Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Poots issues deadline to councils

Edwin Poots
Mr Poots was speaking at a conference in Newcastle

The minister responsible for NI's local government has given councils a week to accept proposals for new structures.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots wants a single waste authority and business service as part of an efficiency drive.

He has given councils until 25 February and has threatened to block plans to reduce the number of councils unless his proposals are agreed.

There are currently 26 councils in Northern Ireland but there are plans to reduce this number to 11.

Mr Poots was addressing delegates at the Northern Ireland Local Government Association's (Nilga) conference.

Last October Mr Poots told the assembly the process of cutting councils would cost an extra £118m over a five-year period, but added that this would mean savings of £438m could be made over 25 years.

But, in a leaked letter obtained by the BBC in November he warned his Executive colleagues that time was running out to reach agreement.

Speaking at the Nilga conference in Newcastle the minister said "delivering change is long overdue."

There are plans to amalgamate the 26 councils into 11 bigger areas
There are plans to amalgamate the 26 councils into 11 bigger areas

"Regional collaboration across councils sets us in the strategic direction towards a world class, effective and efficient value for money system of local government in Northern Ireland," he said.

"For me this is the only direction of travel and this agenda must be grasped and driven forward by all of us.

"I will not take forward a programme that requires significant public expenditure but does not deliver the long term savings that, if grasped, can be achieved."

However the president of Nilga, John Matthews, said he was concerned this new single business organisation, which would deliver payroll, finance, HR and procurement services, represented another layer of bureaucracy and suggested Nilga had a plan that was better than the ministers.

A submission from Nilga said it was "committed to reform" but rejected the proposal of a single business organisation.

"The model suggested is undemocratic, inflexible and likely to be unresponsive to member council needs," it said.

"Nilga also contends that current best practice would suggest that the separate roles of design and delivery of services should not be provided within the same organisation due to the potential conflict of interest."

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