New Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon rate 'one of the lowest in NI' says borough council's chief executive
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Addressing councillors at a special meeting of the ABC Council on February 8, Roger Wilson, said that striking a rate is one of the most important duties that the council has to undertake each year.
“Our estimates process commenced back in June of last year, and since then there has been detailed planning and a wide range of discussions internally between the various directorates and departments, followed and supported by intensive engagement with members and party groupings at key stages throughout that timeline,” said Mr Wilson.
“We’re all acutely aware that since Covid in March 2020, the council has faced difficult operational and financial challenges, whether that be as a result of higher inflation and associated increased prices for goods, services and contracts, the significant increase in the cost of energy, lower income, as well as increased staffing costs.
“And these issues have all clearly put financial pressure on our in-year budgets and necessitated the allocation of some reserves, where possible, to mitigate against placing unnecessary financial burdens on our ratepayers, while also trying to make sure that we remain on target with our sustainable financial footing.
“The detailed analysis and interrogation of income and expenditure is a critical part of our annual budget-setting process for ourselves, but given the substantial cost pressures facing the organisation over the last number of years, the contribution from the Estimates and Efficiencies Working Group has been invaluable for the council to help identify opportunities for real savings and budgetary reductions in this estimates process.
“It is important that the proposed savings of £1.27m are delivered within the 2024/25 financial year, and progress on this will be monitored by the Efficiencies Programme Board during the year.
“Members and officers have worked hard to arrive at a proposed rate increase that is a compromise against the numerous asks that are placed against us, our statutory obligations and the finite resources that are available to the council.
“The cost pressures for the council for the incoming year continue and include increased energy costs, inflationary pressures, increased staffing cost, and further significant cut to the Rate Support Grant.
“In striking our rate for this year, we have a responsibility between minimising the burden on ratepayers and continuing to provide funding for frontline services, supporting the economy and local communities, and creating space for future investment within the borough.
“As chief executive, under the Local Government Finance Act, I am legally required to be satisfied that the estimates presented should provide adequate financial resources to support the running costs of the organisation for the incoming financial year, to provide an assurance to members on the robustness of the revenue estimates, and the adequacy of the council’s reserve position as part of our rate-setting process.
“The budget presented tonight meets these requirements. Our rate, if agreed tonight, will be one of the lowest in Northern Ireland.
“The rate before members tonight equates to an increase of 5.17% for the domestic and non-domestic rate.”
Councillor Liam Mackle (Sinn Féin, Lurgan DEA) felt that the rate figure being recommended was the best possible outcome: “I’d like to [thank] all the officers and members who were involved in getting to this stage.
“I think it’s a a fairly healthy picture in terms of council rate that we can all live with.
“I think it’s fair to the council and fair to ratepayers, so I’m happy to propose a recommendation.”
Seconding the proposal, Alderman Mark Baxter (DUP, Lagan River DEA) stated: “It’s a higher number, I suppose, than we’ve had maybe in some previous years, but as the chief executive has said it’s it’s one of the lowest in Northern Ireland, so that has to be welcomed.
“We always talk about [the DUP being] the party of low rates. This figure may not be where we want it to be, but we want to provide the best service for the lowest possible cost for the ratepayers, and really to put the message out there that we went as low as we could possibly go.
“I don’t think there’s any more fat in the system this year that we could have cut any further, without harming frontline services that are dear to ratepayers.
“There was a huge amount of work done behind the scenes over many months. I can’t put on record enough our thanks to the team because I know they put a huge amount of work to it.
“It’s a very complicated process and we’re talking about huge amounts of money here.
“I think being realistic and being sensible as councillors, we [will] have to look at other ways of raising revenue. We’re going to have to make decisions that aren’t going to be easy.
“It’s going to take courage from members to make those decisions and to try and get the best service for the lowest possible rate.”