Published 16 October 2012 @ 09:06
Councillor Sean McPeake, speaking at the NILGA Executive on October 12th 2012 for the first time since his inauguration as President, referred to the Local Government Reform Programme being at “crunch time”.
NILGA has clearly stood up for strong local government, reformed with the right resources and in the right way. That message will be unrelenting but there’s a hill to climb. Councils need certainty – not in respect of what will happen, or what the end game is, but how the changes are to be delivered, such as the strength of community planning legislation, a clear suite of functions being transferred, how and when people from outside councils are being brought in to local authorities as part of function transfers, and when and how senior officer appointments will take place.
The Association acknowledges and indeed commends those charged with delivering the raft of implementation work – some 26 groups and sub-groups at the last count. But they are not taking decisions. Nothing within the Regional structures set-up, from the overarching and sub level Transition Committees to the sub-groups populated by scores of officers looking at critical matters like transfers, convergence of systems, legislation and finance, are taking decisions. In this sense, governance, engagement and awareness must radically increase.
Councillor McPeake referred to the resource deficiencies in the Reform Programme.
“I reiterate NILGA’s respect for the officials engaged in a plethora of working groups, where, seemingly, many crucial projects and actions are being recommended. In some instances, human resources are at breaking point and in most cases the work is being carried out in addition to senior responsibilities in individual councils. Unless dedicated resources are brought to the Reform tables, there will be a very real prospect of the strategic imperative and the work plans being lost in a “treadmill” of disconnected bodies. This Programme of work needs up-front investment and NILGA urges the Executive to define and distribute this to councils, in order that they can invest to save, and get quality work done, mindful that all council officers and councillors are accountable only to their individual councils and its electorate”.
Concluding, he added: “NILGA, through a recently agreed contract with the Department, will seek to drive regional engagement and awareness, promote elected member development for the councillors of today and the councils of tomorrow, and assist in communicating key messages across all 26 local authorities. Our small team will deliver on this in the best interests of councils. Communication must be clear, thorough and consistent.
Right now, my message is an urgent one – remove the doubt, and never, ever, work in a decision vacuum – bring it all together with proper governance, determined and signed off by elected members. If we bring a dynamic process into life with knowledge, resources and democracy, then we will be in the right place. Ratepayers expect and deserve nothing less”.