Too many councillors

February 04, 2011 2:19 PM

Too many councillors for too few taxpayers is a problem that Northern Ireland has wrestled with for some time. In my hometown within the Strabane District Council, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, this is particularly acute. Strabane has a small population of which just over 26,000 people are registered to vote, yet the District has 16 councillor. Based on the electoral register at the last local election each and every councillor represents only 1664 people. This is roughly half of a councillor within mainland Britain.

Councillors obviously get allowances for their work and it is understood that Strabane is largely rural, but the size of their expenses doesn’t really seem justified by their responsibilties. As revealed in an FOI request, just one of these councillors claimed £13,685.73 in expenses. Between 2009 and 2011, he claimed £7,762.86 in fuel allowances, £1,356.56 in other fares and parking, £1,246.92 in hotel expenses, £234.39 in meals, £3,085 in conference fees at various locations including York, Chester and Blackpool. Times this by sixteen and you have a lot of money that could be going on front-line services.

In an acknowledgement of this problem, government planned to reduce the number of district councils in Northern Ireland from 26 to 11, but this sensible strategy was shelved in June 2010 by the Northern Ireland Assembly. In these belt-tightening times, is it not appropriate to revisit this problem and reduce both the number of councils and councillors within them or give them more responsibility including education provision, housing or roads; areas of governance currently not in their portfolio?

Lee Canning, Northern Ireland TaxPayers’ AllianceToo many councillors for too few taxpayers is a problem that Northern Ireland has wrestled with for some time. In my hometown within the Strabane District Council, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, this is particularly acute. Strabane has a small population of which just over 26,000 people are registered to vote, yet the District has 16 councillor. Based on the electoral register at the last local election each and every councillor represents only 1664 people. This is roughly half of a councillor within mainland Britain.

Councillors obviously get allowances for their work and it is understood that Strabane is largely rural, but the size of their expenses doesn’t really seem justified by their responsibilties. As revealed in an FOI request, just one of these councillors claimed £13,685.73 in expenses. Between 2009 and 2011, he claimed £7,762.86 in fuel allowances, £1,356.56 in other fares and parking, £1,246.92 in hotel expenses, £234.39 in meals, £3,085 in conference fees at various locations including York, Chester and Blackpool. Times this by sixteen and you have a lot of money that could be going on front-line services.

In an acknowledgement of this problem, government planned to reduce the number of district councils in Northern Ireland from 26 to 11, but this sensible strategy was shelved in June 2010 by the Northern Ireland Assembly. In these belt-tightening times, is it not appropriate to revisit this problem and reduce both the number of councils and councillors within them or give them more responsibility including education provision, housing or roads; areas of governance currently not in their portfolio?

Lee Canning, Northern Ireland TaxPayers’ Alliance

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