Seven councils could Balkanise NI: Ford

An Alliance Party delegation will today meet with Lord Rooker, the Minister with responsibility for the Review of Public Administration at 11.15 on Tuesday, 5 July at Craigantlet Buildings, Stormont. The party will caution against trying to create a false marriage between the units for the management of the health service and of local government.

Speaking before the meeting, David Ford said:

“I think that the broad parameters of the way forward on the Review of Public Administration are now in place, including a modest but still significant increase in the powers of local Councils, a radical overhaul of health and education structures, and a rationalisation of the number of Quangos.

“However, the level of increase in the powers of Councils does not necessitate a reduction in the number of local authorities to a figure of seven, nor even 11. At this level, Councils in Northern Ireland would be larger on average than their counterparts in Great Britain, but would still be exercising much less functions. A radical cut of this nature would compromise the delicate balance between economics of scale, and preserving local identity, community cohesion and accountability.

“There is also a real danger that in the absence of devolution the creation of seven councils, with the vast majority overwhelming dominated by either Unionists or Nationalists could amount to the Balkanisation of Northern Ireland.

“At the same time, there is a desire to put in place seven units for the management of the health service in order to provide co-terminosity with local councils. Yet all of the professional advice seems to be that four or five is the optimal number of units for the health sector. Given that health absorbs almost 40% of public expenditure, it does not make sense to make it operate on a less efficient basis, not least when seven units do not work for local government either.

“There are a number of crucial areas that still need to be resolved. These include the creation of a one-size fits all model of rotation of civic posts and power-sharing across the Councils. There is also a problem how local government is to financed, particularly with respect to equalisation grants, without further hikes in the regional rate.”


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