1 Developing a NORTHERN IRELAND PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT The Programme for Local Government provides a foundation for the new 11 councils, which face new challenges and will deliver diverse, contemporary services with and for their communities. Local government is changing its leaves, not its roots. Councils remain at the heart of the communities they are proud to serve.
2 CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 3 WHAT SHOULD THESE MORE AND BETTER THINGS BE AND 3 SHOULD WE DEVELOP THEM? WHY A PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT? 4 - TABLE 1: Purpose Framework for the Programme for Local Government 4 HOW SHOULD THESE MORE AND BETTER THINGS BE REALISED 4 AND DELIVERED? GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT 5 - CHART ONE: Council Services CHART TWO: What is Local Government best placed to do after 2019? 7 COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF 8 INVESTING IN A PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT? PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT WILL BENEFIT 9 COUNCILS, COMMUNITIES AND WIDER GOVERNMENT BECAUSE: All politics is local is an often used phrase but one whose time has truly come to Northern Ireland. It encapsulates the principle that political success is directly tied to the ability to understand and influence the needs and issues of local constituents.
3 INTRODUCTION NILGA, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, is developing a practical and political Programme for Local Government and wants you to have your say. This Programme is a campaign as well as a foundation for service delivery, a statement of intent as well as an action plan taken directly from the Vision for Local Government, which heralded the changes we are now delivering. Local government is transforming in Northern Ireland, for the better of those of us who live and visit here. The transformation is not driven by legislative change, but, rather, by self improvement and customer responsiveness. From April 2015, there will be 11 new councils, and 462 councillors new corporate bodies and elected members with new powers and new responsibilities. The approach each new council will take to its civic, representative and service delivery roles will be effective, will offer value for money and will be well governed. Councils will, in very large part, be consistent in as much as each will provide a core range of products and services which are both cost effective and high quality. But each Council will be different - because they are local organisations, they will not (nor should) be homogenous. They will respond to the local needs of local people within an accountable, accessible, local structure. This can be a time for great innovation and opportunity for communities and local economies within Northern Ireland, mindful, as well, that our financial, human and natural resources require prudent, sustainable management. Councils must be part of a wider government partnership, formally contributing, as in all neighbouring jurisdictions, to the priorities of government and the region. They can do this individually and, through NILGA, regionally. The democratic, civic, economic, social, cultural, service delivery and partnership credentials of our emerging 11 councils must put the local into government, more so than in the past. Provided that councils gain the investment and resources to deal with increased demands and functions, and gain the support of wider government within the NI Assembly and its Departments, they will plan, co-ordinate and do more and better things for more people, locally. WHAT SHOULD THESE MORE AND BETTER THINGS BE AND SHOULD WE DEVELOP THEM? Key services the 11 councils will provide into the future include Area and Community Planning, community and economic development, waste management, regulatory services such as environmental health, and leisure provisions such as play areas, sporting and tourism facilities. The roles of Councils between now and 2019 (a year which NILGA considers to be the completion of the first phase of local government s contemporary development in Northern Ireland), are listed in CHART 1 on page seven of this document. The roles of Councils beyond 2019 (when the NEXT Local Government elections in NI are planned) and until 2024 are listed in CHART 2 on page eight of this document, in order to elicit your views. NILGA sees as merely the first phase of local government s contemporary, collective development. Would ratepayers expect anything less than proper planning and sustainability of their homes and families? No. Neither would we, as the representative body for Councils, expect anything less than the proper planning and sustainability of our democratically mandated councils. A new partnership with communities, commercial life, and regional / national government must emerge, just as required, modern public services must be provided by the most appropriate organisations at the point of need which is primarily local people in local communities, participating in, and supported by, local councils.
