Derry & Strabane Rates Support Grant for poorer Council areas has been 'cut to ribbons'

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Derry City and Strabane District Council members say a Rates Support Grant increase would address regional imbalances “overnight”.

A motion by SDLP councillor Rory Farrell, put forward at a Full Council Meeting on Wednesday, proposed writing to Minister for Communities, Gordon Lyons, requesting that the 2008 level of the Grant, adjusted for inflation, be reinstated immediately.

Councillor Farrell said the grant was a “key tool to address regional imbalance”, but the council had “no clarity whatsoever on what’s happening with it”.

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“It has been cut to ribbons,” Councillor Farrell said. “And if it had been protected, ring-fenced and adjusted for inflation from 2008, when it was first introduced, we would get over £6 million per year.

SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell. DER1319GS-031SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell. DER1319GS-031
SDLP Councillor Rory Farrell. DER1319GS-031

“Last year we got less than £1 million, so local ratepayers are picking up the tab. That shouldn’t be happening and we need action from Stormont.

“This is important to the poorer councils, and every party wants to see regional balance. The easiest way to deliver it is to reinstate the Grant, so if parties are serious about it this is a way to do it overnight.”

Independent councillor Paul Gallagher proposed meeting with Mr Lyons on the issue, as it would be “far more effective” than sending correspondence.

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“Before the amalgamation [of local councils] we were promised everything under the sun, so we as a single council can talk to the Minister and highlight the need for this Grant.

“It won’t come across in a letter and it would be harder to avoid questions at a delegation visit.”

People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin said that, until the Grant is reinstated, the Executive “isn’t serious” about addressing regional imbalance.

“There have been a lot of promises from the Executive, but if it doesn’t increase the Grant it’s not seriously doing anything,” Councillor Harkin said. “We’ve had the closure of the Waterside Theatre, no funding for the Foyle Cup, and no clarity on the desperately-needed Phase 3 of the Derry to Coleraine rail upgrade.

“We’re getting symbolic commitments, but what we actually need to see now is a change in direction. That starts at the Rates Support Grant.”

Andrew Balfour,

Local Democracy Reporter.