Newtownabbey residents braced for increase in rates bill

Residents in Antrim and Newtownabbey could be facing a rise in their next rates bills of 2.99 per cent, councillors have been told.

Officers have predicted that householders and businesses in the borough could be in line for the first rates rise in two years as the authority needs to raise almost £53.9m to provide all services.

Businesses in the borough could be facing a higher rate of 24.7613 pence in the pound, in a rise from 24.0426 pence in the pound.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has warned of “long-term challenges for finances”.

Residents in Antrim and Newtownabbey could be facing a rise in their next rates bills.

Local Government Auditor Colette Kane said that while the short-term financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on local councils has been “offset by additional central government funding, there will be long-term challenges for council services and finances”.

Councils in Northern Ireland have received £117m from the Department for Communities to support their financial recovery from the pandemic.

During the next financial year, Antrim and Newtownabbey has said that it needs to raise almost £53.9m compared to £51.8m this financial year and £51.45m during 2020/21.

The council is bracing itself to be hit by higher staffing costs including salary inflation, increase in employers’ National Insurance contributions, inflation costs and energy prices.

Councillors have been told that the authority is “very much focused on recovery to pre-Covid levels”.

Members have heard that funding has already been set aside for high profile events next year including Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and a Women’s Euro football finals event.

Policy and Governance Committee members heard at December’s meeting that some council property is being leased to businesses and organisations as “quite an income stream for council” to “bring in some additional revenue”.

Glengormley DUP Councillor Alison Bennington asked if staffing levels will be increased. She was told that severance was put in place during the first year of the pandemic resulting in a reduction in staff because the local authority “did not know what the future held”,

She stated that there were no additional staff but a change in structure.

In June, a final update presented to councillors showed that the council had lost almost 100 jobs as a result of cost-cutting measures.

The report stated that the “staffing headcount” had reduced by 96 overall through a  cost-cutting” staff reduction exercise”. Of these, 36 were achieved by “not filling non-essential posts” and four through resignations and retirements. It was estimated that the job losses will result in a saving to the local authority of £2.5m annually at an initial cost of £1.6m.

The authority has asked the Department for Communities to “capitalise” this cost meaning it can be “written off” during the next four years.

The Local Government Auditor stated: “As staff will play such a key role in councils’ recovery from the pandemic, I strongly encourage councils to focus on stabilising their staffing structures and ensuring they have the capacity and skills to assist with continued recovery.”

Michelle Weir

Local Democracy Reporter

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