Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council remains £66.676 million in debt – a £5.4m decrease in the past year.
When asked what the single figure for the overall debt in Causeway Coast and Glen council was, a council spokesperson confirmed; ‘In relation to your enquiry, the relevant figure is £66.676m as at 31 March 2021.’
At Tuesday’s Special Council meeting, councillors were full of praise for the finance team and voted in favour of approving the annual Statement of Accounts for the year ended March 31, 2021 with Councillor McShane voting against and Independent Councillor Stephanie Quigley abstaining.
Finance Director Mark Smyth briefed councillors on the end of year accounts saying the ‘debt position had decreased by £5.4 million’.
“It is worth noting we have moved from the most indebted council at the time of merger to the seventh position,” explained the Finance Director.
The general fund balance has increased by £761,000 giving a carrying total of £4.531m, which is above recommended levels and other useable reserves have increased by £6.577m to a total of £12.094m.
Mr Smyth said this ‘would safeguard the ratepayer against future shock and rate rises’.
The major contribution to this increase was the creation of a COVID Recovery Reserve which aimed to mitigate any future losses which arise because of the ongoing pandemic from impacting upon the rate payer.
The Mayor, UUP Councillor Richard Holmes described the accounts as ‘a real turnaround in our financial performance and one to be commended’.
Party colleague Alderman Norman Hillis said it ‘was a good news story for once’ before asking about the support council had received from central government.
“All of us in Northern Ireland should be very grateful for the support that Westminster gave to Stormont and then the Departments for filtering it out to ourselves.
“It wasn’t found at the end of a rainbow or at a leprechaun’s pot of gold, certainly it came originally from Westminster and we should acknowledge our gratitude for that.
“How does the support we got compare to what other councils got?
Mr Smyth responded: “We had a total of £7M come in of subvention funding and of that £7M, £4.465M was from the Department of Communities. I can advise that Causeway Coast and Glens Council drew the second lowest funding from the Department of Communities.”
DUP Alderman John Finlay offered his praise to the finance team adding: “We are going in the right direction.
“If you were looking on you would have thought sometimes in the Council Chamber we were the worst council in the world, we had all sorts of debt and the whole thing was going to fall in around us but that has turned out a bit of a falsehood. The Council was never in that type of trouble.”
Proposing the accounts were accepted and calling for a recorded vote DUP Alderman George Duddy spoke about the ‘unfounded negativity’ that had surrounded the council over the past number of years.
“Things are looking much more positive”, he said. “The challenge is continuing in that vein and having spoken to our Directors over the last week they are focused and working within the budgets set for them.”
Independent Councillor William McCandless seconded the proposal saying it ‘was important for council to move beyond fake news and scurrilous remarks made about our officers’.
He added: “When we look at what was imparted to us tonight, moving from 11th position to seventh, that was a 35% improvement so the trend seems to be downward.”
Referring to the ‘fake news’ he said: “Checking facts is a form of critical investigation and enquiry, unfortunately some of our public have been mis-informed. However, the facts have been presented here tonight, it would be very hard for anyone to challenge or refute.”
Glens Councillor Padraig McShane said he was ‘flabbergasted’ at some of the remarks made, adding: “I anticipated it to be fair.
“I am unsure if any other Council would backslap and congratulate themselves to the degree Causeway Coast And Glens did at the last Audit Committee and here tonight during the presentation of year end accounts.
“I don’t know if anyone was aware of the four key Priority 1 findings in the Audit report? There should be no Priority 1 findings yet we are so used to numerous failings and repeat findings of this nature in our Audit that it has become meaningless to members. It’s embarrassing.
“What’s more embarrassing is the debt analysis and it’s clear that this Council was saved by a global pandemic.
“The finances that we are speaking about tonight and the platitudes that are pouring over the tables tonight is almost unsurpassed.
“The fact of the matter is there were massive amounts of money in budgets last year. Immediately after that we went into lockdown and multi millions were used to pay furloughed staff among other grants that were received. We saved absolute millions.
“We had just struck the rates when the worst excesses of the pandemic set in and the greatest stroke of luck saved those who had wreaked havoc on the accounts of Causeway Coast and Glens.
“Multi-millions poured into the coffers of Causeway Coast and Glens while the ratepayers had already been charged in the rate setting process for staff costs. The question is automatically, why is there not more multi-millions in the reserves now?
“I find the platitudes that’s pouring in tonight almost nauseating. The facts were there for everybody to see and on many occasions those facts were attempted to be buried.
“It would be wrong to adjudicate on this year’s budget and processes because it was a unique year. Only in years to come will we be able to establish if we are on the right track.”
Members voted to approve the annual Statement of Accounts for the year ended March 31, 2021 with 29 votes for, 1 against and 1 abstention.