Plans start taking shape as council chief looks ahead

Roger Wilson
Roger Wilson

‘ABC’ supercouncil chief-executive Roger Wilson’s stated priority as the dawn of a new local government era draws closer is to engineer as seamless a transition as possible in terms of service provision across the three component council areas.

At an informal Press briefing last week Mr Wilson revealed that under the new authority - still lacking an official name - Banbridge Civic Buildings would house soon-to-be devolved planning matters while Craigavon Civic Centre would accommodate council meetings and Armagh would serve as the mayoral centre as well as the primary, though not the sole, host for functions - “A positive for everyone,” he said.

All of the facilities will remain open and operational too in terms of local service provision, and for the ratepayers who bear the cost of that provision there was some comfort in the assurance that they shouldn’t see a sharp increase come February when a single rate is struck across Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon.

The Executive having agreed a sum of money to accommodate rates convergence, said Mr Wilson, it should smooth the process over a three or four year period.

With councillors and officers alike wrestling with the devil in the detail - from merging phone systems to payroll administration - and much still subject to ongoing discussions, Mr Wilson conceded that among the challenges ahead would be striking a balance between local identities and the newly drawn bigger picture.

Was it possible, we asked, to establish some sense of common purpose for the new council or would it inevitably exist as three component, and competing parts?

“It will still be about local identity, while at the same time trying to look at the bigger picture,” said Mr Wilson, who himself looked to a time when Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon would together be the new ‘local’.

“Ours will be the largest council outside of Belfast and that puts us in a very strong position.

“We have such a mixture of opportunities across the region, from ecclesiastical history to cutting edge technology, and a very strong mix of urban and rural areas that members are determined must be looked after.”

The chief-executive said he was very much encouraged by the readiness of all the councillors to embrace the new authority.

“This new, large council is going to be an ambitious council,” he said.

“They’re going to want to do things and to make things happen.”

Still to happen is the choosing of a name, with ‘ABC’ yet in the mix and nothing concrete in terms of a corporate plan to balance the strong identities of the three merging councils.

“How do you capture something in a name that everyone can buy into and sign up to?” asked Mr Wilson, in the knowledge that the question was one the new council must soon answer, for branding to begin.

The public administration landscape confronting Mr Wilson would appear to be one of challenges, complex questions and delicate balancing acts, but he presents as a man possessed of real enthusiasm - equal to any he claims on councillors’ behalf - for a future wherein local government is progressive yet streamlined but above all, publicly accessible.