Northern Ireland

NI councils agree to pay for reform costs

Proposed council boundaries
Image caption The plans involve amalgamating the 26 councils into 11 bigger areas

Local government representatives have given a qualified yes to the environment minister's demand that they pay the cost of council reform.

On Friday the 26 councils agreed to meet the bill if it was based on principles of fairness.

The bill for reducing the number of councils to 11 is estimated at £118m.

Northern Ireland Local Government Association president, John Matthews, said there must be a robust business case.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots told councils they must pay for the changes as part of wider NI cuts.

He asked for a response on Friday to enable elections to the new councils to take place in 2011.

Council chief executives, mayors and chairmen are among those taking part in the discussions, after the minister wrote to councils last week.

He warned the executive was facing cuts of £1bn and said councils needed to pay their way.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) president John Mathews said councils supported reform but would not pay for costs that do not benefit the system.

NILGA is concerned that it has no detail or formal confirmation that the costs will actually hit £118m.

The organisation is also anxious that central government, which initiated the reform doesn't pass its own costs onto rate payers.

Mr Poots told the assembly last year that the £118m cost to fund the process of cutting councils would mean savings of £438m could be made over 25 years.