NILGA, the representative body of the councils in Northern Ireland, has called for a whole system review of how NI’s annual budget of £20 billion to deliver our public services is planned and delivered.
NILGA has criticised as “anti-investment” the Department of Finance’s budgetary briefing paper idea of removing the Rates Support Grant – a fund which leverages an estimated £183 million per annum into the private sector and social economy of 7 local councils - ten times the sum itself.
The briefing paper has outlined the scrapping of central government support of £17.6 million per annum (based on 2017-18 levels) - a critical investment tool assisting councils that are less well off.
In its submission to the consultation (on the broad strategic issues that will help inform decisions on a Budget for 2018-19 and 2019-2020) which closes today, NILGA has stressed that at a time when councils are the only politically functioning element of government here, there should be no proposals to cut allocations and investments which have direct impact such as the Regional Support Grant.
As many as 7 out of the 11 councils would lose out on leveraging tens of millions of pounds in economic development capabilities. This support grant also contributes significantly to developing and sustaining hundreds of jobs across Northern Ireland, creating the taxes and investment needed to sustain other parts of the public purse including roads, health and education.
Alderman Arnold Hatch, NILGA President commented:
“We understand that this is just a proposal at present and not a settlement, but the fact that it is being highlighted at this early stage is extremely worrying.”
“Any scrapping or even reduction in this fund will have a significant impact on service delivery right across Northern Ireland. It will exacerbate a two-tier economy in Northern Ireland with most of the resources to create enterprise being consolidated in just four of our councils, curtailing the ability of the other seven who need to develop new businesses and modern infrastructure to invest in developing their districts.”
“The rates support fund also creates direct savings for rate payers. For example, in Derry City & Strabane District Council the support of around £3.75 million per annum saves rate payers on average 6-7% on their rates bill which equates to about £65 a year.”
“NILGA wants a restored and effective Stormont as soon as possible. In the meantime, the 11 councils need legislation, policies and resources to deliver services to local people whilst – in the Assembly’s absence - protecting local democracy and decision taking. We must protect mechanisms such as the Rates Support Grant”.
Derek McCallan, Chief Executive, NILGA:
“88% of NI’s £20 billion yearly budget is determined at Stormont, which hasn’t met for over a year. This compares to less than half this percentage in Cardiff and Edinburgh. We’re in real danger of not just taking catastrophic decisions on the sustainability of key public services, but also, losing our competitive advantage because of fiscal planning frozen in time.”
“Legislation is needed today to resource councils to help develop the practical services people need. It is illogical that an investment pot such as the Rates Support Grant, which has been proven to create up to ten times the original sum, is even being put forward. Arguably, this is both short sighted in terms of sustainable local government and anti-investment in terms of enterprise creation.”
“There is mounting expectation on local councils - considering the suspension of the Assembly - to deliver additional services such as winter maintenance, all aspects of emergency planning and community level support – yet, councils are without the resources to do these things.”
“Expectations from departments, government bodies and more importantly the community itself will have to be matched by negotiated and formal funding for councils before such ideas can be designed and delivered. It is surely the time now for all levels of government – elected members and officials – to sit down, through the Partnership Panel and other task and finish mechanisms, to rewire how the public’s services are sustained and delivered in N. Ireland.”