Review Body on Local Government in Northern Ireland, 1970
[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
Presented to Parliament by Command of His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland
Published in Belfast by,
ISBN 0 337 10546 4
Crown copyright material has been reproduced under licence from the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationary Office.
Minister of Development for Northern Ireland
I hereby appoint:
Wm. J. Blease, Esq.
Michael G. Bready, Esq.
T. D. Lorimer, Esq., F.C.A.
Patrick A. Macrory, Esq.
E. M. R. O'Driscoll, Esq.
to constitute a Review Body with the following Terms of Reference:
- In view of the decision to set up a central housing authority,
announced in the Communiqué of 10th October, 1969 (Cmd.
4178), the Review Body are asked:
1. To review existing published Government proposals for reshaping local government in Northern Ireland.
2. To examine any further proposals which may be made to the Review Body.
3. To examine the consequences of the decision on housing.
4. To consider any implications of that decision for the health, welfare, child care, education and public library services at present discharged by local government.
5. To advise on the most efficient distribution under the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland - whether under local government or otherwise - of the functions dealt with in proposals under 1 or 2 above.
6. To bear in mind the implications for elected local government of any courses of action which the Review Body may deem advisable.
7. To recommend how local opinion can best be brought to bear on administration.
8. To advise on the number of local government areas; and to submit
interim reports if they think fit.
I further appoint Patrick A. Macrory, Esq., to be Chairman and John A. Oliver, Esq., C.B., B.A., Ph.D., idc, Hon. M.T.P.I.. of the Ministry of Development to be Secretary.
I further appoint D. N. Chester, Esq., C.B.E.. M.A., Hon. D. Litt., to be Consultant to the Review Body.
I provide also for the nomination by the Ulster Association of
County Councils, the Association of Local Authorities of Northern
Ireland Incorporated and the Association of District Councils
(Northern Ireland) of three Assessors, being persons with direct
Experience in local government in Northern Ireland whose services
will be available to the Review Body.
17th December 1969.
1. We were appointed under your Minute of 17th December
1969 which also appointed Mr. D. N. Chester, C.B.E., M.A., Hon.
D. Litt., the Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford, to act as our
Consultant. We have benefited much from the Consultant's advice
which is based on many years of study and practical experience
in local government and public administration generally and which
proved to be of particular value to us when we reached the stage
of drawing together all the threads of our review and arriving
at our conclusions on the main issues. His advice has been given
within the limits prescribed by the Government's decision on housing
and within the broad policy decisions of the Review Body, including
the decision about the number of local authorities.
2. The Minute also provided for the nomination by the Ulster Association of County Councils, the Association of Local Authorities of Northern Ireland Incorporated and the Association of District Councils (Northern Ireland) of three Assessors "being persons with direct experience in local government in Northern Ireland " whose services were to be available to us. The three Associations nominated respectively Mr. Arthur Jack, M.A., LL.B.. Councillor H. R. Brown, M.Comm. Sc., J.P., and Mr. Alex MeNeilly, M.B.E. Councillor Brown, however, subsequently withdrew and in his place his Association nominated Mr. Allan R. Martin, A.C.C.S., A.R.V.A.
3. We agreed at the outset upon the procedure by which we thought
that the Assessors could best assist the work of the Review Body.
They received copies of all written submissions made to us and
discussed them with us. Except when prevented by their other duties,
they were present at all our meetings with witnesses and took
part in the discussions, and subject to the same qualification
they accompanied us on our various visits to county, county borough
and district councils and the Londonderry Development Commission.
They assisted us also in giving us their views on this report
at its draft stage though they are in no way responsible for its
contents. All this made heavy demands upon their time and we are
most grateful to them for their assistance and advice, which is
based on an intimate knowledge of local government in Northern
Ireland and which we found of great value in our work. We must
also express our thanks to the three Associations, the Antrim
County Council, the North Down Rural District Council and the
Newtownabbey Urban District Council for so willingly releasing
these busy senior officers at a particularly difficult season
of the local government year.
4. Immediately following our appointment we embarked upon a study
of the preliminary reading already available of which there was
a great deal. We found of particular interest and relevance such
publications as: The Re-Shaping of Local Government - Statement
of Aims (Cmd. 517); The Re-Shaping of Local Government - Further
Proposals (Cmd. 530) ; The Administrative Structure of the Health
and Personal Social Services in Northern Ireland; and the Report
of the Cameron Commission on Disturbances in Northern Ireland
(Cmd. 532). We also derived a great deal of help from a study
of proposals for the reform of local government in Great Britain
including the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government
in England (Redcliffe-Maud) (Cmd. 4040); the Report of the Royal
Commission Local Government in Scotland (Wheatley) (Cmd. 4150);
and the Command Paper on Local Government in Wales (Cmd. 3340).
5. The text of the address with which you opened our first meeting,
which was held on 9th January 1970, is set out in full as Appendix
I to this report. To avoid any misunderstanding, we should add
that after you had addressed us you left the meeting, and have
taken no further part in our proceedings. We say this because
there have been rumours to the effect that before you appointed
us your mind had already been made up as to the direction in which
we must go and that the report had in effect been written for
us before we had even begun to study the problem. It is therefore
right to emphasise that at no time have we been subject to any
pressure from you, direct or indirect, as to the conclusions which
we ought to reach. Your Ministry, like all the other Ministries,
made its views known to us in a memorandum which was publicly
released for anyone to read if he wished, but that is a very different
matter from exerting pressure or attempting to force us down a
6. What you said to us at our first meeting served to impress
upon us the urgency of our task. We noted the emphasis that you
placed upon the need to further the social and economic development
of Northern Ireland, as well as the paramount importance of political
stability, without which that development must inevitably be frustrated.
7. We studied our Terms of Reference with care. We observed in
particular the emphasis placed upon the decision that the Government
had already taken to establish a central housing authority. We
noted too the emphasis that was placed upon local involvement.
But we noted also that there was no reference, as there was in
the Terms of Reference for the Royal Commissions on Local Government
both for England and for Scotland, to "the need to sustain
a viable system of local democracy"" ; we were not asked
to meet any political requirements nor to advise upon boundary
lines , we observed that we were not asked to assume that the
present range of local government functions should continue ;
on the contrary, we were specifically and clearly asked to advise
on the most efficient distribution of all the relevant functions
" under the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland
- whether under local government or otherwise." We were not
asked to advise upon the internal machinery of local government,
that is to say, the committee structure, the relationship between
a council and its senior officials, the extent of delegation to
the latter and similar administrative problems , nor were we asked
to examine the electoral system or explore the advantages and
disadvantages of a system of proportional representation voting
for local government. The latter question did however come up
in the course of our review and we deal with it briefly in paragraphs
42 and 43 of this report.
8. We followed no set procedure in our work. On the contrary our
methods of enquiry have been informal, empirical, varied and non-technical,
and on our visits to councils they were adapted to suit the circumstances
and the wishes of our hosts. We have studied over forty background
books or papers. We have received, in answer to our advertisements,
141 papers, which ranged from short letters to lengthy volumes
and many other documents were handed to us on the visits that
we made. All have been carefully read, studied and discussed.
We invited to meet us those writers or sponsors of papers who
seemed to us to have raised points that could usefully be amplified
in discussion with us, and those whose views on opinions that
others had expressed to us were likely to be of particular value.
In this way we have had discussion meetings with about 200 people.
We had, too, an interesting discussion with Professor Sir Robert
Matthew, Professor Tom Wilson and Professor Jack Parkinson, whose
Development Programme for Northern Ireland 1970-75 was then in
the final stages of preparation. We also met a number of other
people concerned with our field of study, some round the table
and others in the course of our visits.
9. These visits to local authorities took many forms but all proved
valuable to us. All told, we met representatives of about 30 authorities
in town halls or council offices. We paid a visit to the Londonderry
Development Commission and we were able to spend a complete day
with the Belfast Corporation as well as having two further full
meetings with them. We are most grateful to everyone concerned,
including those who had plainly been to great pains to arrange
our programme of talks, meetings, visits and tours and to introduce
us to local government and Development Commission staff of many
categories and ranks. It is worth mentioning that on many of these
occasions the press were present.
10. It must remain a matter of considerable regret that twice,
when provisional dates had been set for us to visit Fermanagh,
we were advised that it would be unwise to do so because of unsettled
conditions associated with the Fermanagh Council. We have therefore
been unable to see in action the only example in the British Isles
of a fully amalgamated all-purpose local authority outside the
11. We must also regret that in the limited time at our disposal
it was not possible for us to visit all those other authorities
who had indicated that they would be glad to receive us. Moreover,
at one or two of those that we did visit, it would appear that
some members who would have liked to meet us were not invited
to do so, This was understandably a matter of some complaint but
it was by no wish of ours. The arrangements on these occasions
were in the hands of the host councils.
12. In all then, this has been for us a period of highly intensive work, characterised by varied ways of approach and different methods but marked, above all, by direct personal contact with some hundreds of citizens and through the media of documents, letters and deputations, with what we believe to be the thinking and wishes of many thousands more. It may be said that, nevertheless, considering the great complexity of the subject, a satisfactory review could hardly be completed in a time that is short indeed compared with that taken by, say, the Redcliffe-Maud or the Wheatley Commissions. We can recognise the force of such an argument but in answer should point out that we have had the benefit of the great deal of preliminary work that had been put in on this subject in Northern Ireland before we were established and that in addition we have drawn on the work of the English and Scottish Commissions - particularly the Wheatley Report as clearly Northern Ireland is more akin to Scotland than England in area, population and distribution of urban and rural areas. But in any case the circumstances just did not permit of further long drawn out inquiries. Local government reform in Northern Ireland has been discussed and written about for several years now, going back well before 1967, when the Statement of Aims was published. This, and above all the decision announced last October to create a central housing authority-a decision which has of course frustrated much of the preliminary work just mentioned - has naturally left local authorities in a considerable state of doubt and bewilderment. It has also created a very understandable anxiety in the minds of local government staff. This anxiety, which was emphasised to us on many occasions, should not be allowed to continue a moment longer than necessary. Moreover our report will mark only the beginning of a period of detailed and complex work, including the re-drawing of boundaries and none of this can be put in train until our recommendations are known and decisions about them taken by Government. All this must be seen against the background of the postponement until 1971 of the local government elections that were due to be held this year. With the best will in the world a further postponement may well be unavoidable but any protracted postponement, particularly in the light of the promise of a new and wider franchise, would plainly be most undesirable. It was for these reasons that we decided that our proper course was to carry out a short and intensive review rather than an exhaustive and detailed inquiry, a review to be completed in a matter of months rather than years and almost everyone we met has welcomed or at least acquiesced in that approach. We have ourselves no doubt that our decision was right.
13. It had two consequences. The first has been that we have had
to meet more frequently and to work under more intense pressure
than is normal for an ordinary committee of inquiry. The second
was that we have had to concentrate on the broad pattern of responsibilities
and to leave the detailed working-out of our proposals to others.
Our report, therefore, like our inquiries and investigations,
concentrates on principles of public responsibility and on arriving
at a broad pattern of administration and public involvement. We
firmly believe that in adopting this approach we are giving the
most helpful and constructive service we can to assist in resolving
the important and difficult problems raised by our Terms of Reference.
14. One other aspect of our procedure calls for mention at this point. At an early stage of our review the charge was made in the press and else-where that we were operating with undue secrecy. " Dangerous Secrecy " was the headline favoured by one newspaper and such phrases as "sessions in camera" and even "Star Chamber methods" were freely bandied about. The demand was made that all our meetings should be held in public, with the press present, and that all the evidence should be published. Such a request showed, in our view, a misconception of the basic nature and functions of our Body, which was not a judicial or quasi-judicial tribunal arriving at conclusions based on the "weight of the evidence" but a Review Body reviewing the work of some four years, eliciting further ideas and drawing the threads together. Moreover, to have organised public sessions with reporters in attendance would certainly have delayed and protracted the proceedings, quite apart from the fact that many people are not at their best under such circumstances. We believe that the free and largely informal manner in which we conducted our discussions with witnesses produced fuller, more uninhibited and therefore more valuable expressions of opinion than we could have obtained otherwise.
15. On the other hand, we fully recognise the anxiety that would
be felt if it were thought that matters of such importance to
so many citizens were being decided in a hole-and-corner fashion
and subject to backstairs influence. We therefore made it plain
and wish now to repeat, that any person or body submitting a letter
or memorandum to the Review Body was completely free to release
the document to the press or publish it in any other form they
wished. We said in terms that we would welcome their taking this
course and we noted with particular satisfaction that all the
Government departments decided to do so. Similarly, we specifically
emphasised to those who came to our discussions that they were
entirely free to repeat publicly what we had said to them or they
to us and that there was no question of their being bound in any
way to secrecy. We gave a similar assurance to the councils that
we visited. At some of these meetings the press were present and
interviews were freely given ; at others a shorthand note was
taken on behalf of the council. All such arrangements were left
entirely to the discretion of the council that we were visiting.
16. When the allegations of undue secrecy were brought to our
notice we at once issued a statement dated 23rd February 1970,
intended to allay any anxiety that might be felt on this score.
(The full text of this statement is reproduced in Appendix II
to this report.) We hope therefore that it will be recognised
that throughout we have operated as openly as possible, consistent
only with the need to produce an early report and to avoid any
premature disclosure of our conclusions.
170. We have now concluded our review and answered, to the best
of our ability, the points that you put to us in our Terms of
Reference. The next steps are for others. In these difficult times
public administration demands the co-operation and help of all
men and women of goodwill, from the ranks of elected representatives,
of business and professional men, of trade unionists, the churches
and the voluntary societies. There is no room here for petty jealousies,
departmental feuds, or administrative warfare, and no time for
barren controversy. We have therefore refused throughout to adopt
doctrinaire attitudes on the merits or demerits of elected local
councils, appointed boards, centralisation and other vexed issues,
nor have we let ourselves be drawn into political argument or
debate on the past record of local government in Northern Ireland.
On the contrary, we have tried to look to the future and to recommend
the system which in our view will best meet the requirements of
economy, efficiency and local involvement. It is a greatly simplified
system, yet it is flexible ; and it aims, as we believe that any
worth-while re-organisation must aim, at a great reduction in
the number of decision-making bodies and of the levels of executive
power. It may be true that as the Wheatley Commission has said,
a solution to be effective is bound to hurt some people but given
goodwill we believe that the system we recommend can succeed ;
without goodwill, neither this nor any other system stands a chance.
171. At the start of this report we expressed our appreciation
of the services of our Consultant and our three Assessors. We
must now put on record our debt to the Secretariat with which
we were provided. This is no mere polite formality. Dr. John Oliver,
our Secretary, Mr. Hugh Gaw, our Assistant Secretary, and Mr.
Dick Mackenzie, all of the Ministry of Development, have served
us throughout with unflagging energy, skill and cheerfulness.
We are deeply grateful.
I. Two levels of executive responsibility:
B. up to 26 elected district councils working as local authorities responsible to their electorates.
District councils responsible for district (or local) services.
III. Ministries to decentralise to provincial towns the day-to-day
management of regional services under flexible arrangements appropriate
to the particular service e.g.
IV.District councils responsible for district functions in five categories:
(ii) agency functions delegated by Ministries.
(iii) representative role on area boards and other agencies.
(iv) consultative role as consumer councils.
VI. Community groups for small localities where desired.
1. The functions under review are divided into two broad categories: regional, i.e. wide-area functions which require large units for administration and district, i.e. small-area or local services which can be efficiently administered in small units (paragraph 70).
2. The regional functions are : education, public libraries ; personal health, welfare and child care; planning., roads and traffic management ; motor taxation ; housing ; water and major sewerage systems , food composition, standards and labelling; tourism ; electoral arrangements ; criminal injuries compensation ; gas ; electricity , transport ; major harbours ; fire (paragraph 74).
3. Independent boards, i.e. central, appointed and specialised bodies with independent standing are rejected for functions which have a substantial social or political content (paragraphs 76-77).
4. Such boards are only suitable for services with a mainly technical content (paragraph 77).
5. The representative, principle is preferred (paragraph 78).
6. The two-tier concept of local councils is also rejected (paragraphs 79-81).
7. The concept of Parliament and Government as one level and a number of elected district councils as the second level constitutes the main recommendation in the report (paragraph 81).
8. Stormont, i.e. the regional Parliament, Government and the Ministries should administer the regional services (paragraph 81).
9. The district councils should administer the district services (paragraph 81).
10. Apart from trading undertakings and the fire service, the regional
services should be. directly assigned to individual Ministries (paragraphs 82-83).
11. The Ministries must concern themselves directly with policy, law, finance and standards as well as with programmes and priorities (paragraph 85).
12. Management (in the sense of employment of many of the operative staff, the handling of transactions in land, buildings and machinery, day-to-day supervision, short-term decisions on the ground) should in many cases be decentralised to local offices in provincial towns (Paragraph 87).
13. In the case of education, the personal health, personal social services and child care, delegation to a system of area boards acting as agents of the Ministry seems advisable (paragraph 87(c) and (d)).
14. To the extent that area boards may be thought advisable for the day-to-day management of regional services, then all such areas ought to be co-terminous, ought not to cut across district boundaries , and four such areas ought to be enough for the whole province. The boards ought to be appointed by Ministers and ought clearly to be their agents ; their membership ought to reflect the community they serve , the membership ought to include sorne district councillors (paragraph 87(c)).
