Derry City and Strabane District Council today agreed its budget for the 2018/19 financial year with a commitment to further invest in capital development and invest in growth and investment projects across the City and District.
The increase of 2.99% to the District Rate has been struck despite a range of statutory pressures that Council has successfully absorbed to ensure the increase represents significant investment in growth across the City and District as outlined in the Council’s Inclusive Strategic Growth Plan.
The increase will allow the Council to continue with its very impressive capital development investment plans that include its new Strategic Leisure Capital plan for Templemore and Strabane, the ongoing development of parks and greenways, investment in new community centres, as well as continued investment in festival and events, community services, jobs and skills.
To date almost £35m has been spent by the new Council on a range of capital projects across all services including £1.39m on new community centres, £11.92m parks and greenways, £12.6m on sports and leisure provision and £8.26m on other projects. A further £63m of projects are progressing with full funding secured including the Brandywell Stadium redevelopment (£7m), Melvin 3G (£1.4m), 3 cross border greenway projects (€20m) and a range of other parks, greenways, community centres and pitches projects.
This year’s rates increase will ensure further Council funding of £20m- £25m is available to leverage external capital funding to drive forward our ambitious capital plan.
In addition to the inflation rate of 3.1%, the Council is having to absorb a number of statutory pressures including pay awards and pension costs, central government cuts, including the very disappointing continued reduction of the Rates Support Grant.
Following the agreement last year of a two-year funding package for the City of Derry Airport, there is no proposed increase to the annual subvention budget.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Maolíosa McHugh, welcoming the new budget and the commitment to invest in growth across the Council area, said he particularly welcomed the Council’s commitment to invest in jobs and skills.
“In keeping with the strong emphasis on education and skills in our Inclusive Strategic Growth Plan I am very pleased to see an additional £200k investment to assist in creating a better skilled and educated workforce and improve our young people’s attainment levels. I am very pleased to see the positive impact our investment in growth has had to date and the ongoing commitment to continue to invest and to drive efficiencies so that we can continue to invest in our capital plan, our community services provision, festivals and events.
He welcomed the fact that the Council’s ongoing investment over the years has resulted in the growth of its rates base particularly among non-domestic properties and contributed to a fall in unemployment levels across the City and District.
Council Chief Executive, John Kelpie said the £500k investment in Council’s capital plan is a critical part of the Council’s 5-year plan to ensure Council’s key strategic capital projects can be funded. To date, the Council has delivered £34.36m of capital projects in the past three years and a further £63m of projects in progress and totally funded.
He said that among the significant investment projects earmarked for advancement and delivery were the advancement of a number of major exciting projects including the completion of business cases and detailed designs for our new leisure facilities in Templemore and Strabane, the progression of €20m worth of cross border greenway developments and the advancement of a feasibility study and costing for Strabane Town Centre footbridge in partnership with Central Government, as well as advancing with a range of community centre developments and the development of business cases for major regeneration schemes for Derry’s City Centre and Strabane town centre.
“Three years since the establishment of the new Council and the organisation has to date identified and realised significant efficiencies of almost £2.3m to assist with the delivery of our significant capital aspirations and the objectives and targets set out in the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan. This along with new rates investment by the new Council has grown our growth fund of £3.165m and enabled reinvestment into a number of areas including our capital plan, major events and festivals, including the Foyle Maritime Festival and the return of the Clipper Round the World Race this summer, investment in tourism initiatives and community services.”
Referring to very disappointing Central Government budget cuts imposed on Council as part of the rates process, John Kelpie said these cuts continued to curtail Councils such as Derry City and Strabane District Council, with lower rates-bases and higher levels of deprivation to invest in the development of their districts, taking millions of pounds of investment out of seven of the 11 Councils. He said lobbying to get these cuts reversed would, however, remain a key priority for the Council moving forward.
John Kelpie added that working in partnership with partners and Government departments to deliver on the objectives and targets of the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan is key to the development of the region and will lead to the creation of over 10,000 new jobs in the Council area over the next 10 years, see a reduction in unemployment levels to below the Northern Ireland average and ultimately improve the wealth, prosperity and general well-being of citizens.
He added: “We remain committed to advance with our City Deal proposals and have provided a strong case for investment in the catalyst projects that will drive our plan forward which include the expansion of Ulster University at Magee and the increase of students there and at the North West Regional and associated investment in skills and pathways to employment, as well as working to enhance our connectivity through the progression of the A5, the A6 and A2, as well as the development of our Airport and Port.”
Alfie Dallas, lead finance officer with the Council said that while setting the rates was a challenging process, particularly in light of the extreme Central Government budget cuts imposed, he was confident that the Council’s ongoing commitment to investment in growth and development was key if the Council is to achieve its targets of improving the wealth, prosperity and well-being of the citizens living and working in the City and District.
“It is very clear from this year’s rates budget process that the investment made by this Council over the past few years is paying dividends in terms of rate-base growth, employment and tourism numbers and the continued investment in growth is critical to achieve our objectives set out in the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan. It is critical that this investment is now accompanied by the required Central Government investment to deliver the catalyst projects required to transform our City Region”
He added that the district rate increase will mean an average increase of £13.10 per annum or 25 pence per week to the average domestic ratepayer, adding that this year’s budget was built on the continued growth of our domestic and non-domestic rates base and the significant work that has been done to secure £2.289m in efficiency savings.
Council Chief Executive John Kelpie concluded: “Council will continue to prioritise the objectives and targets set out in our Strategic Growth Plan by working in close partnership with our stakeholders and Government departments to proceed with our plans to secure a City Growth Deal for the city and region that would provide strong partnership intervention and the strategically focused local investment needed to successfully continue the transformation of the economic fortunes of the region.”
The Mayor concluded by acknowledging the work carried out by officers and members to agree a rate saying he was looking forward to working with them and its partners, including the community and voluntary sector, government agencies, statutory agencies and the business community to work collectively to bring investment and jobs to the City and District.