Leading article

Councils must be able to justify spending decisions

With Stormont in mothballs, our eleven supercouncils are the only form of elected government in Northern Ireland.

And while the powers of these institutions is limited in scope compared to the Assembly and executive, they carry out a range of important local functions which are funded by ratepayers.

For any household, the annual rates bill is an unavoidable expense and can represent a significant proportion of a family's income, particularly those on low wages.

As with all public money, it is essential that those responsible for its disbursement ensure that every penny is spent wisely, appropriately and provides good value.

Council spending has been put under the spotlight this week after the Taxpayers' Alliance obtained figures on the money allocated for award ceremonies.

This information contained the rather surprising finding that district councils in Northern Ireland spent three times more on average than local authorities in Britain.

The total bill for ceremonies in the north came to almost £600,000 since 2015, an average of nearly £60,000 per council.

Councils in England, Scotland and Wales, which have a much wider remit than local government here, spent an average just under £17,000 per authority.

What is also striking about the breakdown of figures in Northern Ireland is the wide disparity in amounts spent.

Newry, Mourne and Down paid out just £2,000 while at the other end of the scale, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon managed to spend over £162,000, more than twice as much as Belfast.

ABC Council has detailed a number of functions celebrating local community organisations, sport and business and no one doubts that there are many individuals and groups deserving of recognition.

The issue is whether the spending on these ceremonies is absolutely justified when some households may be struggling to find the money to pay their rates.

It is only right that councils are held to account for their decisions and must be completely open with ratepayers about how their hard earned cash is being spent.

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