Down Council spends £11 million on new offices

October 03, 2012 3:34 PM

In three years' time, the number of councils in Northern Ireland will reduce from 26 to 11. This decision was taken after the Review of Public Administration (RPA). Down District Council is scheduled to merge with Newry and Mourne to form a new "supercouncil" with over 40 members. So far, so good. Reducing the number of councils and councillors makes administrative and financial sense, however this has not stopped Down splurging more taxpayers' money before the reorganisation takes place.

The council has just moved to new premises, costing £11 million. It has a new council chamber, with seats for 23 councillors, but the decision as to where the new council will be based has not yet been made. Down Council chairman Mickey Coogan said it would be up to the new body to decide. "We have to look at accommodating meetings in Downpatrick, but also in Newry," he said. "Newry is a city, there are a lot of council jobs there and I don't think anyone is going to let those jobs go lightly."

The whole point of reorganisation is to provide better services and save money. Why have councils meetings in two places? Clearly there isn't enough room for 40+ councillors in the new council chamber in Down. Are there plans afoot to spend more money creating extra space for councillors?

Bizarrely, Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, has justified the spending. "I can understand why Down District Council spent money on new premises," he said. "It created economic opportunities during the build and given the uncertainty about reorganisation, they had to make plans. I'd like to see councils spend money in the run down to RPA because that will be an economic driver. It'll provide jobs, it'll provide infrastructure that best serves the citizens on the far side of RPA."

Spending money on new buildings and infrastructure, not knowing if it is necessary, is irresponsible, although it's also worth noting Mr Attwood is also in charge of redundancy payments for those councillors who will lose their seats as a result of the organisation. Here's me thinking being a councillor was something you did to serve your community. Apparently not, as those councillors who have served three or more terms will get a payment of no more than £30K.

Someone needs to tell councils, and Mr Attwood, we don't have the cash to splash. Taxpayers expect the costs of these reforms to be kept to a minimum. Sadly, this does not seem to be happening.In three years' time, the number of councils in Northern Ireland will reduce from 26 to 11. This decision was taken after the Review of Public Administration (RPA). Down District Council is scheduled to merge with Newry and Mourne to form a new "supercouncil" with over 40 members. So far, so good. Reducing the number of councils and councillors makes administrative and financial sense, however this has not stopped Down splurging more taxpayers' money before the reorganisation takes place.

The council has just moved to new premises, costing £11 million. It has a new council chamber, with seats for 23 councillors, but the decision as to where the new council will be based has not yet been made. Down Council chairman Mickey Coogan said it would be up to the new body to decide. "We have to look at accommodating meetings in Downpatrick, but also in Newry," he said. "Newry is a city, there are a lot of council jobs there and I don't think anyone is going to let those jobs go lightly."

The whole point of reorganisation is to provide better services and save money. Why have councils meetings in two places? Clearly there isn't enough room for 40+ councillors in the new council chamber in Down. Are there plans afoot to spend more money creating extra space for councillors?

Bizarrely, Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, has justified the spending. "I can understand why Down District Council spent money on new premises," he said. "It created economic opportunities during the build and given the uncertainty about reorganisation, they had to make plans. I'd like to see councils spend money in the run down to RPA because that will be an economic driver. It'll provide jobs, it'll provide infrastructure that best serves the citizens on the far side of RPA."

Spending money on new buildings and infrastructure, not knowing if it is necessary, is irresponsible, although it's also worth noting Mr Attwood is also in charge of redundancy payments for those councillors who will lose their seats as a result of the organisation. Here's me thinking being a councillor was something you did to serve your community. Apparently not, as those councillors who have served three or more terms will get a payment of no more than £30K.

Someone needs to tell councils, and Mr Attwood, we don't have the cash to splash. Taxpayers expect the costs of these reforms to be kept to a minimum. Sadly, this does not seem to be happening.

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