Ulster Unionists call for analysis of cost of local government reform
THE Ulster Unionist Party has called for the audit office to assess whether savings promised through local government reform ever materialised.
Five years after the creation of 11 'super councils', UUP leader Robin Swann claimed an accompanying pledge to reduce costs and make services more effective "hasn't happened".
Mr Swann was launching his party's local government election manifesto in Belfast.
The UUP is fielding 117 candidates in next Thursday's poll.
"The savings that were promised – which drifted between £438m to £570m depending which entirely imagined figure they chose use that day – have never materialised," the North Antrim MLA told an audeince of party members and elected representatives in the Stormont Hotel.
"We were told of huge potential for efficiencies, for an end to duplication and for more services to be delivered more effectively and far more efficiently – but the figures confirm that hasn't happened."
The manifesto urges the Northern Ireland Audit Office to "do a full analysis" of the cost of merging 26 councils "to quantify any savings that have been generated".
Mr Swann claimed local government reform was "hijacked by the DUP and Sinn Fein for entirely political purposes".
"As a result, the new council boundaries were carved up – senselessly splitting communities and areas – to suit party political desires."
He claimed more than 300,000 households and almost 30,000 businesses were paying higher rates than before "as a direct result of the reforms".
Despite the UUP's scathing assessment, the party's manifesto advocates a "strengthened and more sustainably funded network of local government services".
"I want to see a slate of powers wrestled away from a dysfunctional grip at Stormont, down to our council chambers," Mr Swann said.
"Most people already assume councils are responsible for cutting the grass, filling in potholes and even providing local youth centres – so let's give them powers."
The UUP leader described local government as the "last remaining vestige of democracy that still functions".
He said Thursday's election was about "local councils, local democracy, local accountability and local responsibility".
"We cannot ignore that this campaign has seen the DUP and Sinn Féin trying to turn it into a border poll and create an atmosphere around it that is as toxic as the one they created at Stormont," he said.
"We cannot allow them to turn our local councils into 11 mini-Stormonts ruled by dysfunctionality, blighted with disrespect and wrecked by scandals."
The manifesto calls for councils to take control of libraries, minor roads maintenance, street lighting, community regeneration, and on-street parking.
It also includes policies relating to specific councils, such as improved transparency on funding allocations in Belfast, tackling debt in Mid Ulster, and supporting rural communities in Newry, Mourne and Down.