The impending reform of local government in Northern Ireland presents a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’.
Addressing a number of elected representatives and business people in Ballymena, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA said it was his firm belief that the reform would benefit the communities which councillors are elected to serve.
The Minister was invited to Ballymena to hear at first hand how the business community in the area are working together to grow the local economy.
Referring to the reform implications for local communities, business and industry, Mr. Hamilton said: “I have yet to meet a councillor who didn’t want to possess the ability to exercise the sort of powers the Review of Public Administration (RPA) will bestow upon our new 11 Councils.
“The boundaries have been agreed. The legislation is passing through the Assembly. Now councillors and officials need to be thinking about how they can use their increased borrowing powers and bigger rates bases to invest in larger, more significant regeneration projects located where they deem most appropriate, using their planning powers. If they fail to do this, then the chance to take full advantage of what the RPA can do for the people living within our new local authority boundaries will be missed.
“I don’t think it’s too extravagant to say that we sit at the dawn of a new era of huge opportunity for local government in Northern Ireland.”
The Minister continued: “But reform shouldn’t stop at our town and city halls. It must come to Stormont too.
“I have long supported a significant reduction in the size and scale of the structures at Stormont. In these times when government budgets are under pressure and will remain so for years to come, how can we justify in a society as small as ours, 12 central government departments? Is any MLA prepared to justify to their constituents the maintenance of a bloated political bureaucracy at Stormont whenever times are so tough?
“More often than not, the debate about the size of our government has focused on the savings that streamlining Stormont could secure. Cutting costs is important but equally critical is creating structures at Stormont that are cohesive and, above all, capable of delivering the results we demand.So, this isn’t simply about smaller government. It’s about achieving smarter government.
“Everywhere you turn in the public sector, there are examples of where realigning responsibilities within fewer departments would result in better government.
“Shrinking the size of Stormont would certainly culminate in us saving millions of pounds each and every year but the bigger, better prize is, I believe, a more joined up and collaborative central government structure which would invariably increase the effectiveness of our government.”
Concluding the Minister said: “Not only would slimming down the size of Stormont streamline and speed up how we deliver public services, it would also remove many of the impediments that prevent us from having as responsive a government as we’d like.”
The Finance Minister visited Ballymena to hear first-hand how the business community in the borough is working together to grow the local economy.
He met with Council and local traders at a business lunch, including Ballymena Town Centre Development Ltd.
The Town Centre company includes representatives from local businesses and agencies within the public sector, who are working together to build on Ballymena’s position as a major centre in the North East Region, and its growing reputation as a key economic hub in Northern Ireland.