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Council agrees budget to provide quality services and investment in growth

10 February 2020
Derry City and Strabane District Council today agreed its budget for the 2020/21 financial year with a commitment to continue to provide quality public services and invest in growth and investment projects across the City and District.
 
As well as continuing to provide for investment in new services and projects, the increase of 3.37% to the District Rate provides Council with a sustainable budget to continue to provide essential services to our citizens and absorb a number of significant budgetary pressures.
 
In particular, budgetary provision has had to be made for regionally agreed pay awards, waste budgets have had to be increased to reflect significantly rising disposal costs and falling commodity values and further projected cuts to the rates support grant have had to be absorbed.
 
In addition, Council is one of the leading NI Councils in terms of progression of pay harmonisation following the amalgamation of legacy Councils with additional costs now fully budgeted for. Against this, the Council’s efficiency programme has had a further positive rates impact of 0.4% bringing the total cumulative efficiency savings since the setting up of the new Council to £3.35m.
 
Welcoming the new budget and the commitment by Council to continue with its commitment on investment in growth, the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle said it was important that a realistic rate was struck that set Council on a sustainable footing to provide essential services, deliver on growth projects and absorbing rising costs.
 
She commented: “There are a number of very positive messages from this year’s rates process including 775 new domestic homes in the Council area and the growth of our non-domestic ratebase, as well as our efficiency programme which has now realised cumulative savings of £3.35m since 2015. The Council is committed to continue with its very impressive capital development investment plans, the ongoing development of community services provision, festival and events and cultural venues and continued investment in new and enhanced services across the Council area.”
Mayor Boyle said a key element of the Council’s budget plans for the year ahead was to advance with its ambitious capital programme.
She explained: “Having already completed £53m of capital projects over the past four years, a further £70m of projects are currently being progressed that include the three cross border greenway projects that will link Derry to Buncrana, Derry to Muff, and Strabane to Lifford (€20m) and the development of the Riverine shared space project between Strabane and Lifford (€9m).
“Work to advance with the community centre projects at Top of the Hill, Waterside Shared Village, Glenview, Shantallow, Galliagh, Culmore and Ballymagroarty/Hazelbank will also be progressed during 2020, while continued development of play facilities, pitches and shared spaces across the Council area including Artigarvan, Castlederg, Donemana, Magheramason, Newtownstewart and Sion Mills, Mourne Park and Newbuildings remain a priority.”
The Mayor also welcomed the £1.8m set aside each year for investment in festival and events saying she was looking forward to seeing a continued impressive cultural and festivals offering across the District building on the current record levels of hotel occupancy and reflecting our success in hosting internationally renowned events. She added that the year ahead would see the return of the Foyle Maritime Festival this summer and a further enhanced Halloween event in October.
 
Alfie Dallas, Lead Finance Officer with the Council outlined the impact the increase will have on ratepayers across the Council area. He said: “For an average domestic ratepayer in this Council area, this represents a District Rate increase of 3.37% that will see the current average domestic district rates bill of £468.82 increase by £15.80 per annum of 30p per week.”
 
He added: “On the basis of average property valuations being lower than in other Council areas, the average ratepayer in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area will continue to pay lower rates bills than average ratepayers in the majority of other Council areas. For business ratepayers, the results of Reval 2020 have been incorporated in this year’s rate resulting in non-domestic ratepayers whose property remains the same following this exercise, seeing a rates bill reduction of 2.24%.”
Council’s Chief Executive John Kelpie said building on the Council’s substantial programme of capital investment was a key priority for the local authority, with £25m having been earmarked for critical catalyst project. He said significant progress being made towards agreement of the Heads of Terms for the City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund £105m funding package that was announced by the UK government in May last year.
“Council is anticipating that a further minimum £50m of match funding from NI Executive will shortly be confirmed hopeful bringing about investment in a range of innovation and digital projects, the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee, skills projects and major regeneration projects in Strabane Town Centre and along the City riverfront.”
Acknowledging the significant financial pressures on Council, in particular the impact it has on less wealthy and most deprived Councils, the Council Chief Executive said further anticipated Central Government budget cuts to Rates Support Grant have had a significant impact but that lobbying to get these cuts reversed would remain a key priority for the Council.
 
Concluding John Kelpie said Council was committed to working in partnership with partners and Government departments to deliver on the objectives and targets of the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan. He said the Plan was key to the development of the region to create 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: “The agreed District Rates increase will allow Council to drive growth and investment right across the City and region. It will ensure Council can provide continued delivery across all Council’s front-line services from refuse collection, street cleansing services, building control, planning and environmental health, grounds maintenance, parks and cemeteries to leisure, sport, health and community development, as well as vital corporate services.
 
“While setting a rate is a challenging process in light of the financial pressures and cuts imposed, we are confident that Council can continue to deliver on its commitment to invest in growth and development so that we can achieve our targets of improving the wealth, prosperity and well-being of the citizens living and working in the City and District.”
 
The Mayor concluded by acknowledging the work carried out by officers and members to agree a rate saying she was looking forward to working with them and partners, including the community and voluntary sector, government agencies, statutory agencies and the business community to work collectively to bring forward further investment and jobs to the City and District.