Councils set prudent district rates to protect households, businesses and key services
Derek McCallan, CEO, NILGA
Responsive to the pressures and strains on us all during the pandemic, councils across Northern Ireland have set prudent rates for the year ahead. These will protect frontline core services whilst also recognising the need to invest in local people, places and enterprise.
Rates are the means by which councils deliver key services they are responsible for. Funding waste management, burials, parks, playgrounds, pitches, pools and much more, they also enable us to plan ahead, and protect livelihoods. The past year has reminded us of the importance of our local councils, often at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in our communities. However, council finances continue to be fragile and the rates model is unsustainable.
While the NI Executive invests around £23.5 billion a year, with about 95% of that coming from the block grant from Westminster, councils invest around £900 million a year, with about 80% of that coming from rates. Councils don’t have the certainty of a block grant which places greater strain on local frontline services.
A recent announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy gave councils the power to tailor district rates to the needs of their local areas, a new initiative to allow setting different rates for households and businesses. This is one of several welcomed developments in granting councils’ greater control of their own finances.
The Executive, NILGA and councils have worked collaboratively throughout the pandemic. We welcome these decisions made and developed in partnership. The extension of both the business rates holiday and the Rates Support Grant will also help to give our businesses and councils the vital support they need as they emerge post-COVID-19. It is also positive news that the Executive’s High Streets Task Force will now meet in full for the first time and NILGA is pleased to be involved.
There are unique challenges facing our cities, towns, and villages. One size does not fit all. Localising policies, strategies and investment and giving councils the freedom to do what’s best for the communities they serve is good business and common sense.
Now is the time for bold, imaginative thinking to protect our small businesses and build a new economy – with councils being engines for enterprise and innovation. The striking of prudent rates across the board in Northern Ireland will not only help households which may be struggling. These rates have been set with an eye on a better future for us all, socially, economically and environmentally.