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Ballymoney
Thursday, October 28, 2021

15% rate increase ‘simply unacceptable’ says DUP Councillor
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Cllr John McAuley has issued a s statement on the budget and rates management, calling a 15% rate increase as ‘simply unacceptable’.

“Since being elected in May 2019, I have heard numerous claims and counter claims with regards the rights and wrongs of the previous rate setting processes from people across the organisation.

“Coming from the private sector, I believe it is essential to set a reasonable rate that provides for the ratepayers needs and provides good services at a value for money cost. We need a good value for money attitude and cannot use the annual rate process as a means to paper over cracks from pervious bad decisions.

“The apparent failure of senior management to work within the agreed budgets, now leaves the council in a precarious financial position with a budget shortfall in the region of £7 million just to provide the basic day to day essential services. This shortfall is the equivalent of a 15% rates increase, which is simply unacceptable during a time when the majority of households are already struggling to meet the financial demands of modern day society – Why should ratepayers carry the burden of bad management? I and my party will not let that happen. But we need mature and grown up politics to manage the way out of this not finger pointing and score settling.

“Most Councillors have been working hard alongside the Senior Management Team in recent months to drive savings into the organisation which will alleviate the shortfall but sadly it appears to be a case of ‘Too Little, Too Late’ and a rate rise of some sort is inevitable. It is essential that senior management put their shoulder to the wheel and come up with more opportunities to save resources and not just focus on essential front line services. As councillors it is our responsibility to hold them to account on behalf of ratepayers to get the best value for money.

“I have raised concern several times about issues being dealt with now, which I would have expected the shadow council to have dealt with 5 years ago, sadly satisfactory answers were not forthcoming and it is a case of, we are where we are. This is not acceptable and there is no doubt that there is some members of the senior management team still reluctant to accept their share of the responsibility despite departmental overspending of up to £4 million whilst other directors worked within their budget and have provided us with considerable further cost saving proposals, for that I thank them.

“Going forward, we will have extremely tough and no doubt unfavourable short term decisions to make in order to restore the organisation to a sound financial state, this will require teamwork between everyone in the council and understanding from the general public even though the problem is not of their making. Longer term, but as a matter of urgency there needs to be a rank and file review of the organisation from top to bottom with no stone unturned in order to ensure that this situation never happens again, it is quite simple – if this was the private sector some of those taking these decisions would not have survived.

“We need all councillors to set their personal agendas to one side and solely concentrate on the task in hand. I am fully supportive of openness and transparency but calls to ‘Pull The Plug on senior management’ and for ‘the removal of the executive board’ are just irresponsible and counter productive at this stage in an environment where relations between many are already nothing other than toxic.”

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Ulster Unionist Councillor Darryl Wilson also spoke following the revelation that council faces a £7m shortfall, saying ‘some extremely tough decisions will have to be made’.

“As we approach striking the rate for the coming year, Councillors were informed yesterday that we are facing a budgetary shortfall of almost £7 million to roll out basic services.

“The circa £7 million pounds is the equivalent of a rates increase of around 15%. (rate not yet decided /struck)

“In the last 12 months a budgetary overspend has occurred in one service area reaching almost £4 million pounds, this alongside other internal and external factors has rapidly and unexpectedly depleted our reserves and in turn left us in a very difficult position financially.

“We, alongside other elected representatives are liaising with the senior management team to pinpoint the issues causing this deficit and in turn put measures in place to counteract these.

“While we appreciate that in recent times some have raised concerns about the cost of hosting the Open, and Council not increasing car parking charges etc, these measures would have had had minimal impact on the cost and operating pressures we face today.

“Going forward, some extremely tough decisions will have to be made to help balance the books and restore healthy operating figures within the organisation.

“We will go into further details on what these measures will be as we work through the options available with staff. We fully appreciate the pressure that all households and businesses are under across the Borough, therefore it is vital that all councillors and political parties set aside their differences and work together to resolve this issue.”

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