Northern Ireland Conservatives have unveiled our first tranche of Prospective Council Candidates (PCCs) this week, for local elections which are expected to be held in May 2014. It is almost a year since the party, which is now autonomous on issues devolved to Northern Ireland, launched at the MAC Arts Centre in Belfast. During those 12 months, policy groups have been working hard to assemble outline policies across the areas of responsibility for the departments at the Stormont Assembly.
A great deal of effort has also gone into grassroots campaigning, with council hopefuls getting on to doorsteps to pick up issues and build up their profiles. David Symington from Bangor, for instance, has become synonymous with a campaign to introduce ‘street fishing’ in the town, while Brian McBride, from Groomsport, is his area’s champion for faster internet, discussing the issue personally with Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT.
They are among the first tranche of PCCs and over the coming months many more will be introduced.
Next year’s elections will be the first to follow a sweeping Review of Public Administration in Northern Ireland. The plan is to reduce 26 current local councils to 11, and the new administrations will then
function in shadow form for 12 months, before replacing the old system. This new arrangement presents challenges, but it also provides opportunities.
In Northern Ireland council seats are contested on a proportional basis, with wards combining to form ‘DEAs’ which are represented by a number of councillors. A set of extensive boundary changes have been drawn up, but they are currently out to consultation. That means that there is an element of doubt about the composition of Electoral Areas, which could persist into the early months of 2014.
As part of the plan to reduce the number of councils and council seats, existing councillors are being encouraged to retire, with the promise of generous pay offs, which Northern Ireland Conservatives oppose. They are also entitled to quit before the end of this year and nominate replacements, who will carry the advantage of incumbency into the election; a scheme which is sure to advantage parties that are already strong in Northern Ireland.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that we badly need more efficient councils, responsible for larger geographical areas. There is a culture of over-government, waste and bureaucracy in Town Halls, which Northern Ireland Conservative candidates will challenge. We believe in providing
excellent services for the best value for money, helping local businesses to create jobs and encouraging a spirit of entrepreneurship in communities which need a buoyant private sector to provide employment and prosperity.
We’re also determined to challenge the outdated doctrines of orange and green, in order to focus on a genuinely shared future, with Northern Ireland voters playing a meaningful role in UK politics and enjoying good relationships with the Republic to our south.
With new councils and a new local government system, it’s an ideal time to introduce this fresh approach to local politics. Northern Ireland Conservatives are a vibrant, young party, which is building from the grassroots up. We’re excited to have some excellent, prospective council candidates already, with many more to come, and they’ll be working hard in their communities to offer something different for Northern Ireland.