Council reduction decision delayed for a fortnight

Image caption, The plans involve amalgamating the 26 councils into 11 bigger areas

A final decision on the future of local councils in Northern Ireland has been delayed by the Executive for two weeks.

It is understood the minister in charge of local government hopes to persuade councils to foot the bill for a transition from 26 authorities to 11.

Edwin Poots is understood to believe the move would encourage efficiencies.

The Northern Ireland Office, which is in charge of elections, had pressed the Executive to make a decision by the end of the month.

The president of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, John Matthews, said it was going to be "very difficult" to facilitate elections to 11 authorities next year.

He explained: "There has to be legislation go through - it is going to be very difficult and the indecision that there has been has led us into a more difficult decision.

"It is an enormously good opportunity missed."

The cost of merging the councils is believed to be around £118m, with another £20m for the expense of convergencing rates bills.

After a meeting of the Executive on Thursday, Mr Poots said there was now "considerable pressure" for a decision to be made.

He said: "In the interests of fairness, we need to reach a decision in any event, given that council staff have been in limbo for some time."

Mr Matthews said he had taken some soundings on the idea that councils should pay for some of the changeover themselves and that he believed that would not be an obstacle.

He added: "There would appear to be an offer of 50-50 - the cost being borne by central government and local government.

"It shouldn't be an obstacle bearing in mind the savings that are going to be there. And apparently, there is some way that money could be borrowed by councils to make these savings.

"Most of this money for this transformation will go in redundancy payments and the higher up the level you get in staff, the more in jeopardy these jobs will be."

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