Freeze the district rate?

The one tax in the ‘control’ of local parties is rates. The DUP has put strong emphasis on the significance of freezing the regional rate and all parties have worked to hold back water charges. However, there is the matter of the district rate. At the moment discussions are beginning within councils about next year’s rate and the rumours are of above inflation rises (possibly multiple times inflation are doing the rounds) The issue of council debt has gained some prominence and NILGA wants assistance to avoid cuts, arguing central government is the author of many of local government’s financial misfortunes. So should the Execuitve act? The scope for a bail-out seems limited but should one even be attempted? With the power sought is it not time to exercise the responsibilties that come with it? Should parties exert authroity over local councillors to freeze the domestic rate or at least keep it below inflation? Should capping of the district rate be considered? Will the credit crunch mean ratepayers prioritise rates bills over services? The DUP especially needs to be proactive to ensure one of the ‘gains’ of devolution is not wiped out by problems with local government finances.

  • 1. Talking up the extent of rate rises is standard operating practice at this time of the year. It’s all part of the bluff game.

    2. Inflation for local authorities depends on different inputs than those for domestic inflation.

    3. Shifting responsibility onto the general tax fund is soooo last year’s politics. That particular tit is no longer providing milk-and-honey.

    4. If you want a freeze, what services are going to be cut? I, personally, wouldn’t want to be the councillor looking for cut-backs in personal social services in the present public mood (think Haringey and Sheffield). The Daily Mail will be after blood if the true costs of refuse disposal and recycling have to be paid on the doorstep. etc. etc.

    For just those reasons, the freeze on council tax proposed by Gideon, brother of the currently more famous alleged drug-fiddler, is little more than a trial balloon.

    4. There are major savings to be made (not necessarily by the Councils).

    Why not start with the £725M increase over three years for social and affordable housing? It’s not that there aren’t unsold properties available, at cut price.

    Housing is a significant line item in all GB local authorities. Here we have NIHE intending more new builds than London (see below). NIHE has an annual budget of half-a-billion, manages 156,000 homes and directly employs around 3000. To make one comparison, Birmingham has 57% of the total population of Northern Ireland, but provides just 43% of the quantity of social housing. Similarly, London has a population some four-and-a-quarter times that of NI, but manages on about 3 times the stock of social housing. As Dear Bill might have said, “Shome mishtake shurely?”.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’d like to know the justification for councils running leisure centres and golf driving ranges, at apparently subsidised rates, which can be used by non-ratepayers of that council. They also subsidise people who are on low incomes. I don’t mind that, but grants in support of low-income people should be supported from central government.

    Try as I might, I’m not able to locate accounts for the individual facilities in the Newtownabbey area, which is a bit of a shame. Councils should be required to provide accounts for any revenue-generating operations they have.

  • The Raven

    Comrade, I am VERY surprised at that. If they aren’t in the online accounts, ask for them. And you don’t even need to say the letters “FOI”. Just ask for them.

    I did so for one Council up here on the North Coast. Very interesting it was too.

    The justification, by the way, is that up until very recently, there was no other option. I accept that golf courses may be a bit tenuous, but it is only in the past ten years that the leisure end has taken off. There was certainly never any mission of a David Lloyd-esque scenario outside of a main centre of population.

    Many are now in, or moving towards, public and private partnership.

    Malcolm, many of the services you talk about are not under Council control in Northern Ireland. Yet.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Raven,

    I’m sure they’d give me the accounts if I asked, which I will do. I just had a quick look on the website, and the details aren’t there.

    The gym I’m familiar with is losing lots of it’s staff to the Valley in Newtownabbey and is suffering a bit from a high turnover rate. It’s not my impression that it’s a shitty place to work, so I’m figuring that they’re paying better – yet the subscription is substantially lower which must mean that it’s being subsidized. I’d like to find out more. It annoys me that my rates are being used in this way.

  • fair_deal

    MR

    “wouldn’t want to be the councillor looking for cut-backs in personal social services in the present public mood (think Haringey and Sheffield).”

    That isn’t paid for out of the district rate in Ni, it’s paid for out of the regional rate and block grant

  • i pay rates

    At a meeting in the Holyland where representatives of the UUP, DUP, Alliance and SF were present a member of the public pointed out that approximtely £3 000 000 (£3 million) worth of rate free income is handed out to landlords every year and that approximately 13% of the Council’s budget in Belfast has to be spent in the Holyland (cleaning up the waste created by the rate free houses). This is not exactly each to their need is it? The same person pointed out that there was no reduction in rents to take account of no rates so the landlords kept all the money from everybody.Go figure.