Richard Holmes, UUP Councillor for Bann, has called for savings and efficiencies to be made in Causeway Coast and Glens Council in order to strike a freeze on the rates for 2018/19.
Speaking today, he said:
“Year after year, local Councillors are presented with options which usually infer an increase in the local council rate in order to ‘make the books balance’. Council is under significant cost pressure and we need to see a private sector like focus to drive waste from the system and boost productivity. Increasing rates is the easy option which many councils take. We cannot ignore the impact on households and businesses across the Borough.
“Councils are complex organisations, delivering a wide range of public services combined with numerous commercial activities from waste collection to leisure services to caravan parks. But wage levels are set nationally and often prices for services are set with little regard to localised cost of delivery.
“Whilst many businesses will be forced by market pressures to drive out cost on an annual basis, councillors are traditionally presented with options which do not usually infer a rate cut. A rate freeze should be the starting point with a rate cut the ultimate goal, as this is normally the only option open to working households and families.
“In comparison to the private sector, public sector employees are some of the best paid in Northern Ireland, with excellent salaries and associated benefits. Pay increases and salary increments are not the norm in the private sector. But in 2018 the public sector cannot remain immune from productivity improvements, efficiency gains and charging commercial rates for their activities.
“Councillors face tough choices in the coming year which we must face up to. Can we continue with leisure centres losing over £2.0m per year? In England reform has swept through leisure services to such an extent that they can now return a positive contribution to councils.
“Are we prepared to continue to carry the cost of borrowing to an extent prevalent in previous legacy councils? I do not believe it is ethical to continue the ‘buy now pay later’ model that has left us as one of Northern Ireland’s most indebted councils.
“Are we going to continue to deliver across such a wide range of capital projects programmes and activities? It may be better to improve quality and reduce quantity.
“As a public body we have a responsibility to our ratepayers in spending their hard-earned money wisely, while offering those necessary services upon which the public depend on.
“Stormont has sullied the view of politicians in Northern Ireland but I believe in Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council we can deliver world class services and the lowest rates in Northern Ireland. We are working across Party Groupings and with Council Officers to deliver the best deal for our citizens.
“Within Causeway and Glens we therefore need to strike a fair deal for our ratepayers by making savings, rather than increasing the rate in order to ‘save’ the effort required in making necessary improvements.”