Belfast Telegraph

Uncertainty over regional rates 'hurting councils' ability to plan'

Rates worry : councillor Keith Turner
Rates worry : councillor Keith Turner

By Mark McConville

Delivery of services such as roads, education and health could be hit as the Department of Finance is yet to set the regional rates for the next financial year, it has been claimed.

Councils are "being left in the dark" because the lack of an Executive is preventing them from planning ahead, one councillor warned.

One part of the rates bill is the district rate.

It is set by individual councils and is used to pay for services such as bin collections, recycling and waste disposal, leisure services, street cleaning and parks.

It also includes the regional rate, set by central government and used to pay for services such as roads, education and health.

Mid and East Antrim Borough councillor Keith Turner, who is also a member of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, said residents and businesses were losing out as "we amble through this continuing political vacuum".

"Despite local councils having to pick up the pieces and provide the only form of governance, we are still being frustrated in our efforts to deliver the best public services," the UUP member said.

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"Local councils are being left in the dark about the regional rate for next year and, as such, those at the coalface of public services have been left unable to adequately plan for the investments that need to be made in the areas we live and work in.

"It is time for the civil servants to do their jobs and allow councils in Northern Ireland to do theirs."

Derry City and Strabane District Council said it was difficult to come up with a domestic rate and plan services without knowing how much would be available from central government, including the size of the rates support grant, which was cut three years ago.

The council said that grants had helped less wealthy councils such as it to "provide parity of service provision with more wealthy councils".

It claimed the cut in the grant had meant it had lost out on around £420,000.

"With the additional demands currently being placed on local councils to deliver in terms of driving economic growth and stability, it is imperative that central government takes on board these growing pressures when considering the allocation of the rates support grant," it added.

The Department of Finance said councils "routinely" set district rates in advance of regional rates being set.

"The department is under a statutory obligation to take into account the amounts to be raised by district rates prior to the setting of the annual regional rate," it added.

"In line with normal practice, the regional rate will be set as part of the 20/21 budget process."

Belfast Telegraph