McGlone: Equality key to local government reform

SDLP Mid-Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone said equality must be the cornerstone of any reform of local government and equality of treatment must be enshrined in legislation.

He made his comments following an SDLP Assembly debate calling on the Executive to help finance the upfront costs of reform to prevent the burden being passed on to rate payers across the north.

Mr McGlone said: “A significant range of powers are being transferred to local councils as part of the Review of Public Administration, not least responsibility for planning.

“In the past we have seen examples where political interference, rather than the primacy of equality and good practice has prevailed and this has led to bad decisions and downright discrimination in housing, employment and planning. Legislation must be enacted to protect the principle of equality in the exercise of planning powers and all powers which go to new local councils.

“The continual refusal by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to Alex Attwood’s request for necessary financial support for the reform process sets a deeply concerning tone. By refusing to help bridge the funding gap, Sammy Wilson is effectively leaving a number of councils hamstrung before they have even come into existence.

“Without the Executive’s support, whether through rate increases or cuts in services, residents will be forced to pick up the tab. Where is the equality in the Finance Minister’s approach of short-changing the new councils now and forcing them into future short cuts in the services they provide?

“The SDLP will continue to enshrine equality and stand firmly against discrimination and furthermore protect the rate payers of Mid-Ulster from being forced to bear the cost of local government reform”.