For the first time in well over a year, a political Forum between elected members of councils and MLAs met on 17th April at the Stormont Hotel.
Driven by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), the Forum of over 20 elected members from all the five main political parties assessed key issues affecting local and central government - legislative, fiscal and wider issues including Brexit – and considered proposals to develop political arrangements for joint working.
Speaking following the meeting, NILGA President, Alderman Arnold Hatch, said:
“This Forum will meet again. There is work to be done and a spirit of co-operation ran through it. The lack of an Assembly is impacting every community across Northern Ireland, from the health of our people, to growing our economy, to investing in our infrastructure. Whilst NILGA seeks a restored and effective Stormont as soon as possible, in the meantime we cannot go into elections for councils next year (May 2019) with unfinished business waiting Ministerial sign off, like Standing Orders, a revised Code of Conduct regarding standards and performance, other legislation and vitally - public services which are facing cutbacks, like roads maintenance, increasingly being pushed into the delivery domain of our councils. Councils are the most effective part of the public sector, but we need the resources to carry out existing let alone additional services including health prevention, winter maintenance, capital regeneration schemes in the Community Planning partnerships, civil contingencies around flooding: the list goes on. Today’s meeting was about government, at political level, central and local, coming together to find solutions, to develop a mechanism whereby there is proper political scrutiny of public sector spending and policy development in Northern Ireland. NILGA and councils are diligent but proportionately only 4% of NI’s public purse of £21 billion. But we’re working for local people in local places who have local needs.
I welcome the cross party, unanimous agreement on the need for central and local government politicians to meet regularly and to share the facts – facts about the need to improve local services by giving councils the legislative power, with government departments getting fully behind the 11 Community Plans – legislation is needed to make this a reality.
NILGA continues to put the case for Northern Ireland in the forums we engage in, across the UK, in Ireland, in Europe, and in the Commonwealth. We do this for one principal reason – ensuring that communities are given the best services and strongest prospects as possible to be sustainable, enterprising places. Government at all levels needs to be more entrepreneurial, for the sake of the public we serve, and lessons can be taken from the work of our new councils since 2015. When you work from the bottom up, even Brexit can be countenanced as a high level policy matter that needs simpler, local solutions to do with people and place”.