The Chief Executive of Belfast City Council has said a proposal to freeze rates for the city tax payers is “not competent.”
At the council ’s recent Standards and Business Committee, People Before Profit tabled a motion calling for no change to what rate payers from homes and businesses across the city will be paying in the next financial year. There has been speculation in recent months that the 2.99% rate rise for 2022/23 could go up to double figures next year, culminating in the highest council tax rise the city has seen.
The People Before Profit motion was deemed “incompetent” by Chief Executive John Walsh, while City Solicitor Nora Largey highlighted two offending paragraphs in the motion referring to striking a zero rate. The senior decision effectively counts out anything other than a rates rise next year.
The People Before Profit motion, by Councillor Michael Collins, states: “The council recognises the impact the rising cost of living crisis will have on council expenditure, and the pressure this will put on our existing budgets to deliver the same high quality services.
“The council also recognises the crisis we face and will demand a heightened and increased response from local government.
“At a time when many people are struggling to heat their homes, or put food on the table, the council and its partner organisations must be adequately equipped to help navigate this crisis, and provide the increased support that is needed for those struggling.
“During the covid pandemic, local councils were allocated a financial package to help them manage the additional pressures the pandemic presented.
“The cost-of-living crisis is a crisis of a similar magnitude and will require additional support to be provided to local Councils, to ensure they are adequately equipped to help mitigate the impact of this crisis on communities.
“The council views any effort to increase rates as a response to these financial pressures as counter intuitive. Any move to increase rates during a cost of living crisis will only exacerbate problems for working class communities. It would lead to a further hike in already mounting household bills and could force more people into poverty.
“The council acknowledges the need to avoid another rates increase during the cost of living crisis.”
It adds: “As a first step toward avoiding this, the council will write to Stormont Ministers, the Secretary of State, and the Treasury, urging them to support a financial package of additional funding to be allocated to local councils to help them manage the cost of living crisis.
“This council also commits to writing to all other councils across the North, asking them to adopt a similar position of calling for an increase of government support.
“This will help ensure all councils are adequately equipped to provide support to communities, to pay fair wages to its employees, and deliver high quality services during the cost-of-living crisis.”
The City Solicitor Nora Largey told the committee: “Officers' views regarding the competency of this motion have required some consideration. The Chief Executive has advised in his view the motion is incompetent in respect of any commitment to support striking a zero rate.
“Members will be aware of the discussions that have been ongoing at the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee in relation to the challenges that are facing the council in terms of setting the rate, and the decisions that have to be made in the event the council would have to commit to freeze its own rates.
“There are two paragraphs, to which officers are of a view aren’t competent. The rest of the motion is for the committee to decide.”
She added: “It would be competent for the committee to discuss the proposal to write to Stormont ministers, the Secretary of State and the Treasury asking for a financial package, and also to write to other councils in that regard.”
People Before Profit Councillor Fiona Ferguson: “The motion calls for funding from the Department in order to alleviate the pressures on the council so we don’t have to raise the rates. That seems like a pretty straightforward plan to me.”
The motion will be discussed at the next meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee in November.