Executive must prioritise councils ahead of Assembly Election

Candidates in next year’s Assembly Election have been urged at this year’s major local government conference to prioritise the further devolution of powers, resources, and finances to local councils for a better Northern Ireland.

Over one hundred physical delegates along with virtual attendees attended the Policy & Investment event today (Wednesday 24th November) at the Clandeboye Lodge Hotel, Bangor, the first major council-led summit since February 2020.

Jointly delivered by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE NI), the 2021 “Councils Make It Happen” event tackled dealing with the economic, environmental, investment, social and health issues facing all in Northern Ireland and developed practical and political solutions should partnership between local government and the NI Executive improve.

Speakers included Health Minister Robin Swann MLA, Junior Minister Gary Middleton MLA, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons MLA, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA, NILGA President, Cllr. Robert Burgess, and senior figures across the public, business, community and voluntary sectors.

Hosted by broadcaster and political journalist Jayne McCormack, and supported by APSE, CCLA and TerraQuest, this was the first Local Government Conference since Covid restrictions began over 20 months ago.

Speaking at the conference, NILGA President Cllr Robert Burgess said:  “Today’s conference was a fantastic opportunity to bring together Ministers, business partners and community leaders, indeed anyone with an interest in the future of local democracy and sustainable local councils. It was clear from the discussions and presentations today that there is a real appetite for transforming our public services and civic representation here in Northern Ireland.

“Our local councils make it happen, and they are pivotal to the future of our local economies, to sustaining our communities, and to protecting our environment.  As President, let me restate emphatically that NILGA and councils should play a full part in designing, delivering and transforming the Programme for Government – including political scrutiny with other levels of government – so that it really works for all our citizens.

“With the next Assembly Election quickly coming down the track and as we move into the new year, now is the time for prospective candidates, future MLAs and Ministers, to commit to what NILGA has offered and to what so many of our strategic partners in business and the wider community are saying – devolving greater powers, resources and finances to and through councils will unlock the potential of local people deliver better enterprise, better services and a sustainable, modern Northern Ireland, within a healthy, local democracy.”

SOLACE NI Chair Stephen Reid said: “SOLACE NI is pleased to be supporting this year’s Local Government Conference along with our colleagues at NILGA. During the last 18 months councils have, in difficult circumstances, continued to deliver key services for their communities. This year’s conference is a wonderful opportunity to recognise the hard work and commitment of elected members and council staff throughout the pandemic, and exchange ideas and best practice on how we can maximise the full potential of our local government sector in the recovery.”

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA said: “In my role as Communities Minister I have a very clear message – a commitment to a rights based approach to addressing poverty, inequality and disadvantage and protecting the most vulnerable including those on low incomes, the disabled and children and young people.

“Achieving these objectives require us all to work together. I commend the excellent work and valuable contribution that local government has provided and continues to provide to communities here, particularly throughout the challenging circumstances presented by the pandemic.

“Working together, I believe we have achieved a great deal.  The Partnership Panel, which I chair, is a fine example of the cooperation and partnership between central government and local government. We have created a foundation for strategic thinking and delivery of joint proposals on a strategic and regional basis. I believe that if we are to achieve better outcomes for all our citizens all of us must show real leadership – we must work together, we must plan together, we must deliver together.”

Health Minister Robin Swann MLA said:  “I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak at today’s Conference. Now more than ever, we need sustained collaboration across departments and agencies, local government, the community and voluntary sector, and with communities themselves to address the factors which impact on health and wellbeing locally and regionally.”

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons MLA said: “The Local Government Conference provides an excellent opportunity to engage with local authorities, ensuring we work together in a coordinated approach to face the challenges of our time. Councils have been, and will remain, key partners in the delivery of wider economic policy.

“City Deals investment of £1.5 billion over the next 15 years will play a key role in delivery of My Department’s 10X vision and support for our Economic Recovery Action Plan. The Deals are a key priority for me and I am very keen to drive momentum and support the councils and their partners to start delivering the projects.

“I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for the support provided by councils during the pandemic. I look forward to continuing to work together on my Department’s bold and ambitious vision for the Northern Ireland economy to become ten times better through a decade of innovation.”

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