Northern Ireland news

Councils in Northern Ireland spend £130,000 entering themselves for awards

Councils have spent thousands of pounds in recent years entering themselves into awards competitions
Brendan Hughes

COUNCILS across Northern Ireland have spent more than £130,000 of ratepayers' cash in recent years entering themselves into awards competitions.

The spending included entering awards to recognise well-managed public parks, gongs to celebrate publicity and marketing, and the "Loo of the Year Awards".

Local authorities in the north have paid a total of £136,091.56 to enter 70 awards contests since 2017, records obtained by The Irish News reveal.

A further £13,082.78 was spent attending ceremonies for those awards in which they paid an entry fee and subsequently received nominations.

Public spending campaigners accused councils of misusing ratepayers' funds in "forking out for these trivial trophies".

But councils defended the costs, saying that such gongs are an "important part of maintaining motivation" among staff.

The figures were obtained through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Causeway Coast and Glens was the only one of the north's 11 councils to refuse to disclose the information, saying it would exceed FOI legislative cost limits.

Antrim and Newtownabbey council spent the most on entering awards competitions at £34,508.25, followed by Belfast City Council at £31,931.

Belfast spent £3,732 entering the Loo of the Year Awards in 2017 and 2018 and a further £196.39 on travel to attend the ceremony in 2018.

Ards and North Down Borough Council also entered the Loo of the Year Awards in each of the past three years, costing ratepayers £1,592.

Among the awards Antrim and Newtownabbey entered was the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) Northern Ireland "PRide Awards", which cost £2,120 in the past three years.

In 2019 it won a gold award in the "Best Use of Social Media" category and two silvers in the categories "Best Use of Content" and "Best Use of Influencer Relations" for a recycling campaign.

Much of the spending among the councils went towards entering the Green Flag Awards, in which well-managed public parks and green spaces are awarded the accolade. The scheme is managed in the north by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

James Roberts, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, criticised the spending on awards competitions.

"Town hall bosses should not be misusing ratepayers' money in a pointless attempt to get some gongs," he said.

"While going for grants and private sponsorship can bring cash prizes to the local area, these awards are a waste of time and simply see council officers patting themselves on the back at ratepayers' expense.

"Local residents are the real judges of council performance, so perhaps authorities should focus on winning their approval instead of forking out for these trivial trophies."

Belfast City Council, the north's largest local authority, defended the spending.

"Our staff are committed to serving the interests and needs of all local residents to the best of their ability, as well as fulfilling the ambitions of the Belfast Agenda," a spokesman said.

"As part of this, it is important to show appreciation for the invaluable contribution made by individuals and teams, where staff have demonstrated exceptional levels of service provision and effort, which in many cases, go well beyond the call of duty.

"Reward and recognition is an important part of maintaining motivation and ensuring continued strength in overall performance, city leadership and the delivery of services for our ratepayers."

In relation to the Green Flag Award, he said this is a "non-profit international accreditation scheme that recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces".

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:: Council spending on entering awards contests:

Number of awards contests councils paid to enter since 2017, and overall cost of applying for these awards.

Antrim and Newtownabbey (6) £34,508.25

Belfast (12) £31,931

Ards and North Down (13) £29,123

Newry, Mourne and Down (9) £13,278

Derry and Strabane (5) £7,640.31

Lisburn and Castlereagh (6) £7,095

Mid Ulster (12) £6,141

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (3) £5,220

Fermanagh and Omagh (3) £810

Mid and East Antrim (1) £345

Causeway Coast and Glens (refused to disclose information)

TOTAL (70) £136,091.56

(Figures based on details disclosed by councils through Freedom of Information requests)

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