Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council will be committed to streamlining, efficiency and value for money for local ratepayers.
That was the promise given this week by the chief executive of the new local authority, Mrs Jacqui Dixon.
We want to maintain standards and we want to maintain qualityJacqui Dixon
Speaking ahead of the merger of Antrim and Newtownabbey councils on April 1, Mrs Dixon paid tribute to the efforts of elected members and staff who have worked hard over the past 10 months and more to ensure “a seamless transition.”
“We have been working towards a very seamless transition in terms of service delivery. What people will start to see will be new branding on our vehicles etc, but obviously there is a cost to that so we are going to do it over a period of time,” she explained.
“I would hope that people won’t see any real difference in service delivery - certainly we don’t want the quality to be reduced. We want to maintain standards and we want to maintain quality.
“You have two councils coming together that are quite similar in terms of culture and practice. There are a lot of differences and we have had to work through a lot of those, but there were already good relationships between the councils in terms of collaboration on peace projects, rural development projects; geographically we are quite close in terms of the two civic centres as well. That’s not to say it hasn’t been without its challenges.”
Mrs Dixon, who worked in economic development with Newtownabbey and Craigavon councils before taking over as chief executive of Newtownabbey Borough Council following the retirement of Norman Dunn in 2010, has mixed emotions about the merger, but says it “makes sense” to reduce the number of local councils.
Reflecting on the achievements of Newtownabbey Borough Council over the years, Mrs Dixon described the local authority as “a progressive, innovative and ambitious council with a focussed corporate approach.” And looking to the future she points to the ambitious set of aims and objectives laid out in the new council’s Corporate Plan for 2015 - 2030.
“For me I will miss the culture and the ethos of Newtownabbey Borough Council as it evolved over the years, and being part of that. But at the same time we have a new beginning, a new organisation, a new corporate plan and we have a new vision and I think it is important that we all buy in to that and work to achieve that.”
Mrs Dixon knows that significant challenges lie ahead as the new council takes on additional powers and responsibilities in terms of planning, community planning, regeneration and economic development. But she feels that members, officers and staff are ready to meet those challenges.
“It’s really about making sure that the quality of our current services is maintained and indeed enhanced, and making sure there is a smooth transfer of the services being transferred from central government to local government and localising those to the high standards that we expect.”
Offering an assurance that the new council is committed to maintaining and improving services and facilities in Antrim and Newtownabbey - including retaining Mossley Mill and Antrim Civic Centre - she stressed that officers and members will work to keep rates as low as possible.
While confirming that its more than 680 employees will not face compulsory redundancies, Mrs Dixon said that the council will make efficiencies through its voluntary severance programme, staff restructuring and other initiatives in the coming months.
“The culture within the council - amongst elected members and officers - is going to be one of efficiency and streamlining of services and value for money for our ratepayers,” she added.