The Alliance Party has secured confirmation the Department for Communities will consider issuing guidance aimed at halting abuse of the call-in procedure within local government.
Alliance representatives secured the move at a meeting with the Department’s Permanent Secretary on Thursday morning – a meeting sought by the party as part of its on-going drive to deliver complete openness and transparency across all levels of government.
As it stands, the call-in procedure can be set aside if a decision is urgent and call-in would cause ‘unreasonable delay’. The clause was to ensure processes with a legal deadline or requiring immediate intervention to protect life or property could not be held up, however, there is no clarity or guidance as to what constitutes ‘unreasonable’, leaving the process open for manipulation – as seen recently when the DUP and Sinn Féin successfully blocked use of the procedure, preventing full scrutiny of their latest funding carve-up at City Hall.
Councillor Michael Long said: “In working together to carve up funds at City Hall, the DUP and Sinn Féin did everything possible to protect their own interests, including removing the right of others, through call-in, to question the process leading to the decision.
“The procedure is there for a reason – to ensure all decisions are fair and above board, and controversial decisions cannot be forced through without scrutiny. The current ambiguity around what is meant by unreasonable delay could leave this exemption open to abuse and councils across Northern Ireland open to legal challenge.
“I’m delighted the Department has recognised Alliance’s concerns and agreed to undertake further work on this. There must be no grey areas when it comes to openness, transparency and scrutiny of decisions, and I hope additional guidance is produced as soon as possible, ending the abuse of this clause to force through backroom deals for good.
“We also raised our more widespread concerns about funding mechanisms within the Council and the need for more openness and transparency in the interests of fairness and of accountability to rate-payers.”