A new local government group has been established to press for greater resources, devolution of powers and public sector improvement led by local councils.
The Reform, Devolution and Improvement Network set up by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), will study and seek changes to legislation – existing & delayed – together with policies and collaborative work across the public service on modernising the roles and powers of local government in NI. It will lobby with evidence for the devolution of greater powers and resources to local government, following cost benefit consultation, to allow councils and wider government to encourage local decision taking and prioritisation of more efficient public services.
The Network will develop a draft Programme for Local Government, with the primary aim of setting a growth and efficiency agenda to make NI more sustainable, aligned to but not dependent upon any restoration of the Legislative Assembly at Stormont.
The network will seek input from government and a wider base of social, community and business partners applying the principle and practice of co-design.
After today’s first meeting, the network’s chair Cllr Mark Glasgow (Mid Ulster District Council) commented:
“Local government remains a chronically under-utilised, under-resourced and under-financed part of our public service & our democratic governance here in Northern Ireland. The establishment of the Reform, Devolution and Improvement Network therefore comes at crucial time for NI and our local councils.
“For nearly three years now, we have been the only functioning form of political government in Northern Ireland. The strain on our councils and public services is more extreme than ever. Huge financial and administrative pressures are now the norm and greater uncertainty and constraints are to come. We must not exist from budget year to budget year just to get by, just when we are being asked to do more services with less resource. Local people and communities deserve greater certainty about ownership of the future, so we want to rewire how we’re governed and get local governance improved. There’s no time to waste.
“Between now and the next local government election in March 2023, the Reform, Devolution and Improvement Network will work hard to outline the tangible benefits of greater devolution of powers and resources to local councils. Reform of local government started in 2014 and, since then, we’ve seen our councils take on new and important responsibilities for local communities. That was just Chapter One of a new era. The job is only partly finished, we must now push to complete the reform of local, democratic institutions and public service provision in Northern Ireland.
“No longer can we have a “parent and child” approach to policies and budgets – we must as councils now be treated as an equal player and leaders in the governance of Northern Ireland and make this place more accountable, sustainable and well-governed.”