A MULTI-MILLION pound funding package to slash the province’s 26 councils down to 11 has been secured.
£47.8million has been allocated from central government to support the implementation of the local government reform programme which will see Magherafelt, Cookstown and Dungannon councils become Mid-Ulster Council.
The package will be made up of three elements, with almost £14million set to create ‘shadow’ councils over the next two years.
This figure will also take in a councillor severance scheme; preparing local and central government staff and councillors for their new roles; change management; staff induction and the winding up of the current 26 councils by April 2015.
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Up to £4million over the next two financial years will be allocated to cover the cost of council borrowing in relation to ICT costs and systems convergence.
There is also a further commitment of an estimated £30million for rates convergence following the creation of the new ‘super’ councils.
This sets out to protect those whose rates bills may have experienced a significant increase as a result of merging with councils where rates are currently at a higher level.
The Local Government (Reorganisation) Bill is now expected to be introduced to the Assembly this month, which will still ensure legislation is in place in good time.
The Bill will provide for the 11 new councils to be established and allow shadow arrangements to be brought into effect from the next local government elections, set for June 2014, until 1 April 2015.
During this shadow period, the new councils will operate alongside the existing councils, giving them time to prepare for their new role, responsibilities, duties and functions.
The Bill will also provide for the introduction of new governance arrangements for councils, a new ethical standards regime, community planning powers, an updated service delivery and performance improvement regime and, subject to Executive agreement, the general power of competence.