Beggs urges Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to ‘concentrate on core services’
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In a statement issued in response to media speculation over an estimated £7m gap in funding, Larne Lough UUP Councillor Roy Beggs said: “The Ulster Unionist councillors on Mid and East Antrim will continue to work for the best interests of the rate payers in the borough as we have always done.
“We wholeheartedly supported the PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) review of council finances and operations. The public deserves a greater understanding of the issues highlighted and the difficult choices this new council will have to make.
“We will need to concentrate on core services and bring about efficiencies and improvements promised by RPA (Review of Public Administration) but not delivered.”
The council highlighted some planned efficiencies ahead of rates-setting in February through increasing charges, reviewing use of civic buildings and reducing opening hours, including leisure centres and waste service facilities and levels of funding for international events .
Last month, car parking charges were introduced at two car parks in Larne town centre and three in Ballymena with charges planned at Castle Car Park in Carrickfergus.
A spokesperson for the Council said: “A council meeting was held at which the findings of a proactive mid-year financial review were presented to elected members.
“Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has been progressing with its transformation and improvement plan. We have been leaving no stone unturned and examining all aspects of governance at the heart of the council.
“We face increasing demands on our resources and price increases on what we spend. This is alongside a reduction in income that forms our budget. These are challenging times for councils and we need to respond.
“After detailed work on our improvement plan, there is evidence of systemic absence of robust processes in some service areas – an absence of systems that support the management and reporting of information and the assurance needed of performance.
“To support our demonstration of efficient use of resources against council priorities, delivering services for the benefit of our residents, councillors are committed to implementing measures that address these failings and provide oversight and transparency of the core business of the council.
“This will enable assurance on value for money and put in place systems, processes and reporting that should have been developed since RPA in 2015.
“We are working closely with external public bodies in supporting our oversight and grip to enable solid foundations to be created and support the council in its ambition to deliver services for citizens that they need and value. There have been no discussions regarding job cuts.”
Meanwhile, a report presented to the council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee indicated “healthy reserves of £25m, which will provide insulation to the current worldwide economic issues”.
“The total borrowing of council has decreased to £50.6m. During the year, one new loan was taken out for £4m against capital spend.”
It was noted PwC was engaged to assist with “increased controls on expenditure and utilities usage”.
Loreen Donnan, interim director of corporate services, told the committee “some amendments are needed” following an update presented by interim chief executive Valerie Watts to councillors at a recent special meeting.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter