Council spending ‘reckless and insensitive’ – McAteer

December 14, 2015

UNITE spokesperson and Independent Newry City Councillor Kevin McAteer has criticised the council for its recent spending behaviour branding it “reckless and insensitive.”

Referring to recent junkets such as the highly publicised Slieve Donard “Elected Members Study Visit”,  the Council’s £5k Christmas party, which took place in Bellini’s last Friday night, and the installation of the “big screen” on Hill Street,  Mr McAteer told The Examiner he believed such expenditure is “at the rate payers’ expense and, in times of austerity, it is extremely insensitive.”

“Despite the formation of the new Council and with it a fresh start, it seems we are back to the same old reckless spending story from our Council,” said the Independent councillor,  who went on to question the usefulness of the digital screen which he said the Council had installed at a cost of £37,000.

The disgruntled councillor believes the Council’s intention to screen football matches next year is a non-starter due to our inclement weather and said any advertising of events or local businesses or screening of news is unnecessary due to the accessibility of smartphones and tablets.

“If I want info on Council events or current affairs I, like many others, will do so on my smart phone. Its quick, easy and effective. Why would I want to head down to Hill Street for that when I can do it on my phone. Perhaps the Council should develop an app?” he suggested.

He described the screen as a “monstrosity” and said it had become offensive to church-goers and the clergy due to its proximity to Newry Cathedral.

“What concerns me now is that it seems that there was no consultation with some businesses and those who did object were not listened to. For me the screen is a waste of money. Considering how many community groups were refused Council funding this year, it seems this whole time there was £37,000 available in the kitty to install this monstrosity on Hill Street” he added.

With regards to October’s council “junket” to the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, which saw seven councillors wrack up a hefty expenses bill and prompted public outcry at taxpayers’ money being used for what was seen as a frivolous event, the Independent councillor deemed it a “perfect example of reckless spending.”

Whilst he commends Council staff for their hard work throughout the year, Mr McAteer believes the budget of £5,000 for last week’s Christmas party was excessive and questioned what it was used for.

“£5,000 is a lot of money that could be used to serve our community through a project of some sort. Food and alcohol for a Christmas party does not cost £5,000, maybe a few hundred at the most.

“However, as far as I am aware the food at the event is a buffet and the staff have to pay for their own alcohol. Also why is it in Bellini’s when it could have been in a council building? The Town Hall was always used in the past. My question is what is the £5,000 being used for?”

The Independent councillor also took the opportunity to address the funding of legacy Council events that totalled £44,460 as well as a total of £1.8million he claimed was being spent on “golden handshakes for Councillors in the north of Ireland as a part of the amalgamation of the new Councils.”

McAteer – who announced in October that he planned to donate his monthly expenses to charity, added,

“It would be interesting to know how much was spent on these golden handshakes in Newry and Mourne Council this year. This along with £1.2million worth of expenses being claimed by our local MLAs and MPs in the last 15 months shows us the real money culture that exists within our local political scene.

“In times of austerity it is very disheartening to see such extravagant payouts for retiring councillors, Christmas parties, legacy events, big screens and expenses claims. A lot of this money could have been used for more community based projects such as those organisations that were turned down Council funding or even the development of a 4G pitch that would really benefit the community and promote local football.

“I don’t see why the Council should spend all this money……….while our public services and welfare are being cut and people such as our nurses, who are real heroes, don’t even get a proper pay increase.”