David Ford said: “I am concerned that the Executive are sleepwalking into a cash crisis on council reform. There are apparently massive costs building up, with uncertain benefits forthcoming and all this is happening within a totally unrealistic timeframe. The Executive must get their act together and take the time needed to get local government right.
“We will study the consultant’s lengthy report in detail. It appears that it illustrates very significant costs, while the benefits of reorganisation may be quite limited in the short-term.
“We cannot at this stage judge the benefits that will come from the council shake-up. Massive question remain and the Stormont Executive must answer them and demonstrate how, when and where savings will be delivered by this move..
“We have supported reform and believe that more powers should be passed to councils. The work carried out until now has been invaluable; however, we are facing a financial crisis in government and must avoid unnecessary costs and put certainty at the heart of the process.
“It may well be the case that it is more cost-effective to keep the current pattern of councils and encourage them to co-operate and pool resources than it would be to go through a complex and expensive process.
“Northern Ireland is facing severe cuts in health services and education. We can ill-afford to spend this kind of cash on playing with local government structures without ensuring real benefits. The Executive need to get real on public finances and do everything possible to safeguard frontline services. They need to get their priorities right.
“We are studying the report at this present time and while we don’t want to jump quickly to any conclusions, we have serious concerns about current plans.”