Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is to challenge a Department for Communities decision to cut its annual Rates Support Grant by over £500,000.
The matter was discussed at Council’s Corporate Policy and Resources Committee meeting on Tuesday 22nd June 2021, where members agreed to ask DfC to reinstate the grant to its previous level, and work together with the other six local authorities who have also been adversely affected to highlight the seriousness of the situation.
Elected members will also be raising the matter with party colleagues and Assembly members to seek additional funding and an explanation for the major reduction in the grant.
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Councillor Richard Holmes said: “This is a very serious matter for Council and I’m glad the Committee has proposed to take this action as a matter of urgency as we cannot allow ourselves to become an easy target. The impact of this reduction will be borne completely by the affected Councils with no direct consequence for the Department for Communities.
“The detrimental effect of this decision on our Council is twofold. Firstly, it means Council will receive over £500,000 less in the current year, and secondly, we were only informed about this decision almost three months after setting our budgets for the financial year. We have had no opportunity to consider how to mitigate the loss and consequently Council will be in deficit due to the funding reduction before the year commences through no fault of its own.
“Exasperating this situation is the Belfast centric focus of Stormont’s economic investment strategy which sees most of the investment and business rates income in the greater Belfast area. The Rates Support Grant is a lifeline to the rural councils which are rapidly becoming commuter belts and left to service the needs of homeowners whilst wealthy councils take the business rates.
“Both the severity and manner of this reduction have been particularly hard to take, and as a Council we want to know what other Departmental budgets have been slashed by 25% and we will be making representations to DfC in this regard.”
Overall, the Department for Communities has slashed its Rates Support Grant budget for the incoming financial year by almost £4m or 25%.
The grant is paid to seven Councils across Northern Ireland whose rates base is not considered capable of generating the revenue required to fully fund all Council services without placing an unacceptable burden on the rate payers. Any cuts to this funding avenue have a direct impact on the Boroughs and Districts that are least able to afford the additional costs.
The decision agreed at the Committee meeting will go forward for ratification at the full Council meeting on Tuesday 29th June 2021.