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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 17:11 GMT
Major reform of local government
Peter Hain
Peter Hain announced the changes to government structures
The biggest shake-up in Northern Ireland's local government for more than 30 years has been unveiled.

Secretary of State Peter Hain announced a reduction in district councils from 26 to seven - Belfast and six others.

The health and education boards are to be scrapped and the law is to be changed to stop individuals serving as both assembly members and councillors.

The government predicts 200m a year savings by the plan which is expected to be implemented over four years.

The move follows a Review of Public Administration which was set up by Stormont.

CHANGES TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT
26 councils reduced to seven super councils
Maximum of 50 councillors per council
Planning responsibility returns to councils
Assembly members not allowed to sit on councils
Councils to devise community plan for delivery of local needs

Mr Hain said the total number of public bodies in health, education and local government was being cut from 67 to 20.

"This is a very significant reduction, shifting the emphasis from administration to front line services. This is a people agenda, not a party agenda," he said.

"For a place the size of Northern Ireland, 5,400 square miles with a population of 1.7m people, we are both over-governed and over-administered."

He said his "vision" for the future was the "greatest single challenge to the public sector here for over 30 years".

CHANGES TO HEALTH
New authority to replace 4 health and social services boards
Five health trusts to replace current 18 trusts
Seven local commissioning groups for "better decision making"
Patient and Client Council to replace 4 health and social services councils

Each of the seven councils - three in the west, three in the east, and a council in Belfast - will have a maximum of 50 councillors each.

The dual mandate allowing people to serve as Northern Ireland Assembly members and councillors will also be removed. At present this applies to 69 of the 108 assembly members.

Key decisions will be taken on a cross-community basis and in future councils will also have responsibility for a number of major functions like planning and local roads.

A new Strategic Health and Social Services Authority will replace the existing four health boards. The 18 hospital trusts will be cut to five and seven local commissioning groups will be set up.

Health Minister Shaun Woodward said the current organisation of health and social services was "too cumbersome, too bureaucratic, and inefficient".

"If there is a continuing theme to everything I am trying to achieve in health and social services, it is to ensure we put patients first," he said.

CHANGES TO EDUCATION
New authority to replace 5 education and library boards
Role of boards of governors to continue largely unchanged
Youth services to stay under Department of Education control
Many functions of department to transfer to new authority
Libraries not transfering to local government

A new education authority will undertake the functions currently carried out by the five boards.

Education Minister Angela Smith said it was the government's aim to provide better and more streamlined services.

"The existing structure is unwieldy, with five boards and numerous support bodies," she said.

"It is also a costly system with much duplication.

Powers

The NIO minister with responsibility for the Review of Public Administration, Lord Rooker, said councils would gain powers for planning, local roads functions and regeneration.

"Local government must be at the heart of local services, locally delivered to operate at a size and a scale that will allow a council to stretch itself in terms of the services it delivers now and into the future," he said.

The reduction in the number of local authorities will also have an impact on policing structures.

Currently, the number of District Command Units matches the number of councils, with 26 commanders.

An announcement on quangos is expected before the end of March.





SEE ALSO:
NI local government set for shake-up
18 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
'No threat to Catholic education'
17 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Parties 'must commit to services'
04 May 05 |  Northern Ireland
Red tape spending 'clamp down'
13 Jan 04 |  Northern Ireland
Election marks end of council era
05 Apr 05 |  Northern Ireland


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