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Prioritise roles and resources of Councils, NILGA tells new SoS Julian Smith

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that Julian Smith MP is to be the new Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland.

Reacting to the announcement NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan said: “I welcome and congratulate Julian Smith on his appointment as the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We look forward to meeting Mr Smith in due course and we extend to the Secretary of State an invitation to our annual conference on 20 February 2020. We are eager to discuss with him how we can ensure the best delivery of public services via local government in Northern Ireland.

“Mr Smith’s appointment comes at an uncertain time for Northern Ireland and NILGA is keen to make sure that he prioritises devolving greater powers and resources to local councils to address the democratic deficit which currently exists in Northern Ireland. Improving Northern Ireland can be in large part delivered through making councils stronger and more sustainable, as the review of Public Administration declared years ago. We are part way there but we need new impetus.

“Local councils are working and eager to increase their role with the Assembly stuck in stalemate. But the strain is greater than ever. Local government needs greater finances, powers and resources to best meet the demand from citizens – and from wider government – as well as fulfil their vital functions efficiently under fiscal strain. It is vital therefore that Mr Smith immediately recognises the potential of local government as a driver for local communities and economies and tackles unfinished business, like legislative delays, straight away.

“I’m sure that Mr Smith is aware that local councils have been the only functioning level of government here for the past two and a half years. We are keen to remind him of his predecessor’s commitment to devolve greater powers to local government in the continued absence of Stormont.

“NILGA wants to see a working and sustainable Assembly up and running as soon as possible, but until that happens, local councils need to be given greater resources to get things done. During the continued political impasse, councils are delivering more with less, taking on the likes of major infrastructure work as well as substantial, community led, preventative health work.

“Local government is taking on more and more responsibility for local communities. At the top of Mr Smith’s to-do list needs to be ensuring local government’s potential to address economic, social and legislative challenges is unlocked quickly. The solution is under our noses. It really is time to waken up and deliver for people’s needs here, through local government”.