More councils put up rates to cope with soaring costs

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​Local councils have continued to approve rates increases in response to rising inflation and increased operating costs.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council (MEA) met last night to set a district rate of 5.43% for households, which equates to an average of just over £27 per year from April 1.

In the Derry and Strabane Council area, the rate has been set at 7.97%, meaning householders will see an average annual rates bill increase of £40.74.

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The hike in charges, which cover the cost of a range of public services including leisure provision, has been higher than usual, with the cost of heating large leisure facilities proving particularly crippling as energy prices have risen considerably.

Leisure provision is one of the services that is draining council financesLeisure provision is one of the services that is draining council finances
Leisure provision is one of the services that is draining council finances

Councillors have been debating which services can be cut to keep the bills down for ratepayers, but they will have concerns around the voters’ reactions ahead of local elections in May.

The first of the councils to strike a new rate was Belfast where councillors voted through a 7.99% increase compared to 2.99% last year.

Mid and East Antrim Council said the new rate reflected the global cost-of-living crisis, and the fact that the council faces “soaring costs across the organisation, which resulted in a projected budgetary shortfall in excess of £10m during the next financial year”.

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In a statement, the council said: “Uncertainty over central/regional government funding received by the council through the Rates Support Grant also heavily impacted on local government financial planning, as did the agreement and implementation of national pay awards in recent months.”

MEA mayor, Alderman Noel Williams, said: “Councillors have worked with council officers for months to identify savings and efficiencies and strike the lowest rate we possibly can for ratepayers while supporting our local community and continuing to deliver key services.”

He added: “We are acutely aware of the struggles many people are facing and remain focused on doing everything within our power to help our businesses and communities to survive, prosper and grow.”

In Derry and Strabane, the council said that “unprecedented financial challenges” have led to the council having to absorb exceptional cost pressures “of over £11m”.