All posts by Michaela Clarke

Are we really saving money in our local councils?

The 1st April 2015 saw a major reform of the local government in Northern Ireland. The Local Government Reform brought together the existing, 26 councils of Northern Ireland, merging them together to form 11 new super councils. This move was designed to render the local government more economic and efficient. However, from looking at the pay roll of councillors now sitting on the new super councils this would not appear to be the case.

Strabane District Council has undergone the reform, along with the rest of Northern Ireland on April 1st and merged with Derry City Council to become Derry City and Strabane District Council. Some powers and responsibilities have been devolved from the Northern Ireland Executive. The 11 super councils have undertaken the responsibility of local planning functions, off-street parking and local economic development. These responsibilities have been devolved with the credit that local councils know what their own area needs and what economic and planning developments would suit the area and best serve the people.

Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, John Kelpie at a recent meeting in Castlederg, explained that, 620 staff were employed by the previous Derry City Council and 220 by Strabane District Council, totalling 840 staff. The public were lead to believe that there would be reductions in staffing but Mr Kelpie went on further to expand: “With the challenges that we have locally, I would estimate that we would need between three and a half to four thousand people to do what we’re trying to achieve.” This counteracts one of the missions of the super councils and suggests that the force with which they wish to attack issues in the community, along with improving life in the local government for the businesses and people of the area, this volume of personnel would be required.

It is also noteworthy that councillors under the new reform, are being given a £5,000 pay rise, much to the dismay of many people in the local community. Strabane councillors were previously being paid £9,835 per annum under the Strabane District Council ruling. Now, under the new reform councillors have a set wage of £14,200. Therefore the estimated economic saving in the reducing of councillor numbers is surely counteracted by the increase in councillor pay. If the super councils are attempting to save money by combining resources and as a result, redundancies being issued to staff of the previous set-up, why is an increase in wages coming to the fore?

Furthermore, councillors who chair a committee within the council are entitled to an additional £8,050 per annum justified as a ‘Special Responsibility Allowance’. This controversial increase in wages is challenged alternatively by Councillor Patsy Kelly, SDLP. He voiced his concerns that despite the increase in wages it is still insufficient to cover the amount of hours councillors spend at meetings and attending constituency issues. He concluded by saying that councillors are working below minimum wage per hour.

On the other hand, Jarlath McNulty, former councillor of Strabane District Council, now a community worker said: “There are many people working every single day from our community who would like to have a secure job for four years and receive a starting income of £14,200 a year”. The question still stands as to whether the new council arrangements will truly deliver on improved efficiency and economics.

The new mayor of the Derry City and Strabane District Council, Elisha McCallion set unemployment as top of her priorities in taking up her role. The most recent unemployment rate (Dec. 14 – April 15) for Derry/Londonderry and Strabane currently runs at 6%, an increase of 0.2% from the previous quarter. A re-direction of funds to address unemployment issues would be deemed preferable to increasing councillor salaries.

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Elisha McCallion as new mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council

 

Another cost passed onto the people of Northern Ireland under the Local Government Reform is the increase in rate bills. Although the council will benefit from the reform, it is evident that it all comes at a cost to the people of Northern Ireland.

The following councillors make up the new Derry City and Strabane District Council –

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You can find out more about the new reform of councils on Ni Direct.

 

Chris Henry makes his return to a roaring crowd

Chris Henry was the star of the show on Friday night as he made his return to the field. After suffering a mini stroke back in November, it was debatable as to whether he would ever make his return in an Ulster jersey. So in the 58th minute as cheers rang through the Kingspan Stadium, Henry ran onto home ground in an emotional and memorable return to a winning Ulster team.

Chris Henry making his return to the Ulster squad on Friday night
Chris Henry making his return to the Ulster squad on Friday night

The Ulster boys got off to a flying start with Craig Kilroy scoring the first try of the game in the 3rd minute and a conversion giving them a 7 point lead. Ruan Pienaar scored a penalty in the 14th minute followed by Louis Ludik scoring a try. Another penalty for No.9, Pienaar changed the score 18-nill to Ulster in the 30th minute. The first threat came from the Cardiff Blues in the 33rd minute with a foul against Ulster.

The first half of play was halted from 25mins due to injuries. Ulster’s Stuart Olding was stretchered off just four minutes into play with a knee injury. Rhys Pachell, a Cardiff Blue player was later stretchered off with a head injury, for which Nick Williams was handed a yellow card to the dismay of the Cardiff side.

However, the second half got off to a flying start with Cardiff closing the point gap to just four points in the 62nd minute, with a score of 21-17 to Ulster. Ruan Pienaar continued on his winning strike by scoring a penalty before being replaced. Cardiff held onto the ball well in the 67th and 68th minute before another highlight of the game which came from Louis Ludik in the 72nd minute with a magical try as he breezed through Cardiff Blue’s defence.

The final point in the game came from Paul Marshall and was converted by Ian Humphreys taking the final score to 36-17 for a bonus point victory. Ulster succeeded in gaining another five points and in the Guinness Pro12 league. Ulster now take on Connacht on Saturday 11th April.

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Guinness Pro 12 league table

 

‘Dancing on the Ceiling’, ‘All Night Long’

Last night Lionel Richie took the Odyssey by storm. After three years, he made his return to Northern Irish soil. Opening with All Around the World, Lionel took the audience on a journey, transcending the generations making up the buzzing audience.

At one point in the show he described how there are three types of fans. The Commodore fans, the Lionel fans, accompanied by, Stuck on You. And finally, the generation which was brought along by their mothers. This is the generation in which I fell into on the night.

At first, the thought of going to a Lionel Richie concert, stumped me, I only knew a handful of songs but did I enjoy it despite this? Of course. His on-stage persona got everyone on their feet from the camaraderie with the audience and his energetic performance it all added to his live presence, which made for a truly enjoyable evening.

Last night my ears were tainted with reminisces of how many times  “we danced to that song” or unfortunately, “cried to that song” from my mum and godmother who have been friends for 40 years. It was obvious that the older generation lived their lives through his music as there was a song suited to every emotion.

Lionel Richie was himself, very aware of the different stages in the life of his fans that he touched: “when I was in love, you were in love. When I was sad, you were sad and when I was angry, you were angry”. The comical sentiment that he exuded leant a great element to his performance. Spanning from his hits, Three Times a Lady to Hello and Dancing on the Ceiling. The latter, was a veritable crowd pleaser; everyone got on their feet and sang their hearts out, almost drowning out Lionel’s own voice.

Writing this piece I can feel the excitement brewing inside me again as I remember last night. For a man who has been preforming for many a year, there was no sign of age slowing him down as he ran across the stage encouraging audience participation, just to note, not much encouragement was needed.

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Lionel Richie’s personality shown through each performance and the sincere gratitude he has for the support of his fans throughout the years was tangible.

Lionel still has a few dates left on his tour so get your tickets on Ticketmaster, quick.