Doors are being knocked, leaflets shoved through letterboxes, and party activists are tramping up and down the pavements all across the country.
The starting gun has been fired on the upcoming Assembly Election and the campaign is now well and truly underway. In six short weeks, Northern Ireland will have 90 new MLAs up on the hill, delivering for their communities and their constituents.
Despite this mandate being restricted to only two years (and much of that dominated by the pandemic), as we saw with a flurry of late bills being passed before the Assembly dissolved last week, the Assembly and local decision making are eminently forces for good.
It’s important that Northern Ireland continues to have decisions being made locally which affect each and every one of us here. And it’s also vital that these decisions are being made at the most local level, and as close to our communities as possible.
Local government in Northern Ireland and our 11 local councils have worked incredibly hard over the past two years and have the most effective partnerships in place to support their work. In the face of Covid, our councils, elected members, council officers, and staff continued to deliver for their communities. Whether it was providing food parcels to the vulnerable and elderly, ensuring bins were collected, keeping our streets clean and tidy, or other key public services, our councils delivered for their residents time and time again.
While the past two years have been an immense challenge for the public sector and have put a serious strain on our councils, they have also served to highlight the huge value local government brings to Northern Ireland.
Ahead of this election, now is the time for political parties and central government to fully and properly recognise this value and its importance in the local democratic makeup of this place. This election is an opportunity to bring local government in as a full and proper partner in the provision of public services, in designing policy, and, ultimately, delivering more for the people of Northern Ireland.
NILGA, along with our partners in SOLACE and across the 11 local councils, are calling on the new Executive and incoming ministers to commit to a new deal for local government. While specific issues like the transfer of key powers such as regeneration, the transform of our planning system, and a more sustainable funding model for local government are of course vital, our key ask is that central government begins to recognise us as an equal partner who has the skills, data, and expertise to provide for our communities.
Local government proved itself and its worth during the pandemic, as well as when the Assembly was absent for three years prior to Covid. Our councils know their areas better than any other institutions. They know what works for their communities, what they need more of, what they need less of and have the partnerships in place to ensure citizens get the public services they deserve. Even more local decision making and local policy development doesn’t just make sense; it’s necessary if we are to create a more sustainable Northern
Ireland, one which aims to deal with the economic, social, and environmental challenges before us.
The May 5 is a vital opportunity to reset the balance, lift up our councils, and recognise what local government can do with the proper resources and finances in place.