BALLYMENA Councillor Declan O’Loan has said that an announcement of £47.8 million from the DOE Minister for costs in the setting up the new Councils means that the programme should “go ahead at all speed”.
The SDLP representative said that the sum covers costs which will not bring payback to Councils in terms of savings.
“Items which will bring long term savings to Councils will have to be borne by the Councils themselves, though soft loans may be provided to assist this programme,” Cllr O’Loan stated.
He described the announcement that the Executive has agreed to the DOE Minister’s request for substantial funding for the Council amalgamation programme as “important news”.
“There is no obstacle now to the programme going ahead. There will be funding of £13.8 million over the next two years to fund the new councils working in shadow form, a councillor severance scheme, capacity building for staff and councillors, change management and winding up costs,” said Mr O’Loan.
“There will also be £30 million to assist with rates convergence, to ensure that the ratepayers in a low-rate Council won’t be hit with a huge increase if they join a high-rate Council.”
“I believe that the process of change to the new Councils should now push on apace. There are to be elections to the new Councils in June 2014 and the new and old Councils will run alongside for a further year. We need to get the programmes and finances of Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus councils aligned so that services and all the work that councils do continues seamlessly through the change. Staff need clarity about how this major change will affect them.”
Mr O’Loan also stated that councils will have substantial new powers including writing area plans, determining planning applications, and very wide community planning and wellbeing powers.
“I would now call on all councillors and staff across our three councils to throw their weight behind this project. Let’s put all our cards on the table and work together for the best solution for all our ratepayers in Mid and East Antrim,” he said.