Belfast Telegraph

Councils slammed for heaping £1bn debts on next generation

By Adrian Rutherford

Councils in Northern Ireland are sitting on a near £1bn debt burden, according to a new report.

Local authorities owe almost £860m in long-term liabilities – and the figure is rising.

The details emerged in a report published by the TaxPayers' Alliance pressure group.

In total, 26 councils here had liabilities of £859,574,000 at March 31 last year – equivalent to £471 per person.

The total has increased by 6% on the previous year.

The report also found:

  • Belfast City Council had the biggest long-term liabilities at £146m – a 7% increase on the previous year;
  • Coleraine Borough Council had the biggest long-term liabilities per resident – £807.
  • Limavady Borough Council's long-term liabilities were equal to 102% of the value of their long-term assets.

The TaxPayers' Alliance accused local councils of saddling future generations with today's debt burden. Its chief executive, Jonathan Isaby, said: "It is nothing short of immoral for councils to pile further debt on the next generation.

"Britain's public finances are in real trouble, and local authorities can no longer avoid tough choices by putting the bill on taxpayers' credit card.

"Councils must look again at overgenerous pensions and wage a war on waste, or Britain's debt burden may soon become too heavy to bear."

Belfast City Council's liabilities totalled £146,318,000 at the end of last March.

A spokesperson said: "As Belfast City Council is the largest of Northern Ireland's local authorities, the figure is understandably higher than the other 25 councils."

Derry City Council had the second highest long-term liabilities, totalling £64,664,000 while North Down Borough Council's £60,515,000 liabilities were third highest.

Other large liabilities include Newtownabbey (£56m), Coleraine (£47m) and Ballymena (£38m).

Only three councils had long-term liabilities under £10m – Cookstown (£9.4m), Strabane (£7.6m) and Magherafelt (£7m).

Limavady is the only council where long-term liabilities exceeded long-term assets, although liabilities at Banbridge and Carrickfergus councils accounted for large portions of their assets, 89% and 82% respectively.

Across the UK, councils' total long-term liabilities amount to more than £180bn.

The TaxPayers' Alliance said its research found large disparities in the size of councils' liabilities and the amount they are borrowing, even among similar authorities in the same region.

At March 31 last year, long-term liabilities added up to £2,828 per person in the UK, with long-term borrowing accounting for £72bn of the liabilities. Birmingham City Council, the UK's largest authority, had the biggest long-term liabilities at £6bn, including £2.8bn in long-term borrowing.

The report said 105 councils had increased their long-term borrowing during 2012/13, although 214 had decreased it.

Factfile

Councils with five highest long-term liabilities:

  • Belfast City Council: £146,318,000
  • Derry City Council: £64,664,000
  • North Down Borough Council: £60,515,000
  • Newtownabbey Borough Council: £56,035,000
  • Coleraine Borough Council: £47,590,000

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