I HAVE written before in praise of our MLAs.
I have also written about the tendency of our Stormont Executive to be dysfunctional and to operate without perspective.
Over all I think the Stormont administration is a force for good. On one particular issue, however, Stormont seems to be without any perspective or sense of realism. That is the issue of local Government reform.
The review of public administration was begun under direct rule. It’s purpose was to make our administrative lives so unpleasant that we would move to form our own structures.
Lo and behold along came Stormont. The review of public administration was collapsed for a period because frankly no one could figure out how to deal with such a massive subject. Rather than concluding that much of the review was unnecessary Stormont has revived the issue and proposes to steam roller it through.
There will be some benefits to be gained from the streamlining of certain structures but many of the proposals will bring about no benefits and will actually be destructive. In 2015, or thereabouts, Banbridge District Council will no longer exist. We in Banbridge will be part of a Super-Council consisting of Banbridge District Council, Craigavon Borough Council and Armagh City and District Council.
I have been to Armagh and I have been to Craigavon. Both are perfectly nice trips if you like that sort of thing, but I don’t come from there, I come from here.
When I vote for my Councillors I want them to focus on issues which concern me as a Banbridge district resident. I don’t want them to spend their time weighing up priorities as between Banbridge, Craigavon and Armagh. I don’t want the Banbridge agenda to have to queue up behind the agenda of any larger neighbour.
The argument is of course that the new Super-Council will be leaner, fitter and cheaper to feed. I suspect that it will be fatter, lumbering and ravenous. The same jobs will have to be done but over a much larger area. In total more people will be needed to do those jobs because some of them will spend their days in endless meetings deciding how to supervise and co-ordinate others doing the jobs across that larger area.
For Banbridge we will only have nine elected representatives from our area. We will have to pay for 41 elected representatives who will cover the area of the new super Council. Doubtless Councillors from here will have to travel further and spend more time in meetings talking not only about Banbridge but also Armagh and Craigavon. This will cost more. There is no chance of any material efficiency saving or cost saving being achieved anywhere.
I come from Banbridge and I am proud to come from Banbridge. People from Armagh and Craigavon are proud to come from there. The current local Government structures for all three areas are far from perfect but combining them is not the answer to any serious question.
This review in so far as it affects local Councils should be stopped. Our MLA’s have the power to stop it and it needs to be stopped. Civic identity has a value.
Small is often beautiful. It is the Super-Builders and Super-Retailers that have been falling like flies lately. Stormont should take the hint and think twice about Super-Councils.