4 WHY A PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT? The purpose of the Programme for Local Government is to provide a foundation for councils to build their democratic representation and service portfolio upon. If there is agreement on the roles of councils, their service portfolio and the distinct, representative role of councillors (differentiated from MLAs) the Programme gives clarity and opens up defined investment, improvement and partnership opportunities. With this initiative, councils can demonstrably feed into and be part of the wider Programme for Government, due in Together, the two tiers of NI government can with the private, community and voluntary sectors, create a more successful and cohesive region, with opportunities for all in Northern Ireland to flourish, through increasing sustainable growth underpinned by effective public service provision. For the Programme for Local Government to have REAL impact it has to have a solid framework that defines and underpins its purpose to GUIDE GROWTH. Delivering the RIGHT SERVICES at the RIGHT TIME will significantly and innovatively stimulate community led economic participation, growth in jobs and productivity while also protecting the environment. Addressing inequalities and strengthening local community cohesion while delivering LOCAL DEMOCRACY is core for sustainable regional growth, for example, providing councils and partners with a framework which enables them to better support their local unemployed years olds not in education, employment or training provided under the Government s NEETS programme (see Table 1). Underpinning the Programme are the concepts of PARTNERSHIP working, CO-DESIGN and CO- DELIVERY within a local authority area, in order to achieve improved council services and stronger, democratic local communities. Table1. Purpose Framework for the Programme for Local Government HOW SHOULD THESE MORE AND BETTER THINGS BE REALISED AND DELIVERED? The 11 councils which will be formed in April 2015 will of course be the primary implementers of local government s services, civic roles and democratic representation. In addition, in order to embed a permanent improvement culture within our sector, a Northern Ireland Local Government Improvement and Sustainability Partnership (NILGISP) is proposed, facilitated by NILGA, offering regionally coordinated advice and services, ranging from capacity building and training to procurement, from Peer Reviews to Policy Support, from Investment Initiatives to Regional Negotiation. This will be a pooled,
5 flexible, lean body, whose advice and services will be menu driven, drawing on members and officers within the sector whilst bringing to the 11 council table benchmark advice, contemporary thinking and excellent practice from other regions. The regional body will be governed by councils and realised by NILGA, the representative body for the local government sector in Northern Ireland, in partnership with SOLACE. This regional partnership of practical and political excellence will allow the councils in Northern Ireland to do more than functions, to do better than survive. It will allow them to develop an excellent, sustainable, service portfolio retaining local identity and delivery whilst raising standards inside and outside of local government. It will define quality, ensuring that our councils have every opportunity to develop and sustain the very best services and ideas within the heart of every local community. In NILGA, as aforementioned, we acknowledge that all politics is local. But, we advocate that government needs to be localised too, developed by a means which will reduce service costs and increase their quality. The bigger picture and goal by is perhaps too far in the distance? No it is not. Planning great services, good governance, good democracy and more and better things for the community we serve should not be inspirational, or long fingered. Enabling PARTNERSHIP through agreed PRINCIPLES and RESOURCES is core to delivering more and better things for and with our local people, places and businesses. GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT Collaborative working and joint accountability: the relationship between regional and local government is based on mutual respect and partnership. Sustainable finance and investment: Financial decisions are taken sub-regionally / locally through a council led Community Planning approach. Simplified regulations, audit and bureaucracy: A challenge for councils and wider government; greater accountability and integration, less micro-management by regional government and more customer aligned services supported by lean departmental and devolved structures (Review of NI Assembly / wider public sector). Community involvement: align local needs and identified priorities with overall government targets, taking account of local priorities. Public sector improvement: creating a two tier government delivery platform for public sector services and their improvement, through collaboration and efficiency, using the best organisations to do the job and eliminating duplication, over administration and other wastage. Protection of local democracy: committing the NI Assembly / political parties to applying basic principles guaranteeing the political, administrative and financial independence of local councils (e.g. through the EU s Charter of Local Self-Government). Strengthening local democracy: This would unite and profile local government, working with, ordinary people in exceptional ways, putting in the ingredients which will have local democracy at the heart of our future. Strong councils and councillors: In NI it is easy to forget that real democracy is about more than just 108 MLAs, 18 MPs and 3 MEPs. We perhaps overlook that government in NI exists at both national and local levels, that both ought to be equal and empowered, and that both are vital in a healthy democracy. Hard work with clear intent will be important: Much of the debate about NI s services and politics hasn t fully developed to enable truly effective services and high levels of understanding and support for our democratic representation.
