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BELFAST CITY COUNCIL: Argument at Belfast council as district rate increase agreed

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Belfast City Council

An argument has been sparked at Belfast council after a 1.92 percent district rate increase was agreed for the city.

The larger political parties criticised People Before Profit, who said the rate hike during a pandemic was “a slap in the face” to citizens of the city.

Councillors agreed an officer recommendation to approve a 1.92 percent increase in the district rate for 2021/22 at last month’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee.

Last year’s district rate hike was at 1.98 percent, which amounted to an average increase of £7.44 per year for a house, and £145.08 per year for offices and retail premises.

At this week’s full council meeting People Before Profit proposed, without support, that the decision be taken back to committee level for reconsideration, before the deadline date of March 1st.

A proposal by the party to maintain the current rate using council reserve funds as an emergency measure was downplayed by the council’s Chief Finance Officer, who said it was not possible as “reserves were a one-off pot and the rates are recurrent.” The Lord Mayor Frank McCoubrey said the proposal was “incompetent” and it was withdrawn.

PBP Councillor Fiona Ferguson said: “The decision to raise rates on people during this pandemic is unconscionable. It is a slap in the face to essential workers who have put themselves on the line without a basic pay raise, and to those who have lost their jobs and who are facing financial crisis because of the pandemic.

“People Before Profit have always opposed a rise in rates but we are stunned that other parties have forced it through at this time. We attempted to block the proposal tonight but were outvoted by all of the other parties.

“This hike will not happen in a vacuum. It comes alongside threats to the Universal Credit uplift and cuts to social security support services, while many people rely on food banks. The impact of a rate hike must be considered in that context and when it is, it should be obvious that it is a damaging decision.

“This pandemic has been littered with decisions from the big parties which have worsened the crisis and the impact on people’s lives. Now they are asking those people to shoulder a further burden.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Matt Garrett said “To strike a zero rate means an impact on services, and means an impact on jobs within this council”, while DUP Alderman Brian Kingston said it was “to everyone’s credit it was kept below the rate of inflation” while other councils “were looking at an increase of over 5 and 6 percent.”

UUP Alderman Jim Rogers said: “All People Before Profit want to do is spend, spend, spend hard earned money. I would say to them, wise up, get real, start understanding how the finances work, because under no circumstances will we support what you want.

“Let us support the officers in what they achieve, because the way ahead is not going to be easy.”

Alliance Councillor Michael Long said: “Every year it is nice to get the annual economic incompetence coming from People Before Profit. Most years they don’t even bother putting proposals forward, they just complain about it and don’t vote for a rate. This year we have a little bit of progress, it’s just an incompetent proposal.”

SDLP Councillor Donal Lyons said: “For anyone, god help them, who is watching this, the first thing we have to do as councillors is reassure the rate payers in the city is in good hands, and we will be using it effectively and efficiently.” He added: “This debate hasn’t done that in any shape or form, it’s been marked by a snide and sneery tone.”

Green Councillor Aine Groogan said the parties were “lining up to take unnecessary digs” at People Before Profit, and described the debate as “unedifying.”

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