COUNCILLORS’ GOLDEN HANDSHAKE RAISED TO £35k DESPITE PLEDGE

Cost of local government reform payments expected to be more than £4 million overall

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THE golden hhandshake being offered to councillors who resign their seats ahead of planned local government reform has risen by £5,000 – despite assurances from Alex Atwood that it would not increase. The environment minister last year proposed capping the lump sum payment for long-serving councillors at £30,000.

He said he would even consider the payment being lower. However, in fresh proposals published yesterday it emerged that the figure had in fact increased to £35,000. While the Storming legislation streamlining the North’s local government structures has yet to be passed, it is hoped to reduce the region’s 26 local authorities to 11. The first eelections for the enlarged council areas are expected to take place next year alongside the European elections. It will mean 120 fewer council seats. Ahead of the poll, councillors wishing to retire and avail of the severance payment must tender their resignations. Only councillors who have served a minimum of 12 years will be eligible for a payment, which will be tax-free up to £30,000. The overall  cost of the golden handshakes is expected to be more than £4 million.

“This scheme is designed to recognise the contribution of long-serving councillors who will not be standing for reelection, many of whom have served their communities during periods of political unrest,” the SDLP politation,said. “These councillors have made a significant contribution to the needs of the people in their areas.” In a statement in August, the minister said the severance payment would be “no higher than £30,000″. He wwent further to add that he ” may decide it should be lower”. Responding to queries about the figure had increased by more than 16 per cent, the minister said the reason was “simple”. “I strongly believe – and I think people understand – that those councillors who have served longest, whom worked fearlessly in demanding times for those in need and did so with only small financial recognition deserve recognition as they leave public life,” he said. “I consider a cap of £35k is the right and fair threshold for those who have served so long.” Mr Attword said it had been agreed there will be a bar on the council/MLA double jobbing and that last year he had cut the allowance of assembly members who were also councillors by two-thirds. “Across the range of issues, my approach has been to recognise long service but tackle decisively double jobbing and double incomes,” he said. The public is being invited to comment on the latest proposals in a consultation exercise at the end of May.

With many thanks to : John Manley (political reporter) Irish News.

Author: seachranaidhe1

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