Northern Ireland HR, workforce and communications, Personal and organisational development

NILGA AGM 2023 – A call for financial sustainability in local government

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NILGA 2023 President Matt Garrett. Credit@NILGA

Do you also find yourself asking what is at the forefront of local government in Northern Ireland?

Asking the very same question, Thomas and Hannah from the LGIU travelled over to Bellaghy to attend the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) 2023 AGM in June.

Following a scenic drive through Mid Ulster to the culturally rich Seamus Heaney Centre, the AGM began with a message from the Chair of Mid Ulster Council, Councillor Dominic Molloy, who reminded attendees that while working in local government can be challenging and difficult, there is no greater reward than representing and delivering for our communities

LGIU’s Head of International Operations, Hannah Muirhead reading through our new Global Local magazine!

A theme similarly noted by NILGA Chief Executive, Alison Allen highlighted that whilst central government and the public sector in NI generally remain in a constant state of flux, NILGA provides a stable, solid and unified voice for the local government sector in NI.

Next up, outgoing NILGA President Cllr Martin Kearney, from nearby Portglenone, spoke of his honour as serving as 2022-23 NILGA President and thanked the Vice Presidents for their support in ensuring NILGA’s voice was heard locally, regionally, nationally and internationally – all the way from the June 2022 LGA in England to the organising of the regional LGA forum in-person for Belfast 2023.

“It has been an honour to be NILGA President over the past 12 months. Heading into an election year, I am pleased that we have been an active organisation and provided a strong voice to the local government sector. We have continued to make the cause for councils across the country, lobbying for greater finances and new powers, which will allow councils to remain strong community leaders.”

Whether it was NILGA’s success in securing the UK wide LGA forum in Belfast for 2023, deepening the relationship with the Association of Irish Local Government, or the ability of NILGA to highlight the pressures on councils during the cost of living, the importance of relationships was a recurring theme throughout the day.

For those outside of NI, it is also worth bearing in mind the political environment NILGA operates. As the May local elections hammered home, local government has long provided a source of stability and democratic legitimacy for a region with no devolved governance. And, as one of the UK’s most impacted regions by Brexit, local government has continued to adapt and pivot throughout the Cost-of-Living crisis to ensure those who needed public services the most continued to receive support – all while facing unprecedented financial pressures.

But on a more optimistic note, Cllr Martin Kearney’s positive tones on the work of NILGA to ease pressures on the lives of people and communities also included a forward look on innovation and collaboration – the two themes underpinning NILGA’s 2023 conference.

NILGA 2023 Annual Conference – Responding to future challenges

After a healthy audit session, we then heard from the keynote speaker, the CEO of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NIVCA), Celine McStravick. Representing 1,300 members, NIVCA is the voice of a vibrant community sector, and with experience working within the NI local government sector, Celine appreciated the importance of local government as a critical piece in the puzzle for the required change in NI.

Expressing NIVCA’s ambition to work closer with the local government sector, Celine again picked up on the importance of relationships and councils partnerships with communities during the cost of living crisis, especially at a time when local community groups are suffering from a real-term financial reduction, as a consequence of Brexit, from the EU SPF, again complicated by the lack of a sitting Assembly.

NILGA President 2023 address

 Opening with a well-placed pandemic anecdote of receiving the President’s Chain of Office from the boot of a car previously, Cllr Matt Garrett, from Collin in Belfast, spoke of the honour of representing NILGA and working cross-party for the sustainability of the local government sector and making sure local government is resourced for the future.

“Local government is agile and resilient and can best respond to challenges facing our communities and ratepayers on a local level.”

“As NILGA President, I am committed to working with all 11 councils, our members, council officers, and our MLA colleagues to redefine the relationship between central and local government.”

A key point from Cllr Garrett’s address, for those interested in the role of NILGA, was a mention of the NILGA Corporate Plan and the overall aim to transform NILGA from being a lobbying body to becoming one focused on negotiating on behalf of the local government sector and embedding itself in the policy-making process.

Picked up again by Alison, the corporate plan outlines the ambitious plans to embed and enhance the strategic profile of NILGA into the policy-making process while continuing to engage and empower NI’s 462 councillors in this journey.

For instance, as NI Councils enter a new mandate, NILGA reiterated its calls for the devolution of further powers to local government, such as place-shaping and regeneration, as well as a commitment to put local government on a more sustainable and secure financial footing.

Following a range of motions from the councillors in attendance, which addressed ongoing policy development and consultations with NILGA’s Head of Policy, Karen Smyth, the AGM ended with an update of upcoming NI local government events, such as the AILG delegation and Autumn conference in Derry/Londonderry in September, APSE’s Belfast conference in September and the UK LGA Forum in Belfast, Nov 2023.

Study of commuting patterns in Ireland and Northern Ireland pre- and post-Covid-19

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