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Mayor's Address 22/23

RATES ESTIMATES 2022/23

Today, Derry City and Strabane District Council has agreed its budget for the incoming 2022/23 financial year. As Mayor, I want to record my thanks to Members and Officers for all their work in what has been an extremely challenging rates process and confirm that Derry City and Strabane District Council has made and fixed a District rate of 32.0193p in the £ for Non-Domestic properties and of 0.5279p in the £ for Domestic properties for the year ending 31st March 2023. This represents a 3.44% District rates increase for all ratepayers which when coupled with a regional rates freeze will see overall rates bills increase by 1.81%.

For an average domestic ratepayer in this Council area, this will see the current average domestic District rates bill of £493.88 increase by £16.97 per annum or 33p per week. 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.

The last couple of years have seen unprecedented financial challenges for Council and our residents and businesses. It is therefore more important than ever that a realistic rate is struck that recognises the challenges our ratepayers face but that also sets Council on a sustainable footing to play a critical role in recovery and continue to provide the essential services and new investment our citizens require.

The pandemic has continued to pose significant challenges for Council.  We continue to lose a substantial proportion of our service income and there remains continued uncertainty around our rate-base income on which we rely to fund 80% of our services. New cost pressures have emerged to ensure critical services can continue in a safe and compliant manner. Thankfully, prudent financial management during the pandemic along with very significant Government support, including rates support for businesses, has ensured Council’s finances have been stabilised, at least in the short term as we hope for a positive recovery.

Beyond these pandemic challenges, with inflation currently running at 5.4% and other global factors impacting on Council’s services, recurrent cost pressures totalling 3.55% have been absorbed. In particular, regionally agreed pay awards have had to be forecast and provided for, insurance costs have increased, waste budgets continue to come under pressure as a result of significantly rising volumes and disposal costs and energy and utility costs face unprecedented rises.

Accordingly, the 3.44% increase represents the lowest sustainable rates rise that could have been achieved without adversely impacting on services or programmes.

Against this, there are again a number of very positive messages from this year’s rates process. Despite the pandemic, new property development has seen a 1.17% improvement in our rate-base. Significant effort has continued to drive savings and further efficiencies totalling £230k have been realised with a further positive 0.36% benefit for ratepayers. As a result, efficiencies realised since amalgamation of the legacy Councils have now reached a cumulative total of over £4.1m per annum.

It is also pleasing to report that 0.45% of the rates increases represents growth and new service development. It is pleasing that funding of £15k has been set aside by Council for each of the 7 District Electoral Areas and Strabane Town to take forward the 8 Local Community plans and new investment has also been set aside for the Sperrin Future Search project.

Critically, alongside this, the new rates investment will enable further delivery of Council’s ambitious programme of community, strategic and economic capital investment projects. Having completed £72m of capital investment over the past few years, a further £74m of exciting further projects have now been fully funded and are progressing towards delivery, including:-

·     Completion of the new €9m Riverine shared space Community Park project between Lifford and Strabane.

·     Advancement of a range of Community centre developments at Waterside Shared Village, Glenview, Galliagh, and Ballymagroarty/ Hazelbank.

·     Continued development of play facilities, pitches, recreational facilities and shared spaces across the Council area including at Eglinton and Artigarvan.  

·     Continued development of greenway provision across the Council area including Strabane, Strathfoyle and Castlederg.

·     Development of new cemetery provision for the west bank of the City.

·     Ambitious new developments following the securing of £16m of funding from UK Government Levelling Up Fund including Brandywell Sports Centre/ Daisyfield Pitches, St Columb’s Park Acorn Farm and Derg Active.

 

In addition, Council is now working towards the delivery of a further £247m of transformative strategic and economic projects. Council is imminently anticipating Government sign-off on the DNA Museum at Ebrington and the Strabane Public Realm project as the first phase of delivery. Alongside this, following the momentous signing of Heads of Terms in February 2021, business case work is rapidly progressing for Council’s transformative City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund investment package. This catalyst investment will see investment in a range of innovation, digital and health projects, the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee,  and major regeneration projects in Strabane Town Centre and along the City Riverfront and Walled City.  This is the single biggest investment package ever secured for this City and Region that will see the creation of 7,000 new jobs, £126m in new wages and £230m of GVA per annum generated for our area.

With over £1.8m of our overall budget set aside for festivals and events, 2022/23 will see a resumed impressive cultural and festivals offering across the City and District. Commencing with the highly anticipated Illuminate festival in February, this summer will see the welcome return of the Foyle Maritime Festival as part of its international programme of events, and plans are continuing for another hugely successful Halloween festival in October. In an attempt to aid recovery, Council has also added additional investment of £116k this year in response to the ever growing demand for new community festivals and events.

Council’s key priority this year will be to continue to work with all of our partners and Government departments to deliver on the objectives and targets of the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan 2017-2030 which aims to make a thriving, prosperous and sustainable City and District with equality of opportunity for all.

In conclusion, the agreed District rates increase will continue to drive growth and investment in the City and Region as well as ensure continued delivery across all of Council’s front-line services from street cleansing and waste, building control, planning and environmental health, grounds maintenance, parks and cemeteries, leisure, sport, health and community development and support, and vital corporate support services.