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Public Services

Volume 403: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2003

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5.

What plans he has to allow local authorities in Northern Ireland more powers to provide services demanded by local communities; and if he will make a statement. [107071]

Last year, the Northern Ireland Executive initiated a review of public administration. That review is undertaking a comprehensive examination of the roles and responsibilities of all parts of the public sector in Northern Ireland, including local government. Decisions arising from the review will be a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the interests of the community and the people of Northern Ireland, good, efficient and democratic local government is essential to allow decision making, which impacts on the destiny of local people, to be nearer to the people? Will he ensure that any decision that is taken is in the best interests of those people so that we can have peace and loyalty in Northern Ireland?

I agree with my hon. Friend that good, efficient local administration is what we all want, whether it be in Northern Ireland or Great Britain. A lot of good work is already being done in local government in Northern Ireland and by the local strategy partnerships. Decisions on the review of public administration will inevitably be long term, and we hope that a restored Executive will be taking them in due course.

I declare a registered interest. When is the review of public administration likely to be completed and will transfer of greater responsibility be delayed until that happens? When did the Minister or the Secretary of State last meet representatives of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association to discuss those issues?

The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), regularly meets local government representatives. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the original timetable for the report on the review of public administration was for December this year. Given suspension, it is unlikely to be achieved, but I hope that, with an early restoration of devolution, it will be possible to carry out the necessary public consultation that everybody wants so that decisions can be taken, probably in 2004.