The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has urged Stormont leaders to commit to devolving greater powers to local councils in Northern Ireland in any future restored Assembly.
The call came as NILGA’s Central-Local Government Political Forum met for the fourth time last week. The forum, made up of MLAs and Councillors from the five main parties and 11 councils across Northern Ireland, brings together councils, departments and strategic partners in business and wider society, to address key public services issues and forge solutions to matters of common concern.
In the Assembly’s absence, the Forum provides opportunity for policy & forward planning development and is crucial to councils who are facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets and resources.
The Forum, which met at Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, held discussions with representatives from the Department of Finance and the Department for Communities about the development of new rates proposals, climate action, regeneration, community planning and the Code of Conduct. Its existence serves to sharply highlight the increasingly unsustainable position the continued absence of an Assembly has left local government in.
The 11 local councils are now the only democratically elected and fully functioning part of government currently fulfilling all their duties, and unfinished business is piling up, including elements of the Local Government Act over four years since it was made law.
As such, the strain on local government is greater than ever. Local government is ready and willing to work where the Assembly is stuck in a stalemate. However, local councils need greater finances, powers and resources to best meet the demand from citizens and to be able to do their jobs more efficiently.
Any new Programme for Government must now prioritise granting further powers and resources to local councils to ensure strong and effective representation across all levels of government in Northern Ireland.
New NILGA President, Cllr Frances Burton commented:
“It is important that our local communities get as much affordable investment through our councils, whether this is for jobs and skills, infrastructure, community planning or leisure. Therefore, we urge all government departments and a restored Assembly to support local councils in every manner possible, as part of the Programme for Government, bringing their resources to the table, for local people and places. This is urgent, now more than ever.”
Chief Executive of NILGA, Derek McCallan added:
“NILGA wants to see a working and sustainable Legislative Assembly and Executive up and running as soon as possible, but until that happens, local councils need to be given greater powers and resource to get things done.”
“During the continued political impasse, councils are taking on more and more responsibility for their communities. The government needs to realise that – with negotiated resource transfers - local people and local councils possess the ability and solutions we need to address our economic, social and legislative deficits.”
“During the continued political impasse, councils are delivering more with less, taking on the likes of major infrastructure work as well as substantial, community led, preventative health work.”
"Coupled with the burden of meeting arbitrary targets, councils, the smallest part of the public sector, are being asked to take on more responsibility as the only functioning level of government in Northern Ireland, without the offer of additional resources required.”