The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has welcomed the announcement by Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA of the final District Rate Convergence scheme for the new 11 councils.
The scheme will take effect when the new 11 councils officially commence their roles on 1 April 2015, and will provide affected ratepayers with a staggered relief scheme over the full first term of the new councils up to March 2019. Those affected will receive relief, directly on their rate bills, covering 80%, 60%, 40% and 20% of the current rate differential, sequentially applied over the next four financial years.
NILGA President, Councillor Dermot Curran, said: “It has long been recognised that some within the new council areas would encounter big deficits as a result of different district rate levels in their merging councils. NILGA was at the forefront of campaigning for financial support for reform, including rate convergence. This resulted in funding of £47.8m being allocated by the Northern Ireland Executive, of which this £30 million is ring-fenced for rate convergence.
“The details of the rate convergence scheme were consulted upon by the Department of Finance and Personnel earlier this year, and the Department engaged thoroughly and willingly with the Association and local government representatives during the consultation period. There was a robust response from the sector to this consultation, and today I welcome the certainty in the announcement by the Minister.”
The scheme will provide a significant level of immediate assistance to affected ratepayers, and whilst the level of relief will drop in future years, councils will be striving to ensure that sufficient savings, efficiencies and economies of scale will mitigate against future rate rises during the lifetime of the relief scheme. The Minister’s decision NOT to include public sector properties from relief means that more of the £30m sum will be available to assist local domestic and business ratepayers.
In closing Cllr Curran, said: “It must, of course, be remembered that councils and communities continue to experience austerity and have ever limited resilience. There are very tough times ahead but our new councils will continue to proactively ensure that these challenges are addressed. NILGA will seek further redeployment of investment from the Northern Ireland Executive to our Councils.”