A new political forum driven by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association with MLAs and Councillors drawn from all five main political parties has met for the second time.
The Forum first met in April in response to the lack of an Assembly and Executive and is a focussed attempt to develop proper political scrutiny at local level of public sector spending and policy development. Local councils remain the only form of local government fully functioning at present.
The policy summit met again today at the Stormont Hotel, close to Parliament Buildings and Stormont House – institutions mothballed at political level for over a year and a half.
Issues such as emergency planning; education; and sustainable waste management were in sharp focus at today’s session. NILGA has also affirmed the need for the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and the leaders from each of the main political parties to resume talks and set up a Legislative Assembly ahead of the local council elections in May 2019.
The group sits in the week that Northern Ireland missed out on the world record for being the country without a government for the longest period in peacetime – “scuppered” by the fact that Westminster can still legislate for NI.
Recently, NILGA set out an evidence case for greater devolution within Northern Ireland, stating that the opportunity now exists to unlock the potential of local government as the hub of public services and one which has a key part to play to solving the current paralysis.
NILGA President, Cllr Dermot Curran said:
“NILGA wants to see a modern, revitalised Stormont as soon as possible. The lack of government is impacting every community across Northern Ireland, from the health of our people, to growing our economy, to investing in our infrastructure. It is no badge of honour to be in limbo for such a protracted period.”
“Next May it will be the local government elections and people will be asked to vote for a tier of government which is crucial to every community, but which only directly controls a 4% portion of NI’s annual public purse of £21 billion, but which influences much more. That has to be recognised, legislatively and financially”
“We make no apology for bringing matters of common and huge concern to taxpayers into a forum where both tiers of government can work together. Local government has proven that it can deliver services to citizens and now needs more legislative powers and a greater share of the public purse. We are trying every avenue to deal with such things without Stormont, recognising that administering budgets through officials is neither ideal nor sustainable.”
“Local councils are a key part of democracy and public service delivery. Lack of Ministerial sign-off is clearly holding us all back. Councils can deliver more but only if they are resourced to do so. NILGA is willing and able to work with all parts of government and wider civic society to sort this out and develop a better Northern Ireland for all.”