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Audit office called in over Causeway Coast and Glens Council £75m debt

Residents facing potential hike in rate bills

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Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is facing financial meltdown (stock photo)

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is facing financial meltdown (stock photo)

Alex Dodd

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is facing financial meltdown (stock photo)

Councillors have called in the Audit Office after it was revealed their local authority is £75m in debt - prompting fears a 15% rates hike is needed to stay afloat.

Last week, leaked minutes of a high-level senior officers' meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council held just before Christmas highlighted the issue in stark terms.

"Next year starts with a £4.5m deficit, plus inflation... the situation is dire, there is no evident plan to redress it," council chiefs said.

"Current deficit may well decimate services which have already been cut to the bone... we are £75m in debt, 15% on the rates is required next year to run the council.

"The issue is not being dealt with and we are facing a major financial issue next year. Fundamentally, the financial crisis could destroy us."

The minutes revealed a breakdown between the council management and elected representatives.

"When is anyone going to tell the councillors that we are broke?" the minutes said.

This week, SDLP representatives on the council have reported the situation to the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

In a statement, they said: “Openness and transparency must be the order of the day. The facts must be disclosed and those responsible for the crisis made to account for what appears to have happened.

“Towards that end, we have again called on the Audit Office to take a direct role in this scandalous state of affairs where the level of indebtedness appears to be fluctuating on a daily basis.

"That cannot continue and for that reason our party have also put the Department for Communities on alert that they have a problem, a serious problem, which could impact on ratepayers for years to come if it is not addressed.

“We want to see open and accountable local government and that is not happening and this calls."

The councillors also said they will be tabling a motion calling on independent consultants to be brought in to examine the issue and assess what needs to be done to "pull this crisis out of the fire".

In a statement, the council told the Belfast Telegraph: "A finance committee meeting was held on January 16 where elected members were updated on council's current financial position, including an initial position regarding the rates estimates.

"These discussions are ongoing and the rates will be decided next month following council approval."

Belfast Telegraph