Northern Ireland councils spend £5m hiring vehicles
COUNCILS in Northern Ireland have spent more than £5 million in recent years hiring vehicles.
Causeway Coast and Glens council accounted for nearly half of the figure, with its vehicle hire spend topping more than £2.3m in around five years.
Belfast City Council had the second-highest cost at more than £966,000 over a three-year period.
In contrast, the lowest spend was less than £20,000 over almost four years by Mid Ulster council.
SDLP assembly member Colin McGrath, who compiled the figures, said the spending was "astounding".
He expressed concern over the disparity in vehicle hire spending across councils, and urged them to instead invest in fleets of vehicles to save ratepayers cash in the longer term.
The figures were disclosed through questions and Freedom of Information requests to Northern Ireland's 11 councils.
Some provided details for more years than others. One local authority, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, declined to provide the information on cost grounds.
Mr McGrath said this type of hiring expenditure was "only kicking the can down the road" on the need to purchase vehicles.
"These figures are astounding. This is dead money – money that is spent hiring vehicles is money that is not being invested in council fleets long term," the South Down MLA said.
"The whole purpose and remit of the Review of Public Administration was for there to be a consistent and cost-effective approach to public spending with a view to saving the public purse – not draining it."
Mr McGrath said he would be writing to the Department for Communities and Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service "to ask for interventions on this matter to ensure the best value for public money".
Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said it uses a combination of owned and hire vehicles to "provide front-line services".
"During the year 2018/19 a new brown bin collection service was introduced using hire vehicles," a spokeswoman said.
"Council continually review front line services including the option of purchase or hire of vehicles."
Belfast City Council, the largest of the north's councils, said it has more than 360 vehicles and is "looking at options" to reduce vehicle hire costs.
Its vehicle hire spend covers a range of uses from "cleansing, parks and waste management duties", a spokeswoman said.
"As well as ensuring the continued delivery of services to our residents, supplementing our existing fleet with hire vehicles, where required, enables us to meet our recycling targets, reducing our landfill tax bill by £5 million in 2017/18 alone, and to support the local economy by providing direct employment opportunities," she said.
"The council is looking at options to reduce vehicle hire costs by replacing any older, less efficient fleet with modern, eco-friendly models, which will also reduce the environmental footprint of our operations.
"This work is ongoing, with 164 older vehicles replaced with new since 2013/14."
:: Council spending on vehicle hire in recent years
Causeway Coast and Glens – £2,375,949 (14/15 - early Mar 19)
Belfast City – £966,368 (15/16 - 17/18)
Newry City, Mourne and Down – £665,100 (15/16 - 18/19)
Mid and East Antrim – £301,237 (15/16 to early Mar 19)
Derry City and Strabane – £275,437 (Apr 15 - early Sept 18)
Lisburn City and Castlereagh – £270,326 (Apr 15 - Oct 18)
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon – £158,193 (15/16 - 17/18)
Ards and North Down – £92,000 (15/16 - early Mar 19)
Fermanagh and Omagh – £26,271 (15/16 - Aug 18)
Mid Ulster – £19,508 (15/16 to early Mar 19)
Antrim and Newtownabbey – (refused to disclose)
Total – £5,150,389