15. Arrangements ought to be built in from the outset for the closest collaboration between boards and offices of the Ministries operating in any one area (paragraph 87(d)).
16. Delegation should be to district councils as agents, where the responsible Ministry is satisfied as to the council's willingness, competence, staffing and general suitability (paragraph 87(e) and (f)).
17. Delegation to agents should be flexible and should be of such a kind that it can be varied from time to time and from place to place (paragraph 89).
18. Experiments should be tried to relieve Ministers of direct responsibility for some of the decisions taken in their name (paragraph 90).
19. An increase in the work of the House of Commons is foreseen and this could lead to consideration being given to an increase in the size of the House (paragraph 91).
20. A development of the select committee system is also foreseen (paragraph 92).
21. It should be possible for some other Mayors or Chairmen of local authorities to have seats in the Senate as well as the Lord Mayor of Belfast and the Mayor of Londonderry (paragraph 94).
22. Consideration should be given to the setting up of one gas service for the whole province (paragraph 99).
23. Proposals for a unified regional electricity service are known to be under consideration (paragraph 100).
24. The finances of road passenger transport in Belfast are likely to suffer a set-back for the first time in the history of this undertaking and as a result changes in responsibility may be proposed (paragraph 101).
25. The Belfast Fire Brigade could form a valuable adjunct to one unified fire service for the province (paragraph 104).
26. Gas, electricity, road passenger transport, major harbours and fire, all require regional treatment in the sense that they are essential public utilities of a regional character, not in the sense that the Belfast Corporation - or in future the District Council of Belfast - or any other present operator is not competent to run its own services (paragraphs 109-111).
27. Not more than 26 district councils should be created - each based on a main town or centre (paragraphs 115-116).
28. No place will remain for county councils in the new structure (paragraph 117).
29. The County Boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry will become district councils but retain their ancient civic dignities (paragraph 118).
30. The executive functions for which all district councils will be directly responsible are listed (paragraph 120).
31. In addition district councils should for the benefit of their areas and inhabitants have freedom to spend the Product of a 6d. rate on any purpose not otherwise authorised by statute (paragraph 121).
32. Representat ives of district councils should be nominated to serve on area boards, probably to the extent of 30 per cent to 40 per cent but never exceeding 50 per cent (paragraph, 123).
33. District councils should be consulted by Government about local opinion on matters of general public Policy (paragraph 124).
34. District councils will also have many ceremonial functions; and it should be open to all to apply for the status of borough (paragraph 125).
35. The formation of community groups for small localities should be encouraged (paragraph 129).
36. As soon as decisions have been taken on this reports the whole legislation and machinery of valuation, rating, derating and exemptions should be brought up to date, and a comprehensive revaluation undertaken (paragraph 13 1).
37. Although no recommendation is made on the concept of a community contribution by those voters who do not pay rates, any opportunity that arises of broadening the basis of local taxation should be taken (paragraph 134).
38. The rate struck each year should be in two parts: a regional portion, applying uniformly over the whole region and a district portion struck independently, and without approval or supervision, by each district council (paragraph l41 (a)-(b)).
39. Both should be collected in one operation, preferably on a central basis but district collection is not ruled out (paragraph 141 (c)).
40. A Working party should specialise on the problems arising in connection with the Belfast Corporation debt and other loans pools and superannuation funds (paragraph 142).
41. The proposals for a Local Government Interim Staff Commission and for a Permanent successor are both endorsed (paragraph 144).
42. The concept of a Public service is considered and some functions are set out, distinguishing between those that require independent treatment and those of a general and representative character (Paragraphs 146-148).
43. The possibility of setting up one public service Training centre should be examined (paragraph 150).
44. Certain professional staff who will be serving more than one employer should be kept together as one professional corps, employed by the major user and made available to other public bodies (paragraph 151).
45. A review of the distribution of Ministerial functions between the various Ministries should be undertaken by the new Civil Service Management Department on he following suggested lines:
Road safety and traffic Management to the Ministry of Development.
Harbours to the Ministry of Development.
Rating (and other revenue functions) to a new revenue office in the Ministry of Finance
National museums and art galleries to the Ministry of Education.
Public Health Act miscellaneous functions re-allocated between the Ministries of Development, Health and Social Services and Agriculture (paragraph 155).
46. District councils should have the function of keeping their citizens informed (paragraph 161).
47. A reduction in the number of associations of local authorities
would increase their value and effectiveness (paragraph 162).
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