26 November 2005

NI councils overhaul 'too sharp'


Paul Murphy said community balance was important

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy has admitted he felt, while in office, the reduction in district councils from 26 to seven was too much.

Secretary of State Peter Hain announced the measure as part of the biggest shake-up in Northern Ireland's local government for more than 30 years.

Mr Murphy said he had looked at a compromise between 11 and 15 councils, as favoured by most local parties.

"You have to ensure nationalists and unionists can work together," he said.

Mr Murphy said the final consultation on the changes had not taken place before he left office.

26 councils reduced to seven super councils
Maximum of 50 councillors per council
Planning responsibility returns to councils
Assembly members not allowed to sit on councils
Councils to devise community plan for delivery of local needs

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He added: "I'm absolutely sure I would have stuck to that sort of number before."

Sinn Fein was the only party to back the proposed seven-council structure, with the others favouring a reduction to 15.

The government predicted £200m a year savings by the plan which is expected to be implemented over four years.

It encompasses changes in various areas including health and education administration.

The move follows a Review of Public Administration which was set up by Stormont.

Mr Hain said the total number of public bodies in health, education and local government was being cut from 67 to 20.

Each of the seven councils - three in the west, three in the east, and a council in Belfast - will have a maximum of 50 councillors each.

The dual mandate allowing people to serve as Northern Ireland Assembly members and councillors will also be removed. At present this applies to 69 of the 108 assembly members.

Key decisions will be taken on a cross-community basis and in future councils will also have responsibility for a number of major functions like planning and local roads.

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