NI councils shake-up considered

Ian Pearson is proposing a reduction in the number of councils

The government is considering a reduction in the current number of 26 district councils to between five and eight.

Ian Pearson, the minister in charge of the review of public administration, said on Monday that he also envisaged significant reductions in the number of public bodies.

The review of public administration was initiated by the devolved executive before the assembly was suspended in October 2002.

Mr Pearson said the improvement of public services was at the heart of any new model for public administration.

The local government minister said he foresaw an Assembly with departments sitting at regional level which have responsibility for policy, strategic planning, setting standards and monitoring performance.

At a local level, larger, more powerful councils could have responsibility for an increased range of functions such as regeneration, environmental services, some planning functions and possibly local roads.

Mr Pearson said councils needed to be of a certain size and scale to make a significant difference.

He suggested between five and eight such bodies, although he wants to discuss this with political parties in the coming months.

He said there was scope for significant reductions in the number of public bodies, in particular the administrative structures surrounding health and education.

Mr Pearson said he hoped to issue firm proposals in the autumn.

BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Gareth Gordon said the question of whether devolution can be restored would clearly have a major bearing on what is decided.

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