FINANCE Minister Simon Hamilton MLA addressed a seminar in Belfast organised by CIPFA NI on the topic of ‘The Future of Local Government in NI’.
Mr Hamilton used his speech to encourage local government to embrace the exciting opportunities that RPA presents to shape the social and economic future of our communities.
The Finance Minister also rounded on critics of local government reform. Commenting, Simon Hamilton said: “It seems that there are still some at Stormont who seek to disrupt the reform of local government. They would deny Councils and the communities they represent the power to more effectively shape their futures.
“I noted the recent call by the UUP’s Tom Elliott for the RPA to be ditched. Tom conveniently forgets that it was his own party colleague Sam Foster when he was Environment Minister who kick-started the whole RPA process with a speech to the UUP conference in 2000. Tom criticises the cost of RPA and the disruption it will cause. Isn’t it the UUP’s position that we should reduce the number of Councils in Northern Ireland to 15? Wouldn’t that equally cost money and cause disruption? Not for the first time, the UUP attempt to score political points on a subject in which their own fingerprints are clearly visible.
“It’s time for people like Tom to realise that this is happening. We all now must begin to appreciate the wonderful opportunity that RPA presents to all of us in public life in Northern Ireland to not just develop a vision for our areas but to realise it and, in the process, build a better Northern Ireland”.
Addressing the CIPFA seminar, Simon Hamilton said: “I have already outlined how the entire public sector in Northern Ireland needs to reform to deal with diminishing public spending and rising public expectations. In local government, reform is already a reality.
“The Review of Public Administration will bestow upon local government unprecedented powers. Powers like planning, regeneration, local economic and tourism and community planning, all exercised by bigger Councils with larger rates bases and enhanced borrowing powers.
“A smaller number of Councils working more closely together will, over time, realise the sort of savings outlined in the PwC report, but RPA was never just about pure monetary savings. It is about having Councils of satisfactory size to devolve down to them the powers that they’ve asked for time and time again and to create a local government with sufficient scale to shape the social and economic future of our new Council areas.
“In planning for RPA, elected members in particular need to concentrate much more on how they are going to fully grasp the potential of powers like becoming the planning authority for their locality, what you will do with the power of community planning to maximise all public service delivery, and how regeneration powers can be utilised to increase the size of your rates base. They need to start asking themselves how they can also be the drivers of much needed reform in Northern Ireland.
“For some, RPA is viewed as a merger of existing Councils more than the creation of new, empowered entities that it is. The Councillors elected next year will, in effect, be the ‘founding fathers’ of new local government institutions with the ability to do things differently and achieve ambitions for our areas that previous generations of Councillors could only dream about,” said Mr Hamilton.