that was abolished in 1973.

“Alliance believes that a figure of c15 Councils would be more appropriate. Other branches of government could be reorganised on a similar basis to allow all the agencies that affect local communities to sit around the table on an one-to-one basis.”

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