Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: Rate rises for every Northern Ireland council

Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

All 11 local councils have announced they will increase their rates this year.

Derry and Strabane District Council will have the biggest hike - 3.46%.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council had the smallest rise at 0.99%.

It means average households will be paying an extra 60p per month.

Rates bills are a combination of district rates, set by councils, and the regional rate normally set by Stormont.

All but three councils are now raising charges by more than the current rate of inflation (1.8%).

Last night the final rate rise was announced - 1.98% at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. It said it represented an increase of 17p per week for the average household and an average increase of £2.18 per week for businesses.

Deputy mayor Cheryl Johnston said: "Mid and East Antrim Borough Council's approach is always to strike a fair balance between keeping rates as low as possible, with securing existing and attracting new jobs, boosting inward investment and promoting tourism and other key priorities across the borough.

"This is in addition to money council has also already secured for the next 10 years, at no additional unplanned cost to the ratepayer.

"This includes work on St Patrick's Barracks development, The Gobbins phase two, Carrickfergus town centre regeneration, and rollout of broadband services in Carrickfergus and Ballymena."

Derek McCallan, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, said the overall picture from the council rates was one of "growth and prudence".

"Growth, in that councils are investing in high quality services from leisure provision to sustainable job creation, plus all of their regulatory and statutory services like environmental health and planning," he added.

But he warned the Stormont regional rate could be twice as much as the council average. Mr McCallan said the relatively modest increase was in spite of tens of millions being added to employment costs over the next year.

He said this was due to national pay agreements on the National Living Wage and new costs associated with increased powers transferred to councils from government departments.

"It is good that councils are combining growth and efficiency, keeping high-quality services, ambition and affordable costs in equal measure," he said.

He added that the "wider decision-taking vacuum" caused by the Stormont impasse made it difficult for councils to plan properly for the future.

"Councils and taxpayers don't yet know what the Stormont regional rate will be, although it is estimated to be over 4% - double the average council rate and over twice the rate of inflation," he added.

"Frankly, unless the councils are given more resources to deal with an increasing set of expectations, they will be forced to make even more service cuts rather than expect local ratepayers to pay for services which should be supported by the rest of government."

Belfast City Council, the largest, increased rates by 1.98%.

This means domestic ratepayers are paying an average extra 62p per month, with offices and retail paying an extra £11.51 per month. Ulster Unionist councillor Peter Johnston, who chairs the strategic policy and resources committee at City Hall, said the increase had been kept to a minimum and would be accompanied by the £850m City Deal for the region.

Alliance had favoured a 1.67% rise, claiming that £500,000 for bonfire diversionary schemes - funding which has been criticised for a lack of transparency - was hiking rates higher than necessary.

The biggest increase of 3.46%, set by Derry and Strabane District Council, will see bills rise by around £1.20 per month for householders.

The council said the increase represents investment in new services, initiatives and strategic projects linked to a prospective City Deal.

Earlier this month the council's lead finance officer Alfie Dallas said there had also been a "significant challenge" with statutory pressures, such as nationally agreed pay awards, pay alignment and pension increases. The "most challenging and disappointing" aspect, he said, had been central Government grant cuts.

"The council has lost out on £421,000 of rates support grant since cuts commenced in 2016/17, income which could have delivered a further minimum £6m of capital investment or investment in other strategic priorities identified in our strategic inclusive growth plan," he said.

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