ELEVEN key Committees to drive forward preparations for the new councils taking over in April 2015 in Northern Ireland will now be established after regulations were affirmed in the Assembly (Wednesday 3 July 2013).
The new South Down Council will merge from Down District Council and Newry and Mourne District Council.
The Secretary of State has agreed that elections to the 11 new councils will take place in 2014. The actual date is to be confirmed, however, the Environment Minister Alex Attwood has been working to ensure that they take place on the same day as the European Elections (22 May 2014).
Known as Statutory Transition Committees (STC’s), they will have responsibility for leading convergence between merging councils and undertaking preparatory work for the new councils.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said: “This represents a major gear change in the reform programme. The regulations made today provide for the membership of the Statutory Transition Committees, their governance arrangements and their procedures. They give councils’ Transition Committees the statutory footing they have been seeking in order to take forward the next stage of their crucial transition work.”
The STC’s, which are made up of elected members, will gather information, and consider and advise on matters relevant to ensuring that the new councils are able to adopt their full range of powers and functions from 1 April 2015. They will be required to take forward work on corporate and financial planning, including the preparation of a draft budget and a draft corporate and business plan for the new councils. Each will also be responsible for appointing its Chief Executive through open competition.
Highlighting the progress of the programme, the Minister added: “It is now a year since the new council boundaries were agreed. Since then the programme has gathered significant pace. Executive funding has been secured, a councillors’ severance scheme has been consulted upon, the functions to transfer to local government have been agreed and a panel to advise on councillors’ remuneration has been established. Today is a major milestone, and in August I also intend to open a councillors’ severance scheme.”
Each STC will be allowed up to 16 members with the exception of Causeway Coast and Glens which will have 20 and Belfast which will have 25. All STC’s, with the exception of Belfast, will contain equal representation from each of the constituent councils.
Membership of STC’s will consist only of elected members from constituent councils and should proportionately reflect the political composition of the existing councils. The Belfast STC will contain two representatives from Castlereagh and two from Lisburn and these councillors must be representative of the areas which will join with Belfast.
STC’s must hold their first meeting within the next 35 days.
Current councils may choose to pay an allowance, of up to a maximum of £2,700 per annum, to each of their nominees to the STC.
STC’s will hand over to the new councils, initially operating in shadow form, once they are elected in 2014.
The Local Government (Statutory Transition Committees) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013 can be viewed atwww.legislation.gov.uk/nidsr/
UPDATE: Friday 8am – 5 July 2013.
SDLP’s McGrath – ‘Welcomes Statutory Transition Committee’
Councillor Colin McGrath has welcomed the introduction of the Down and Newry and Mourne Transition committee in a statutory from.
Commenting the SDLP’s Downpatrick Councillor said: ‘This is a giant step forward to the merger of the two councils. We now have the committee in place with legal requirements – requirements to appoint the Chief Executive and Senior Management Team, requirement to set the guidelines that we must follow for the introduction of the new council and one that will establish the culture of the new organisation.
“If the merger of our two councils was like building a new house we have just appointed the architects – the people that will shape the look, feel and existence of the new council and let us not forget that the new council will have a direct impact upon all residents in the area so this is a big step and an important milestone for everyone.
“I hope that at the committee next week we can appoint a chairman that will see the process through in a steady way that delivers the best possible service for residents and a council that will be robust and able to deliver on the ground. I hope as well that a chairman is appointed who will ensure the press and public get full access to all meetings and that the work of the new council is completed transparently and in full public view – no more behind closed doors deals – that is not good for anyone.
“Our districts our changing and the group of people who will deliver the change are in place. I hope the work is done quickly, effectively and in the best interest of the ratepayer and residents of our combined areas,” added Councillor McGrath.