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Showing posts from 2014

Legacy issues

To date the development of Mid and East Antrim Council into a workable functioning resembles a car race in 3 feet of treacle, the drivers (councillors) are raring to go but the machinery can't yet cope with the conditions they are operating in. A couple of areas have shown that councillors recognise the need to deliver value for money, while we are committed to Borough status, the trappings of such status such as a mace, mayoral chains of office and councillor robes will all transfer from the legacy councils and will be used rather than the purchase of new items. This not only saves money but also recognises the historical significance of the three areas which are now coming together. As we move forward with setting the new rates we will be bound very much by the need for a transition year, without yet having Directors in place it shall be some time before the nature of the new workforce and services can be determined. We are bound by the legacy of how the three councils have do…

I Love Larne

An inoffensive title, certainly not one intended to generate the kind of publicity a BBC Northern Ireland show on the town of Larne elicited this week. I only saw part of the production but it was enough for me to question its purpose. Having worked in Larne in the 1980's (sudden realisation of just how long ago that was) the almost Super 8 quality of the production reminded me of those home movies found in someones attic and televised with a Gloria Hunniford voice over. The Larne I know from my past experience and from my current role on Mid and East Antrim Council is a vibrant manufacturing town with a rural heartland and lots of ambition and potential, not the backward backwater presented by the programme. I look forward to the next Larne production selling the real town.

What does first look like?

There are occasions in life when someone states their objective is to be first. When my children came home from their exams and I asked them how they had done the answer “Ok I was the first one finished” didn’t always fill me with confidence. Rory McIlroy is well known for finishing first. In the course of a golf competition he will play around 270 shots and will win by 1 or 2. That’s a difference of less than 1% between being first and second. That 1% will at times be genius or just sheer talent. But, having the talent to make that 1 shot count doesn’t matter in the race to be first unless the other 99% is right. Rory started to get the 99% right many years ago, people will remember him as a young boy chipping golf balls into a washing machine on the Gerry Kelly show. That’s when Rory got his first 5% or 10% right. On occasions I hear the desire expressed to be first in local government but like Rory and golf being first in local government will depend on getting the basics right. W…

Time to start the recovery

The announcement of the closure of the JTI factory at Lisnafillan has come as a great shock to employees, the local community and wider Northern Ireland society. Despite the threats of EU Regulations which would severely impact on the particular production at the plant and the ongoing growth of cigarette smuggling no-one really believed that such a large multinational could be forced out, not only of Northern Ireland but bringing to an end cigarette production in the United Kingdom. Clearly the impact of these threats has been much greater than expected. For the employees there is the knowledge that the first redundancies will not take effect until May 2016. In that lies a significant challenge for Government at all levels, how do we provide the support for employees to take advantage of any new employment opportunity that may arise including retraining? How do we create the circumstances to attract new major employers to the region? How do we reduce the burdens on existing business…

The Sinn Fein Agenda

When Gerry Adams suggested recently that Sinn Fein would be happy to see the Assembly collapse and new elections called he clarified the Republican agenda and the shift in strategy which has occurred in the past few years. The outworking of the St Andrews agreement was in reality a political version of the cold war strategy of mutually assured destruction; both the DUP and Sinn Fein had it in their gift to undermine the structures of government but only to the detriment of both. With Paisley and McGuinness at the helm both sides gave the impression of wanting to make the structures work to the benefit of Northern Ireland, they did so well at creating this impression they became known as the “Chuckle Brothers”. The well-known consequences of this tag were the tremors created within the DUP which led eventually to the demise of Paisley as First Minister and leader of the party. Less well recognised or commented upon were the tremors within the Republican movement. A movement driven …

Ecos Centre

Ballymena Borough Councillors have received a verbal briefing that a further £300,000 is required to correct deficiencies in the roof of the Ecos Centre despite the building being only 14 years old. Significant additional investment to make the Ecos Centre suitable for economic use is already planned. Currently Mid and East Antrim District Council is undertaking due diligence exercises in relation to transferring functions such as car parks. These exercises are being undertaken to ensure that such services that are being transferred are at no additional cost to the ratepayer. I expect this process to move on to consider the wide range of properties and services provided by the existing councils to maximise the savings that can be delivered. There are many issues in relation to the Ecos centre which require close scrutiny including what return the ratepayer could expect from any further investment and whether such investment is justified. Serving over 135,000 citizens and with an expec…

Interpretation of deprivation study flawed

Ulster Unionist Councillor Stephen Nicholl has challenged the interpretation of information collated for the Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK report which found that experience of the Troubles led to individuals experiencing deprivation in the present. Commenting on the report Professor Mike Tomlinson of Queen's University, who led the study in Northern Ireland, is quoted as stating: "Experience of violent events in the past increased the chances of suffering from multiple deprivation in the present." Councillor Nicholl who spent many years working in Inner North Belfast has challenged that interpretation. "Throughout the last 40 years study after study showed that those living in deprived areas, specifically in inner city areas where communities lived cheek by jowl suffered the most during the Troubles. Rather than coming after the Troubles, deprivation preceded it. It remains one of the most challenging issues that society must contend with…

Being a shadow

The term shadow usually suggests something that has an outline but no substance and that is certainly the definition that applies to the shadow Mid and East Antrim Council. The process in preparing to "go live" is frustrating in that a lot of the work that could have been done has not been for various reasons. A small team of staff who are trying to identify the strategic priorities at the same time as ensuring that on the 1st of April next year the bins are still lifted means that many changes will be delayed into the new council term. For elected representatives who want to make a difference as soon as possible the lack of basic information such as the variation in pricing between the three councils for services such as leisure facilities, graves or even what assets councils control limits our ability to consider the next steps. We really only have a few months to move things on, taking hasty decisions next March with limited analysis of the impact will not serve the co…

First blog

Welcome to the new blog which, it is intended, will focus on the issues that matter most to the people of Ballymena and the wider Mid and East Antrim community.

Stephen