Northern Ireland’s political and public services landscape is vastly different to other parts of the UK and Ireland. Of the £21 billion it costs to “run” Northern Ireland each year, less than £1 billion of that (just over 4%) rests with the 11 councils. Elsewhere, it’s about 24%.
NILGA asserts that a review is required, challenging public perceptions and government thinking to transform what we do, not just administer and carry on as we are. During the last two years of political limbo, councils have been the only fully functioning level of government and have continually stepped up to the plate, delivering vital public services, employment and investment and can do much more, including being a supply chain region for Heathrow Airport.
Local government contributes massively to developing and sustaining thousands of new jobs across Northern Ireland, creating taxes needed to sustain the public purse, including roads, education and health.
Sustainable development has a transformative effect on people and places. Councils are increasingly at the forefront of enterprise in Northern Ireland and it is councils who are best positioned to understand current need and future requirements in their areas. Places such as Cornwall have been offered billions of pounds for city, devolution and growth funding through their local councils and this should be happening here.
Some people may say that councils aren’t fit for such things, but they are dynamic hubs and have the ability to be innovative and accountable. Local government is ready and willing, but the resources must be provided to match expectations.
We should not enter another council term without planning to change. Let’s change the record. Let’s negotiate, with robust evidence, a better way to be public servants, from the bottom up, with sustainable community wealth and health being the outcomes. Let’s place greater focus on the layer of government that provides solutions – local authorities.
This article first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 12 February 2019.