Council has to have ‘moral courage’ - McCambridge

A MOYLE councillor says public representatives in the area have to show “moral courage” to do all they can to save ratepayers’ cash when it comes to attending conferences.

The SDLP’s Catherine McCambridge said the cost of trips has to be put under the microscope to work out the exact cost before they take place rather than just being nodded through by councillors without a detailed check on the expenditure.

And she said councillors need to share a vehicle if more than one is attending a conference.

She initiated a discussion at a meeting in Sheskburn House under a motion titled - ‘A curb on conferences, courses and civic visits’.

She said cutbacks are needed as conferences cost lots of money.

In the past, she said she was successful in getting the Council to put a cap on the amount of money individual councillors can spend on conferences.

Council officer Moira Quinn said each councillor has £200 to spend on conferences and an extra £750 each on ‘capacity building’.

Cllr McCambridge said the figures did not include mileage and she said now is the time for Moyle Council to “show leadership” and illustrate how appalled the public is at the amount of money the council pays out on mileage.

Councillors were told local reps can currently claim 60 pence per mile.

Independent councillor Seamus Blaney said there had been similar discussions when they set their rates this year and he suggested that the move on to the next business.

But Cllr McCambridge said the public are watching developments and the Council has to be “open and accountable” the Council had to have the “moral courage” to deal with the issue.

Regarding the issue of councillors travelling together, Council Chairperson, Cllr Padraig McShane (Independent), said there are insurance issues.

Cllr McCambridge said in other professions, like community care, workers have to travel together so why should ratepayers have to pay hundreds of pounds for Moyle councillors to travel separately.

“We are in hard times and if we are to show leadership we should travel together,” she added.

Moira Quinn said Council officers travel together.

Cllr Padraig McShane said they had curbed the budget and he was “instrumental” in that.

Cllr Cara McShane (Sinn Fein) said it was a “very honest and worthwhile proposal” from Cllr McCambridge but that the Moyle Twinning Association should also be open and accountable.

Cllr David McAllister (DUP) said there is “nothing under hand” about councillors attending conferences and said he got the impression Cllr McCambridge was suggesting that.

He added if it is such an issue for Cllr McCambridge she did not have to claim for attending conferences and he said he has travelled to France in the past and not claimed.

He said it is a “sin and a shame” that councillors would be deprived the opportunity for capacity building.

Cllr McCambridge responded: “I am not casting any aspersions.”

She added they would be “fools” to think that there could not “be books written” about what goes on at conferences attended by councillors from across Northern Ireland.

She said she was the lowest claiming councillor in Moyle in the last two years.

At the moment, Cllr Robert McIlroy (DUP), said councillors already gave a full report after attending conferences and she said it was not a case of looking for a headline in the paper saying ‘look at me I’m so difference from everybody else’.

Cllr McCambridge said they need to know what the ‘actual’ cost of each conference is and what the benefits are.

Ulster Unionist councillor Willie Graham said the Council had spent £7,000 on putting bulbs up on a tree at Ballycastle seafront.

Cllr McCambridge added: “The days of sending six people here and there on civic visits are over.”

After a vote seven councillors backed Cllr McCambridge’s point of view and five voted against.