8 COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF INVESTING IN A PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT? NILGA places enormous importance on putting community involvement at the heart of everything councils and their partners do. This is because there are real benefits to be gained from engaging and empowering communities. (a) Delivering better, more efficient services Services can be more effective and efficient if they are based on real evidence of what citizens and communities need. Where resources are targeted in a focused way, responding to the greatest areas of verifiable need, they can be used more effectively. Conversely, not involving communities can lead to poor services and can be wasteful. Services designed without community input risk frittering away public money on what some consider monuments to mediocrity or administrative empires, because they will be unused or underused if they are not what people need. A couple of examples might be: Recycling measures that are not consulted on and have to be changed a year later because they don't work A planning appeal that delays building a new facility and therefore increases costs by millions, because residents' valid concerns weren't properly addressed at the outset. Involving local people in designing and developing services brings greater creativity and innovation. Successful community involvement works across the board for all and improves access to services for marginalised and vulnerable people. (b) Better democracy and accountability Representative democracy and participative democracy working for those who mandate you and getting them involved in things that matter for the community - if working in tandem, can strengthen the democratic process. Councillors have various tools to find out what local people want and can champion those issues. By getting people involved, councillors increase their accountability to and credibility with local communities. Involving local people creates an increased awareness and understanding of how local democracy works. Informed and active citizens are more likely to consider standing for office as councillors or in other governance roles such as school governors. Greater political knowledge and participation can be gained through councils and councillors, increasing our ability to sustain the economy. In particular, creating opportunities for young people to become involved in decision making is a powerful investment that can lead to civic involvement throughout their lives. Community involvement in decision making leads to increased trust in public institutions and improved satisfaction with public services. Again, councils will embrace emerging opportunities and barriers for young people with a dual emphasis on services and participation. (c) Sustained improvements from regeneration programmes Top-down, overly academic approaches to socio-economic issues such as urban renewal often fail to meet the expectations or needs of local people. Conversely, community involvement means that residents and businesses in localities feel a sense of pride and ownership in something they have helped to create. Councils will take their previous great work in this realm, and enhance it, optimising their new powers for community gain. (d) Strong, resilient and cohesive communities Community involvement creates stronger interactions between people, changing individuals' perceptions and improving their sense of belonging to the local area. When residents work together to solve local problems it avoids conflicts further down the line and promotes transparency in decision making about resource allocation. Overlooking involvement can result in conflicts over scarce resources, such as housing and jobs. Community involvement encourages communities to take ownership and action over local issues. Fortyseven per cent of actions in community-led plans are taken on by the community themselves without any external support.
9 Community involvement encourages strong communities with strong local networks that are more resilient during times of crisis, such as the economic downturn. For instance, neighbourhood structures set up to involve and empower residents can provide a vital means during a flooding crisis for all to come together to support vulnerable residents. (e) Improved LOCAL partnership working A citizen or user viewpoint can drive collaborative working, and be a spur to joining up services more effectively. New council local area plans and partnerships will allow all partners to address real LOCAL issues, such as migration, economic sustainability, social cohesion, and inequality. (f) Delivering LOCAL outcomes Lives and places will only charge for the better from a bottom up approach to LOCAL development. Local government has risen to this challenge. Both the private sector and central government have viewed the sector as being essential to creating the conditions for economic growth and job creation. There is no one else better placed at the local or sub-national level to do this. A key priority for the NILGA in the Programme for Local Government is to work with developing councils to promote INVESTMENT in LOCAL economic and community growth. NILGA can help councils in delivering their ambitions through bringing investment funds, leadership and opportunities, together with best practice, into all local authorities, regionally and locally on demand. From political to officer capacity building, supporting local planning for growth, peer challenge, legal and technical support and advice, our range of support for investing in growth reflects NILGA s whole council approach (LOCAL PEOPLE, LOCAL PLACES, LOCAL SERVICES, LOCAL REPRESENTATION = LOCAL EXCELLENCE). THE PROGRAMME FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT WILL BENEFIT COUNCILS, COMMUNITIES AND WIDER GOVERNMENT BECAUSE: It will RECAST the relationship between NI Assembly and local government, in doing so focusing delivery of brilliant co-ordinated LOCAL services and a stronger economy It will deliver a two tier government approach to meet local place needs through a codesigned council led Community Planning process delivered by a REGIONAL GROWTH FRAMEWORK around agreed partnership working principles. It will grow stronger and cohesive communities targeting investment and knowledge where needed most It will allow for greater control on LOCAL spending priorities and to allocate funding as councils and communities see fit, giving them greater fiscal autonomy. It will Influence the allocation and the delivery of sub-regional spending, as a formal part of the post 2016 PROGRAMME FOR GOVERNMENT in Northern Ireland. It will create NEW public service partnership opportunities with the NI Executive, private and third sectors, bringing better services to local places across all of Northern Ireland, for the next ten years.
10 Remember, Local government is changing its leaves, not its roots. NILGA will work with and for councils, to put the LOCAL into Government. Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) Unit 5B Castlereagh Business Park 478 Castlereagh Road, Belfast, BT5 6BQ Tel: +44(0) NILGA - Your Local Government Association Disclaimer: The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) endeavours to ensure that the information contained within our Website, Policies and other communications is up to date and correct. We do not, however, make any representation that the information will be accurate, current, complete, uninterrupted or error free or that any information or other material accessible from or related to NILGA is free of viruses or other harmful components. NILGA accepts no responsibility for any erroneous information placed by or on behalf of any user or any loss by any person or user resulting from such information.
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