Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is to challenge a Department for Communities decision to cut its annual Rates Support Grant by over £500,000.
The matter was discussed at Council’s Corporate Policy and Resources Committee meeting on Tuesday 22nd June 2021, where members agreed to ask DfC to reinstate the grant to its previous level, and work together with the other six local authorities who have also been adversely affected to highlight the seriousness of the situation.
Elected members will also be raising the matter with party colleagues and Assembly members to seek additional funding and an explanation for the major reduction in the grant.
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Councillor Richard Holmes said: “This is a very serious matter for Council and I’m glad the Committee has proposed to take this action as a matter of urgency as we cannot allow ourselves to become an easy target. The impact of this reduction will be borne completely by the affected Councils with no direct consequence for the Department for Communities.
“The detrimental effect of this decision on our Council is twofold. Firstly, it means Council will receive over £500,000 less in the current year, and secondly, we were only informed about this decision almost three months after setting our budgets for the financial year. We have had no opportunity to consider how to mitigate the loss and consequently Council will be in deficit due to the funding reduction before the year commences through no fault of its own.
“Exasperating this situation is the Belfast centric focus of Stormont’s economic investment strategy which sees most of the investment and business rates income in the greater Belfast area. The Rates Support Grant is a lifeline to the rural councils which are rapidly becoming commuter belts and left to service the needs of homeowners whilst wealthy councils take the business rates.
“Both the severity and manner of this reduction have been particularly hard to take, and as a Council we want to know what other Departmental budgets have been slashed by 25% and we will be making representations to DfC in this regard.”
Overall, the Department for Communities has slashed its Rates Support Grant budget for the incoming financial year by almost £4m or 25%.
The grant is paid to seven Councils across Northern Ireland whose rates base is not considered capable of generating the revenue required to fully fund all Council services without placing an unacceptable burden on the rate payers. Any cuts to this funding avenue have a direct impact on the Boroughs and Districts that are least able to afford the additional costs.
The decision agreed at the Committee meeting will go forward for ratification at the full Council meeting on Tuesday 29th June 2021.
Positive Impact of Good Relations Projects
The Executive’s commitment towards the delivery of good relations projects in 2021/22 is another key step towards building a united and shared society, Ministers have said.
First Minister Paul Givan and Education Minister Michelle McIlveen were speaking in Limavady during a visit to a T:BUC Camp being delivered by Roe Valley Residents Association. There they saw first-hand how the Executive’s Together: Building a United Community Strategy is actively bringing young people from different backgrounds and traditions together.
First Minister Paul Givan said: “The amazing work of initiatives such as the T:BUC Camp delivered by Roe Valley Residents Association is an example of how T:BUC funding is helping to engender real and lasting societal change.
“The T:BUC Camps Programme is inspiring. It is a great example of the incredible good relations work that is helping to bring about positive change across so many communities here.
“The Camps Programme is a key headline action of the T:BUC Strategy and reflects the Executive’s ongoing commitment to ending division and improving community relations. The camps bring people of different backgrounds and traditions together for shared activities. This not only breaks down barriers in the present, but has a profound and lasting impact in creating a better future.
“This effort plays a key role in helping us continue the journey towards creating a more united and shared society.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The amazing work being carried out through the T:BUC Camps programme and across the wider T:BUC Strategy is helping to bring people from different cultural traditions together and engender real and lasting societal change.
“The Executive is committed to the good relations journey and to continuing to support projects working towards our goal of creating a truly equal and shared society where everyone can live together, free from intolerance, discrimination and prejudice.”
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen added: “The T:BUC Camps programme is an important initiative which demonstrates what can be achieved through a joined up approach involving The Executive Office, the Department of Education and the Education Authority, bringing together young people from different community backgrounds.
“For some young people a T:BUC Camp can be the first opportunity to come together on a cross-community basis to meet people they may not otherwise do. It is an opportunity to take part in an exciting programme as well as making new friends.
“I hope there are some young people here today who will want to build on the experience gained in their involvement in the T:BUC camps programme and I would encourage that very much.”
Council and PSNI Make Joint Appeal Over Removal of River Bann Lifesaving Aids
Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council and the PSNI have issued a joint appeal following the sustained deliberate removal of lifesaving equipment along the River Bann.
The situation came to a head last week, when 11 individual lifelines were taken, leaving no emergency aids in place from the Old Bridge at Christie Park to the Cutts at Castleroe.
Throwlines and buoyancy aids can make the difference between life and death, and there is a growing concern that a tragedy will occur if this type of mindless behaviour continues.
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Councillor Richard Holmes, said: “This vital equipment is provided for the simple purpose of keeping people safe, and it is beyond belief that it would be removed or destroyed.
“To take all 11 lifelines, leaving a long stretch of riverbank without emergency equipment, is a disgrace and we cannot allow this to continue.
“To those behind this – it must stop before it’s too late. An emergency can arise at any time. It could be your friend or family member in need and this equipment could save their live.
“To anyone who witnesses such irresponsible behaviour please make sure to report it immediately and help us address this grave situation.”
Supporting the Mayor’s comments, Sergeant Clare Sweeney said: “It defies belief that people are willing to put the lives of others at risk through such reckless action.
We are appealing for anyone who witnessed the lines being taken or saw anything suspicious in the area earlier this week to contact us on 101 quoting reference 537 of June 25th. A report can also be made using the online reporting form via www.psni.police.uk/makeareport. Alternatively, information can be provided to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.